ON TRIAL FOR WITCHCRAFT – IRISH WOMEN OF SORCERY OR POWER?

Witch trial

Were some of Ireland’s most powerful and notorious women in actual fact Witches? Or were they victims of their own success falling foul of the jealous and fearful?  Let’s take a look at three of the most well-known ‘Witches’ to be put on trial and find out!

DAME ALICE KYTELER

Alice Kyteler

In Kilkenny you will find Kyteler’s Inn, the home and business of Alice Kyteler.  Alice was the first person to be accused and charged with witchcraft in Ireland in 1324.  A moneylender in the town, Alice was married a total of four times, with each husband dying under mysterious circumstances, leaving her more wealthy each time.

Kyteler’s Inn was a meeting place for local businessmen who all vied for the attention of the bewitching Alice, showering her with gifts and money.  With her staff of luscious women, the premises were by far the busiest in Kilkenny.

As local envy and suspicion reached its peak, the surviving children of Alice’s four husbands had her charged with using poison, Sorcery, favouring her first born, denying the faith, blasphemy and animal sacrifices to the demons of the underworld.

Alice had many connections and her manipulative ways meant that she managed to avoid arrest for some time.  After several twists including her accuser, the Bishop of Ossory being jailed himself, Alice was finally imprisoned to await trial.

First up for trial was Alice’s maid, Petronella de Meath who was tortured and confessed to practising Witchcraft with her mistress.  Petronella was found guilty and burned at the stake.  Alice’s first son William was also found guilty of among other things, perjury, extortion and heresy, however his was a more lenient sentence of three masses a day for a year and feeding the poor.

In 1325 Alice escaped, only to be tried in her absence and found guilty of Witchcraft.   Alice Kyteler remained at large, never to be heard of again.  Did she use magic to finally be rid of the threat of execution, or was she simply a smart woman, able to use her skills and charm to be a success and escape the stake?

Kyteler's Inn, Kilkenny

Kyteler’s Inn, Kilkenny

FLORENCE NEWTON, THE WITCH OF YOUGHAL

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Another sensational witch trial for Ireland was that of Florence Newton in 1661.  She was accused of enchanting Mary Langdon, the maid of a prominent figure in the town called John Pyne.

Florence had called to the house during the winter of 1660 asking for meat from the master’s table.   The maid refused and the slighted beggar left muttering curses.  When Florence met Mary Langdon on the street, she grabbed her and gave her a vicious kiss, after which time Mary became violently ill.  She suffered seizures and visions and the house of her master became subject to poltergeist activity.

When Newton was brought into Mary’s presence her sickness became worse and she began vomiting needles and nails.  Mary claimed that Florence would appear in visions, sticking pins into her body.

Newton was also accused of causing the death of her jailer through sorcery, as his widow accused Florence of kissing her husband on the hand shortly before he dropped dead.

So important was the trial of the Witch of Youghal that the Irish Attorney General came to Cork to preside and it was assumed that Florence was found guilty and hanged.  You see, despite well-kept records of the beginning of the trial, the remainder of them vanished completely so we will never know exactly what happened to Florence Newton.  Did she also use Sorcery to survive?

BIDDY EARLY AND THE MAGIC BLUE BOTTLE

blue bottle

Biddy Early was born in 1778 in Kilenena, County Clare and took her mother’s maiden name.  Ellen Early taught her daughter herbal cures, however both parents died when Biddy was sixteen and she was left in poverty and living in the poorhouse.

Marginalised for being aloof, rumour had it that Biddy had been talking to the fairies since she was a child and could control them at will.  A good looking woman, Biddy met the first of her four husbands at market, a man twice her age.

Already making a name for herself as a healer, Biddy also opened a successful Shebeen, were the local folk would drink illicit alcohol and play cards.  Within five years her husband Pat had died from alcohol consumption and she married her stepson John who also died from alcohol related issues. Her third husband died in 1868 when she was 70 and in 1869 she married a man in his thirties in exchange for a cure.

Biddy’s healing powers seemed to have centred on a mysterious blue bottle that was supposedly brought to her by a dead relative from the fairies.  No one was allowed to touch the bottle and only true believers would receive help from Biddy.

If she knew you had been to a physician you were thrown out and priests in disguise would be regularly hunted away as they tried to get to the root of her power.  Biddy publicly denounced the Catholic Church and was accused and charged with Witchcraft in 1865, which was very unusual this late on.

Fear took hold of those who had agreed to testify and Biddy was acquitted.  On her deathbed she repented and at her funeral a gathering of priests asked the community to pray for the soul of Biddy Early.

Her cottage stands in ruins and her grave in Feakle is unmarked, however her blue bottle was not to be seen after she died.  Did the fairies reclaim the source of Biddy Early’s power?

The Ruins of Biddy Early's Cottage, County Clare

The Ruins of Biddy Early’s Cottage, County Clare

Skilled, manipulative and powerful all three, but were they Witches? That knowledge is lost forever, by way of Witchcraft or otherwise!   

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10 HAUNTED IRISH PUBS TO VISIT ON SAINT PATRICK’S DAY

Get in the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day with 10 of Ireland’s Haunted Pubs!

The Brazen Head

10 Irish Haunted Pubs to visit on Saint Patrick’s Day.

THE DEADLY LURE OF THE SUPERNATURAL IRISH FEMME FATALE

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For centuries there have been tales of supernatural women, enticing and killing mortal men, demon, vampire, witch and siren to name a few.  Read my article for Spooky Isles to find out more…The Deadly Lure of the Irish Femme Fatale

DARK HISTORY: Ireland’s top 5 Strangest Murders from 5th to 19th Century

Sometimes the weirdest stories are not the paranormal or legendary ones, but real life.  In a country built on bloodshed it is not the massacres and executions, but the most innocent of locations and seemingly normal events that have lead to some of the most bizarre murders in Irish History.  From a Saint to a Cabin Boy, here are my 5 strangest Irish murders.

http://www.spookyisles.com/2015/02/irelands-top-5-strangest-murders/

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: IRELAND AND THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

Dullahan

Every film and TV nightmare has a real beginning and Ireland is the place to find them. Here are the most well-known horror movie monsters brought to life!

WEREWOLF

Werewolves were often used as the weapons of the Ancient Celtic Warriors, sent out in battle to tear apart the enemy, their blood-curdling howls sending the cowards running. It is unusual therefore to find that The Vatican have documented a case from 1182, telling of a peaceful Christian Werewolf!

A priest was travelling to the South of Ireland who was sat by his campfire when a great hulking shape emerged from the still of the night, matted fur, dripping from its jowls, sharp pointed teeth glistening in the light of the fire.

The clan of this wolf man had been cursed by an Abbot some years earlier and every seven years two of his family would turn into werewolves and be banished into the forest.  The werewolf’s wife was dying and the priest delivered the last rites.  As his wife died she reverted back to her human form.  Despite his best efforts the priest was unable to ever again find the werewolf or his clan.

VAMPIRE

We have already heard about the female vampire, the Dearg Due, however long before that was the Chieftain Vampire, Abhartach from Derry. A cruel and sadistic warrior, he was finally slain by a rival clan and buried standing up as was the tradition.  The next night however, he was back inflicting more torment on the village than ever before.

Once again he was killed and buried, only to rise once more, draining the blood of his servants before terrorising the locals again.  Finally the rival Chief consulted a druid and took down Abhartach with a sword made of Yew, burying him for the last time head first, never to rise again, or so we are lead to believe.

WITCH

Petticoat Loose was a hideous beast of a woman from Tipperary. She was large, angular and over six feet tall with a strength to match her stature.

Her name came from her raucous behaviour while drinking and dancing and only one man would wed her.  She was named as a witch as the milk from her herd was said to turn blue when put in tea.  She was also accused of murdering her husband and died during a drinking game and so was buried without priest or ceremony.

Years later she would be seen at the roadside terrorising travellers by jumping on their carts.  One refused and she climbed on, stating she was weighted on every limb by magic.  The cart sagged and the horse dropped dead. A priest banished her to the mountain lake to empty it with a thimble, yet she still escapes now in the form of a half-human, half-horse.

EVIL LEPRECHAUN

Leprechauns don’t always wish you ‘Top of the Morning’ and willingly give up their gold. Some of them can be downright nasty, like the Red Man.

Dressed head to foot in red with a nasty yellow complexion, this magical being delights in evil mockery and torment, imparting evil waking nightmares on unwilling victims, making them believe they are carrying corpses and being forced to dine on old hags.

The only way to try and protect yourself is to cry out that you will not be mocked, however the Red Man’s magic is strong and this may not be enough.

HEADLESS HORSEMAN

The Dullahan is one of the Sidhe, or fairy beings. It is a headless horseman, with a steed of pure black, carrying its head beneath one arm.  When out on business, the Dullahan adorns his horse and wagon with funeral apparel and brandishes a whip made from a human spine. The wheels are made from the bones of men and he lights his way with candle filled skulls, the light illuminating the dark, beady eyes and rictus grin on his dismembered head.

Stay well away from this horrific sight, for if he stops in front of you, the gaping mouth says your name and you are dead.

ZOMBIE

In Roscommon in the eighth century, deviant burials took place outside of the cemetery walls. The bodies of several locals were unearthed with their limbs broken and folded in over their torsos, appearing to clutch a large rock embedded in their stomachs.

A pebble was wedged firmly in each jaw and they were buried in the opposite direction to the consecrated burials.  The reason?  These individuals were believed to be zombies, rising up to walk the earth, spreading fear and disease.

The pebble was to prevent the spirit returning, the mouth being the portal for an evil spirit to return.  The bones were smashed and body weighted with rock to ensure their feet never touched solid ground again.

HELLHOUND

Shucks, or Devil Dogs have long been written about in Irish history. They are black as the night, large, with glowing red eyes, some with cloven hooves instead of paws.

Primarily they are raised to protect treasure such as the one that breathes fire at Castle Biggs in Tipperary, others simply to forewarn of death.

BANSHEE

Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, however there have been sightings of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.

This evil being has the appearance of a wretched old hag, dress shredded, matted grey hair, pointed rotting teeth and long, yellow fingernails. If she sets her mind to have you as her prey, she will stalk you, forcing you to listen to her soul wrenching scream of despair until you go insane and your own soul is lost in the depths of her evil cry.

Of course of you are lucky, you will have a quick death by looking into her blood red eyes, filled with enough loathing and agony to kill you instantly.  For those who have been strong enough not to succumb to either? She will rip you to death with her bare hands.

So if you find yourself in Ireland, curled up by the fire watching the latest horror, remember – it could be happening for real just outside your window.

banshee

BRIDGET CLEARY – SLAYING OF A FAERY CHANGLING OR MURDER?

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In 1895 Ireland witnessed the most chilling and compelling of murder trials to ever take place in the Emerald Isle to the extent it was reported in newspapers throughout Britain, Ireland and Canada. Those charged with her murder cited the Faeries as their defence.
Bridget Boland Cleary was an attractive confident woman of twenty six years of age. She was married to Michael, an educated Cooper nine years her senior and the childless couple resided with Bridget’s father Patrick Boland in a cottage in Ballyvadlea, County Tipperary.
Bridget was fiercely independent and uncharacteristic of a married woman at that time, as not only was she literate, she was also a very successful business woman. A seamstress with her own machine she made and repaired garments for locals as well as selling eggs from her own chickens. To quote the Judge in the case, Bridget Cleary was “a young married woman, suspecting no harm, guilty of no offence, virtuous and respectable in all her conduct and all her proceedings.”
Early in March of that year Bridget had been out delivering eggs and having caught a cold, it escalated and she became quite ill. The young wife had been subjected to forced intake of herbal concoctions as was the way in that household, however as her condition remained unimproved, the doctor was sent for on 11th March, but was unable to attend until the 13th. At this point rumours believed to have been started by Michael and her Uncle Jack Dunne were circulating the community, stating that Bridget Cleary was gone and that a Faery Changling had been left in her stead.
On examination the doctor said that Bridget was in a “state of nervous excitement” and had a complaint, possibly TB or Bronchitis. In general her life was not believed to be at risk however the priest was called for to deliver the Last Rites. The priest carried out a last confession and the Last Rites. He too was convinced Bridget was not dying and stated there was no need for him to return.
At this stage both Michael Cleary and Bridget’s father Patrick were openly denouncing the poor woman as a Changeling as she remained sickly. The herbal and folklore ‘cures’ being administered were becoming more frequent and more brutal. More family and neighbours were now involved and Bridget was subjected to force feeding, urine being thrown upon her as well as being verbally and physically abused. On 14th March she was finally carried by all present to the fireplace whereupon it was demanded she recite her name three times to prove she was not a Changeling, whilst being held over the fire.
On 16th March Bridget Cleary was reported missing.
Michael Cleary stated his wife had been taken by the Faeries and they were seen to be holding a vigil for her safe return. Following intervention from the local priest, after five days Bridget Cleary’s corpse was found, buried in a shallow grave, charred and burned.
The horror of her final moments was revealed in court. Nine people in total, with Michael Cleary being the main accused were charged with her murder and/or wounding. Bridget had been subjected to torture and torment, finally being burned alive in her nightdress in front of the kitchen fireplace, screams of agony ignored by the silent that stood before her.
That silence continued until arrests were made and the trial began. The evidence brought out at trial was horrific, particularly the post-mortem findings including exposed bones, strangulation marks and burning. Cleary’s argument? “She was too fine to be my wife and two inches taller.” On this basis he deduced she was a Changeling and should be slain.
In total five people were convicted, four of wounding and Michael Cleary of the Manslaughter of his wife, Bridget Cleary, for which he served 15 years in prison after which time he emigrated.
Was this a clever, jealous husband who convinced his neighbours and family to commit atrocities through mass hysteria? Did Michael Cleary genuinely believe his wife had been taken by the Faeries? The outcome of the trial points to the former, yet we will never know. All we know is that poor Bridget will forever be remembered as the victim of Ireland’s most bizarre and controversial murder trial.

Bridget Cleary’s legacy is a nursery rhyme that epitomises the complexity of the circumstances surrounding her death:

Are you a witch or are you a faery?
Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?