The Dungarvon Whooper (pronounced "hooper") is a ghost story, immortalized in a song by Michael Whelan (poet), about a murder in the late 19th century along the Dungarvon River in central New Brunswick, Canada.
The story revolves around a cook named Ryan, who moved to a camp along the river with all his possessions, including a money belt. He was murdered by his boss for his money, and buried by the rest of the party that night. However, a loud yelling and whooping sound kept the group from falling asleep that night. Scared, they left the camp the next morning. A priest then tried to quiet the whooper down, but it is debated whether he was successful.
The story, which was handed down to lumberers working in New Brunswick throughout the 20th century, is well-known in local culture.
The nickname "Dungarvon Whooper" was later given to a numbered passenger train operated by the Canada Eastern Railway running from Newcastle to Fredericton, along the Southwest Miramichi River. This train did not have an official name but was commonly referred to by its nickname.
It has been said that the sound of the steam locomotive whistle reminded local residents of the legend. This train operated on a line originally built by New Brunswick businessmen, Alexander Gibson and Jabez Bunting Snowball. The railway and its passenger service were absorbed into the Canadian National Railway system and the passenger train ceased operation in the early 1960s.
There are many different versions of the story, the following being the most popularly accepted story in the Blackville/Renous area, where the story takes place.
Bernard Colepaugh of Renous, New Brunswick produced a play about the "Dungarvon Whooper" as the first ever production of the Heritage Players, a Playgroup in the area, performing plays of New Brunswick's rich heritage. Mr. Colepaugh is a descendant of Michael Whalen, who wrote the poem.
The play starts off in a 1920s school house where teacher Michael Whalen(Bernard Colepaugh) summon's his students to class and then excites them with the idea of studying outside under "God's Beautiful Blue Sky". After some smart remarks by Billy Phader (Thomas Saulnier), the older boy in the class, the four students convince their teacher to take a break from the British History work and tell them a ghost story. Susan (Katie McCabe) tells Mr. Whalen to tell about the Dungarvan Whooper. Michael Whalen begins by going back in time to Ireland. The scene then changes to many years before as Peter Ryan (played by student actor Tom Daley) in Ireland just as he is about to leave for the New Country to work, as his mother, family, and friends die of starvation from the Potato Famine. He is given his father's money belt and some Prayer Beads, just before he kisses his mother goodbye. Another scene change leaves us in the camp, where Peter Ryan was hired to work as the cook. Jack Hogan (also played by Bernard Colepaugh) walks in with the crew, and they sit down for dinner. Just as they sit down at the table, Mr. Henry Kelly knocks on the door. He is invited in, and they eat their meal. Because Henry Kelly is "the best Fiddler in the Country," the crew convinces the boss to let them "treat today like a Saturday" and let them have a party and drink from the liquor Ryan bought at the store in Blackville drunk. Ryan has a bit too much to drink and takes his Irish dancing too far and steps on McPherson's foot. Twice. A fight breaks out, and it takes the whole camp to calm Ryan and McPherson down. After a lullaby by Mr. Kelly, the men go to bed, and one of the characters, possibly McPherson, walks in covered under a jacket and puts something in Ryan's personal teapot. In most productions, this is where the intermission would begin, and in many cases, a meal be served to the guests by the cast. Turkey was the most common meal. The play then resumes when the crew are just getting out of bed. McGregor complains of symptoms of a hangover, but the boss tells them to go to work anyway. Hogan requests pies for when they get back. Peter Ryan sits down at the table to enjoy his tea, then suddenly collapses on the floor. Boss picks him up, puts him on the bed, and then the crew comes in, as there is too much snow to work. they find Pete Ryan on the floor dead, and accuse each other for his death. After much bickering and arguing, they decide that it is not right to sleep with a dead body in the camp, so they take him out to the spring and bury him. Upon their return, Whoops and Howls leave and unsettling atmosphere. The Lord's Prayer is recited, and they get to sleep. The grave is later blessed by a Priest, and all remains calm deep in the Dungarvon Woods