FINNIS'S famous haunted tree has finally been felled and the whereabouts of the evil spirit it was claimed it imprisoned is now unknown.

Villagers, generations of whom are said to have stood watch over the tree and its captive spirit, were shocked to find the lightning-blasted sycamore shell had gone, victim of another, recent, storm.

It was almost a year ago to the day, on July 22 last year, that The Leader published the ghostly tale of the tree and the malicious spirit said to be literally bottled up within it.

The local legend has such power that one relative newcomer, set to move away from the area in coming weeks, said she was glad to be leaving now that the tree had been lost.

The story goes that in the early 20th century a malevolent spirit haunted the Dree Hill Road bridge in the centre of Finnis; the village priest exorcised the spirit, capturing it in a bottle, which he placed inside a nearby sycamore tree, so ending the hauntings.

The reader who contacted The Leader with the tale last year said at the time that from that day on nobody in Finnis would touch the tree or allow anyone else to touch it.

"Some years back," he said, "when either power lines or telephone lines were being run through the village, the tree stood in the way of progress and the priest had to be called to stop the workers from cutting it down; as a result they had to run the cables through the tree's upper branches."

Even after the dawn of the 21st century, many decades after the alleged exorcism, he said, any mention of removing what remained of the long-dead tree still stirred strong emotions among some locals.

According to another resident, last August's floods broke off a part of the tree, which lay where it fell for a long time before anyone would touch it.

But now nature has succeeded where even the march of progress failed and for one woman, sad at the thought of her upcoming move from an area she arrived in just two years ago, the tree's loss has shed new light on her leaving.

"I was driving over the bridge on my way home from work," she said, "and I couldn't believe my eyes; the tree was gone, just a wee stump of it left; I was told it had come down in the weekend storms.

"I've only lived here a couple of years and I was shocked so I can't imagine what some of the older residents make of it.

"I'm moving at the end of the month and now I'm glad I'm going to tell the truth."