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The Legend of Margorie McCall ~ 1705
Times were hard in the 1700s, and people made a penny wherever they could. Some trades were frowned upon, however, and rightly so. One such trade was that of the resurrectionist, also known as a grave robber or 'sack-em up'. These unsavoury types provided cadavers to the many private medical schools throughout the UK, and at the start of the 18th Century business was booming. Probably the most famous of the practitioners of this particular trade were Burke and Hare, who found infamy almost 100 years later. Their notoriety wasn't really due to their grave-robbing, but more to do with their fresh supply of corpses to order. They were both originally from Ireland, but they met in Edinburgh, from where they went on to supply students of anatomy with more than their quota of cadavers.
The resurrectionists weren't unique to Edinburgh. In Ireland, surgeons were prepared to pay a fair price for the newly deceased and this provided employment opportunities for the local resurrectionists. This practice was however to prove a hair raising experience for once such band of greave robbers in Lurgan in 1705.
Margorie McCall was wed to a doctor. They lived in Church Place, Lurgan, Co Armagh and by all accounts were very happy. When Margorie fell ill, her husband John was beside himself with worry - in the early 1700s many illnesses we consider minor today could be fatal and 'the fever' was a great catch-all for many of these ailments. Sadly, Margorie succumbed to her bout of fever and was buried in Shankill Church of Ireland Cemetery, not far from her home in Church Place. She was hastily buried for fear of the fever spreading, and that should have been the end of that; however, she was to become one of the most famous women in Lurgan - and is still talked about today.
There was quite a lot of commotion at the wake concerning a valuable ring that Marjorie 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 Marjorie’s resting place in order to steal the ring. Margorie was buried still wearing her beautiful gold wedding ring. Due to her husband's inability to remove it from her finger, which had swollen considerably since her death, but news of the treasure leaked out to the resurrectionists. They spotted the opportunity to gain themselves a bonus.
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 - Marjorie was duly interred in Shankill Graveyard.
That evening, before the soil had time to settle on Margorie's coffin, the grave-robbers paid a visit. Working under cover of darkness they grappled in the dirt until they reached and opened her coffin. True to the rumour, the ring was still on her finger. Before removing the body, they attempted to purloin the valuable item, but it wouldn't budge. Being businessmen, they weren't about to allow such a prize to make its way to a surgeon's slab, and since she couldn't get any deader, they agreed to cut off her finger to free the ring.
As soon as blood was drawn from Marjorie she came to – revived from the coma-like state - or ‘swoon’ - she had fallen into. She sat bolt upright, eyes wide and wailed like a banshee. There are differing reports as to the fate of the body-snatchers: one states that one of the men dropped dead on the spot from fright; the other that they both ran for their lives, never to resume their dubious occupation. Whatever the truth of the matter, it's pretty certain that they'd never have forgotten that little misadventure. The bold Margorie helped herself out of the ground and stumbled the short distance to her home.
At home, her husband John was sitting with their children and relatives, bemoaning her passing and toasting her journey to a better place. When the door rapped three times. John – still wracked 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, dripping from her almost severed finger, but very much alive. John's response is disputed, but most tellings of this story3 agree that he dropped dead on the floor. Now there's a quandary: joy and sadness in equal measure for the rest of the family. Margorie alive and relatively well, but John deader than Margorie ever was. He was buried in the plot Margorie had recently vacated.
Margorie went on to re-marry and have several children, although it was rumoured that she left the grave pregnant by an 'unspecified suitor'. When she did finally die she was returned to Shankill Graveyard and to this day her grave stone still stands.
It bears the inscription – “Lived Once, Buried Twice.”
She is still remembered by the townspeople of Lurgan today, and it's said that on occasion she can be seen wandering Shankill Cemetery, perhaps looking for those who wronged her.