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The Living Dead in Lurgan

Article contributed by James Gracey.

(August 2004)

Shankill graveyard, Co Armagh

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The story of Margorie McCall is just one of many to be found in a series of specials'

Each programme investigated and tried to unravel the history of a community, using local headstones as the starting point.

Click here...

The fear of being buried alive is an ancient one. It has a long literary history dating back to Boccaccio, Shakespeare and of course, Edgar Allen Poe. There have been many macabre tales of narrow escapes owing to grave robbers and incompetent gravediggers and of exhumed coffins containing contorted, petrified corpses of those buried prematurely and waking up to realise their horrific fate. For one woman from Lurgan though, the fear of being buried alive became a dreadful truth…

Grave robbing and body snatching are dastardly deeds usually associated with the subject matter of old horror films starring Vincent Price or Boris Karloff. However these acts of desecration are rooted in shadowy fact.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century Edinburgh had become an important centre for the study of anatomy. Students were assigned one cadaver – usually an executed criminal – on which to practice their studies. However this was not a sufficient amount and gradually students and surgeons began to seek other ways in which to obtain corpses to dissect.
One such method was to exhume the bodies of the recently buried. This act of “grave robbing” was apparently practiced quite widely, especially here in Ireland. Body snatching was carried out by “resurrectionists” who were able to forge a career out of this ghastly act.

Sometimes though the bodies of the recently deceased were dug up – not to be used for research – but so the grave robbers could remove any valuables such as jewellery from the body.

One such case that recalls the dark era of body snatching is that of a young woman who lived in Lurgan around 1705, named Margorie McCall. This case is a little different from most though…

It is believed Margorie was married to John McCall – who is thought to have been a surgeon – although it was common in those days for people to have more than one ‘trade’ – and she lived with her family in Church Place.

Cracked Headstone bound with rusted Iron
Margorie McCall's grave as it is today in the Shankill graveyard in Lurgan

Margorie is thought to have fallen ill and - as her family thought – died. There was quite a lot of commotion at the wake concerning a valuable ring that Margorie was wearing. Many of the mourners tried in vain to prise the ring from her fingers – perhaps because they anticipated the possibility that grave robbers would desecrate Margorie’s resting place in order to steal the ring.

After the wake – which was traditionally an attempt to avoid premature burial as the family of the deceased would sit and watch over the body for a few days to see if the person awakened - Margorie was duly interred in Shankill Graveyard. That very same night her body was exhumed by grave robbers. The robbers also tried in vain to remove the ring from her finger, but could not. Eventually a blade was produced – perhaps with the intention of severing her finger to remove the ring. As soon as blood was drawn from Margorie she came to – revived from the coma-like state - or ‘swoon’ - she had fallen into. This obviously gave the robbers the fright of their lives and they fled the cemetery never looking back. She climbed out of the coffin and began to make her way home.

Meanwhile her family were gathered around the fire at home when they heard a knock at the door. Margorie’s husband John – still wrecked with grief – exclaimed – “if your mother were still alive, I’d swear that was her knock.” And sure enough, upon opening the door John was confronted by his “late” wife – dressed in her burial clothes, very much alive. He fainted immediately.

Listen as Kieran Glendinning tells Margorie McCall's story to Mary Ferris



It is said that Margorie McCall lived for some years after this grotesque event and when she did die she was returned to Shankill Graveyard and to this day her grave stone still stands.

It bears the inscription –
“Lived Once, Buried Twice.”

Margorie McCall's Epitaph, Lived Once , Buried Twice

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