Greed is, for good reason, one of the more hateful of the Seven Deadly Sins. As a cause for murder and mayhem, it may claim the top spot. This story of how greed inspired a man to kill family members comes from fifteenth century Ireland, and led to a ghastly revenge from beyond the grave. It’s not as theatrical, perhaps, as the story of Oscar Carlson, who died for another man’s greed, but there is something infinitely menacing in its promise four will kill you.
An Irish lord called Donard Grantley married, in 1410 or thereabout, an heiress named Aultain Corbally. Aultain, of higher birth and greater wealth in her own right than her husband, bore him a son they named Gaynor, in the first year of their marriage. She did not bear more for several years, then came four more in quick succession: Morlan, Duirmuid, Ronan, and Conn.
The younger Grantley brothers were as close by temperament as by age. Gaynor, the eldest, was as unlike them as night is unlike day. He harbored an unworthy ambition in his heart; rather than inheriting his fair share of both his mother’s and father’s great wealth, he wanted to bag the whole lot. To that end, he came up with a dreadful plot to kill all his younger brothers.
And so it was, as they returned from escorting a visiting friend to his next stop, that Gaynor led his brothers and their uncle, Roan, into a deep, dank bog. Uncle Roan died when Gaynor forced him and his horse into the bog, where they were sucked down by the black mess. Then he turned on his brothers, overwhelming Morlan and Duirmuid in a savage attack that left them both dead before they could defend themselves. Conn, the youngest, mounted on a fast horse, rode away as Gaynor attempted to take down Ronan.
It was Ronan, dying in a welter of his own blood, who laid a curse on Gaynor Grantley. He managed to pull his dagger as he was sinking into the bog, and he cut four horrible gashes across Gaynor’s angry face, counting them off as he did so: “One. . .two. . .three. . .four. . .”
As Ronan sank into the bog, he held up four fingers and choked out words that would haunt the Grantleys for centuries to come: Four you killed; four will kill you.
Gaynor Grantley returned to the family home, hideously wounded, to find that Conn had arrived there in a state of shock and hysteria that never left him; he died mad and mute, some years later. Gaynor’s story, that they had been attacked by renegade mercenaries of some other family, was accepted. He did indeed inherit all the family wealth, and eventually, in spite of his scarred face, married and fathered ten children.
Strange things were already happening at the castle, though. Gaynor, like most Irishmen, loved a fine horse, and had a great stable of them. One morning, four of his stallions were found dead in their stalls, their throats slashed. Of the guards he posted at the doors of stable and castle thereafter, one was found one morning in a state of shock reminiscent of the late Conn Grantley’s. This guard eventually regained his speech, and told a strange story; he had been walking the castle battlements in the night when he heard a sound like clanking, groaning, rusty armor, and then found himself surrounded by four men: four men in armor who stank of bog water and the unmistakable smell of death. He collapsed.
That guard was the first of four who were found in that condition. All, when they were able to speak again, told the same story, of being surrounded by four men in rusty armor, who reeked of death and stagnant water.
If Gaynor thought of Ronan’s final words, he didn’t say so.
On his eighteenth birthday, Gaynor’s eldest son was found dead, with four gashes cut across his face–exactly like those that had so scarred his father. Three more of Gaynor’s sons would eventually be found dead in mysterious circumstances, their faces marked with the same gashes.
Gaynor Grantley was found hacked to pieces shortly after he turned sixty; his arms and legs had been cut off.
Four you killed. . .four will kill you. . .
More often than not, though, those unfortunate enough to see the apparitions that were fast becoming known as the Four Terrors of the Grantleys were not killed; they were left in a state of shock and vocal paralysis. Some recovered; others, like Conn Grantley before them, did not.
The last time the curse of the Four Terrors resulted in death was in 1892, when the contemporary Grantley heir was found dead in the drawing room of the new family home, built in 1740, some distance from the old medieval castle where so many had died. He had, so the story goes, received four unsigned letters warning him not to return to the house.
He alone was not found with his face gashed. Whoever killed him hacked off the four fingers of his right hand. The fingers were never found.
The story of the Four Terrors of the Grantleys comes from James Reynolds’s 1947 book Ghosts in Irish Houses. As with all Reynolds’s work, this one’s truth is suspect; I’ve never run across the legend in any other source.
But I have to say–it does make for one terrifying story. (^_^)