GHOSTS

"There came a knocking on my door. The landlord dressed in black."




Part of the Annotated Horslips Lyrics Pages on comebackhorslips.com

Appears On - Source Tune - General Notes from Albums - General Notes on the Song - Dedication at 2009 Concerts - Annotated Lyrics - Comments


I lived alone without you
Shadows on my wall
Ghosts in my looking glass
Voices in the hall
At first I didn't understand
I had nothing left to sell
And although I played with fire
My life was cold as hell,
My life was cold as hell.

There came a knocking on my door
The landlord dressed in black
Said "pack your bags and move on out
We don't ever want you back
"
And who was I to question
The logic of his schemes
When they proved there can be hope
Wherever there are dreams,
Wherever there are dreams.

Mine was just a foolish heart
Couldn't fake a smile
Thought I'd find deliverance
Down another mile
And I remember being in love
So long ago it seems
The love that drives me ever on
Is the love I find in dreams,
The love I find in dreams.


Appears On:

  1. Aliens
  2. Horslips, The Best of
  3. Treasury, The Very Best of Horslips

Source Tune:

An Culfhionn, An Chuilfhionn, Though The Last Glimpse Of Erin, An Cúilfhionn, An Chúileann, An Chúilfionn, An Chuileann, An Chuilfhionn, An Chuilin, An Coolin, An Coulin, An Cuilfhoinn, An Cuilfion Le Atrugad, An Cuilrionn, Coolin, The Coolin', The Coolin, Coolun, The Coolun, Coulin, The Coulin, Cuilin, The Cuilin, The Fair-Haired Beauty, The Fair-Haired One, Had You Seen My Sweet Coolin, In This Calm Sheltered Villa, Lady Of The Desert, The Lady Of The Desert, My Fair-Haired Beauty, Oh! Hush The Soft Sigh, Oh! The Hours I Have Passed.

Recordings (Before Horslips):

  1. The Bunch of Keys, Johnny Doran (pipes)
  2. Irlande, various
  3. The King of the Pipers, Leo Rowsome (pipes)
  4. The Rowsome Tradition, Kevin Rowsome (pipes)
  5. The Floating Bow, John Doherty (fiddle)
  6. O Riada's Farewell, Sean Ó Riada
  7. In the Smoke, Various

Recordings (After Horslips):

  1. The Tailor's Choice, Joe Burke (flute, whistle, accordion)
  2. Tiomnacht, Handed On. Eoin Ó Riabhaigh (pipes)
  3. The Merry Love to Play. Peter Horan (flute), Gerry Harrington (fiddle)
  4. A Tribute to Andy McGann. Joe Burke (accordion), Brian Conway (fiddle), Felix Dolan (piano)
  5. Other recordings, unsorted

General Notes on Source Tune:

Lyrics for The Coolin (with translations), Cranford Publications


And yet more on the Culfhionn from a piping site:
"The Queen of Irish Airs" maintains Francis O'Neill (1913). There are many versions of this ancient and celebrated air "of which Bunting's and Moore's are not among the best: they are both wanting in simplicity," states Joyce (1909), who prints the tune as collected by Forde from Hugh O'Beirne (a Munster fiddler from whom a great many tunes were collected). He considers Forde's version "beautiful...(and) probably the original unadulterated melody," and adds that it is similar to the version he heard the old Limerick people sing in his youth during the 1820's. Flood (1906) states it is probable the air dates from the year 1296 or 1297, believing it must have been composed not long after the Statute, 24th of Edward I, in 1295, which forbade those English in Ireland (who were becoming assimilated into the majority Gaelic culture) to affect the Irish hair style by allowing their locks to grow in 'coolins.' The original song, told from a young maiden's point of view, berates those Anglo‑Irish who conformed to the edit by cutting their hair, and praises the proud Irishman who remained true to ancestral custom (the Gaelic title "An Chuilfhionn," means 'the fair-haired one'). The Irish Parliament passed another law in 1539 forbidding any male, Irish or Anglo‑Irish, from wearing long or flowing locks of hair‑‑this enactment, relates Flood, is the source of the claim printed by Walker in 1786 in Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards as the impetus for the song.

Donnacha Kavanagh, Comeback Horslips Guestbook, February 20, 2007, citing The Fiddler's Companion entry on Coolun/Coolin, ceolas.org

General Notes on the Album:

"The tune driving this tale of unrequited love and landlords is An Culfhionn, a slow air much played by tremulous violinists at the Irish Feiseanna. But here used to powerful counterpoint effect behind a rare falsetto from Johnny."

Notes on Horslips, The Best of..., Edsel Records

General Notes on the Song:

There's not much more that can be said by me about Ghosts except to wonder in awe at how hauntingly beautiful and utterly complementary the music is. The same observation applies to a wide range of pieces including Sideways to the Sun, The Blind Can't Lead the Blind and Everything Will Be Alright, to name just a few.

I suppose, looking back, it's astonishing how some of these verses slipped under the radar and into the public domain. It's well documented that I'd served an apprenticeship of sorts at the school of the Liverpool poets, where autobiographical writing, no matter how painful the personal experience, was the heart of the "pop" work.

Of course, there were myriad ways of dressing up a central idea. Quite often it was fun experimenting with different methodologies. But in getting at the core truth the question of one's past usually had to be addressed. And how can a real past, individual or communal, be ascertained in the very real present?

It's a tribute to the group ethic Horslips was founded on that our various individual, and often idiosyncratic, voices (which undoubtedly enriched the overall narrative), were not simply accommodated but warmly embraced.

Eamon Carr, email to the site, October 2010


Ghosts is one of my very fave songs. Eamon's lyrics at their best, Jim's brilliant incorporation of The Cuilin, my melody.

Barry Devlin, email to the site, October 2010


It is my favourite of all Horslips songs, which in itself is some accolade. I wouldn't have anything to say about its cultural or historic importance, although musically and lyrically it's the perfect match. Emotionally, well, I could go on forever. You see the final verse has brought me to tears on more occasions than I'd care to admit. Tears for anyone who has fucked up and regretted it, tears for anyone who has been unceremoniously dumped, loved and lost...and mostly tears for the darkest hours of my own past. The ghostly shadows of recollection are always there no matter how happy and content the present may be. It's a song that, if good sense prevailed, would be regarded as a classic ballad by the global mainstream. There's always tomorrow.

Mark Cunningham, email to the site, October 2010


It's played in A, with the chords being A-E-F#m-D, or so I have gathered from watching Johnny play it on Youtube, although I can't get the voice as high, so I play it in G-D-Em-C.

Donnacha Kavanagh, Comeback Horslips Guestbook, October 15, 2007

Dedication at the 2009 Concerts:

'In the time we that were away a lot of good things happened, but a lot of strange and wonderful things happened too and a lot of people who would have liked to be here tonight can't be here because they're not here any longer. We lost people from our own crew, Paul Verner and Billy Louthe and I'm sure all of you have lost people that you knew and loved and who were alive last time we were here. This is for you and for them...it's called Ghosts'

Annotated Lyrics:

"looking glass"

As far as I can tell the word 'mirror' is only used twice in Horslips lyrics: HTMSTP "Hall of Mirrors" and SSTT "Unapproved Road". Sort of an alpha and omega word, it would seem. But just now listening to Ghosts -- which is now linked in my thoughts with David Creedon's current Exhibit -- and there's the line 'ghosts in my looking glass/voices in the hall'

Lee Templeton, Comeback Horslips Guestbook, March 14, 2007

See also Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, a photographic evocation by David Creedon


"pack your bags and move on out/We don't ever want your back"

Archival article in The New York Times, "The Irish Eviction War.; Ardnacrusha Tenants Stoutly Resist The Police, The New York Times, September 28, 1887 (Full article in PDF format)
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First Posted: October 14, 2007
Last Revised: October 31, 2010