According to Irish and British belief, the spirit double or apparition
of a living person, also known as the wraith. It resembles
in every particular the individual whose death it is supposed
to foretell, but is generally of a shadowy or ghostly
appearance. The fetch may be seen by more than one person
at the same time and, like the wraith of England and Scotland,
may even appear to the person it represents. There is a belief,
too, that if the fetch is seen in the morning, it indicates long life
for the person, but if seen at night, a speedy death may be expected.
The fetch enters largely into the folktales of Ireland, and it
is hardly surprising that so many tales have been woven around
it, for there is something gruesome in the idea of being haunted
by one’s own double (an idea that has frequently been explored
by more sophisticated writers than the inventors of folk
Patrick Kennedy, in his Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celt
(1866), referring to the Irish fetch, quotes the tale of The Doctor’s
Fetch, based on authentic sources
‘‘In one of our Irish cities, and in a room where the mild
moonbeams were resting on the carpet and on a table near the
window, Mrs. B., wife of a doctor in good practice and general
esteem, looking towards the window from her pillow, was startled
by the appearance of her husband standing near the table
just mentioned, and seeming to look with attention on the book
which was lying open on it. Now, the living and breathing man
was by her side apparently asleep, and, greatly as she was surprised
and affected, she had sufficient command of herself to
remain without moving, lest she should expose him to the terror
which she herself at the moment experienced. After gazing
on the apparition for a few seconds, she bent her eyes upon her
husband to ascertain if his looks were turned in the direction
of the window, but his eyes were closed. She turned round
again, although now dreading the sight of what she believed to
be her husband’s fetch, but it was no longer there. She remained
sleepless throughout the remainder of the night, but
still bravely refrained from disturbing her partner.
‘‘Next morning, Mr. B., seeing signs of disquiet on his wife’s
countenance while at breakfast, made some affectionate inquiries,
but she concealed her trouble, and at his ordinary hour he
sallied forth to make his calls. Meeting Dr. C., in the street, and
falling into conversation with him, he asked his opinion on the
subject of fetches. ‘I think,’ was the answer, ‘and so I am sure
do you, that they are mere illusions produced by a disturbed
stomach acting upon the excited brain of a highly imaginative
or superstitious person.’ ‘Then,’ said Mr. B., ‘I am highly imaginative
or superstitious, for I distinctly saw my own outward man
last night standing at the table in the bedroom, and clearly distinguishable
in the moonlight. I am afraid my wife saw it too,
but I have been afraid to speak to her on the subject.’
‘‘About the same hour on the ensuing night the poor lady
was again roused, but by a more painful circumstance. She felt
Fern Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
her husband moving convulsively, and immediately afterwards
he cried to her in low, interrupted accents, ‘Ellen, my dear, I
am suffocating; send for Dr. C.’ She sprang up, huddled on
some clothes, and ran to his house. He came with all speed, but
his efforts for his friend were useless. He had burst a large
blood-vessel in the lungs, and was soon beyond human aid. In
her lamentations the bereaved wife frequently cried out, ‘Oh!
the fetch, the fetch!’ and at a later period told the doctor of the
appearance the night before her husband’s death.’’
Kennedy, Patrick. Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celt. 1866.
Reprint, Detroit Singing Tree Press, 1968.