Feb 23, 2012

(Formatting and spelling/grammar errors unchanged from original) 

This is a survey of the Witch persecution in Ireland, as well as a wide array of
other paranormal events such as poltergeists, ghosts, apparations and even an
early UFO account. Very readable, yet well documented, this book has the
extensive and fascinating quotes from historical source documents.
Seymour proposes that the witch-craze was more muted in Ireland than elsewhere in
Europe. Relatively speaking, there appear to have been fewer cases in Ireland. This
doesn't mean that the consequences were any less harsh for the accused. In these texts we
can see how people exhibiting what we would today consider schizophrenic or senile
behavior were vulnerable to being accused of witchcraft.
A.D. 1324
A.D. 1223-1583
p. vi  
A.D. 1606-1656
A.D. 1661
A.D. 1662-1686
A.D. 1688
A.D. 1689-1720
A.D. 1807
IT is said, though we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the statement, that in a
certain book on the natural history of Ireland there occurs a remarkable and oft-
quoted chapter on Snakes--the said chapter consisting of the words, "There are
no snakes in Ireland." In the opinion of most people at the present day a book on
Witchcraft in Ireland would be of equal length and similarly worded, except for the
inclusion of the Kyteler case in the town of Kilkenny in the first half of the
fourteenth century. For, with the exception of that classic incident, modern writers
seem to hold that the witch-cult
p. 2
never found a home in Ireland as it did elsewhere. For example, the article on
"Witchcraft" in the latest edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica mentions
England and Scotland, then passes on to the Continent, and altogether ignores
this country; and this is, in general, the attitude adopted by writers on the subject.
In view of this it seems very strange that no one has attempted to show why the
Green Isle was so especially favoured above the rest of the civilised world, or
how it was that it alone escaped the contracting of a disease that not for years
but for centuries had infected Europe to the core. As it happens they may spare
themselves the labour of seeking for an explanation of Ireland's exemption, for
we hope to show that the belief in witchcraft reached the country, and took a
fairly firm hold there, though by no means to the extent that it did in Scotland and
England. The subject has never been treated of fully before, though isolated
notices may be found here and there; this book, however imperfect it may be,
can fairly claim to be the first attempt to collect the scattered stories and records
of witchcraft in Ireland
p. 3
from many out-of-the-way sources, and to present them when collected in a
concise and palatable form. Although the volume may furnish little or nothing new
to the history or psychology of witchcraft in general, yet it may also claim to be an
unwritten chapter in Irish history, and to show that in this respect a considerable
portion of our country fell into line with the rest of Europe.
At the outset the plan and scope of this book must be made clear. It will be
noticed that the belief in fairies and suchlike beings is hardly touched upon at all,
except in those instances where fairy lore and witchcraft become inextricably
The reason for this method of treatment is not hard to find. From the Anglo-
Norman invasion down the country has been divided into two opposing elements,
the Celtic and the English. It is true that on many occasions these coalesced in
peace and war, in religion and politics, but as a rule they were distinct, and this
became even more marked after the spread of the Reformation. It was therefore
in the Anglo-Norman (and subsequently in the
p. 4
Protestant) portion of the country that we find the development of witchcraft along
similar lines to those in England or the Continent, and it is with this that we are
dealing in this book; the Celtic element had its own superstitious beliefs, but
these never developed in this direction. In England and Scotland during the
mediæval and later periods of its existence witchcraft was an offence against the
laws of God and man; in Celtic Ireland dealings with the unseen were not
regarded with such abhorrence, and indeed had the sanction of custom and
antiquity. In England after the Reformation we seldom find members of the
Roman Catholic Church taking any prominent part in witch cases, and this is
equally true of Ireland from the same date. Witchcraft seems to have been
confined m the Protestant party, as far as we can judge from the material at our
disposal, while it is probable that the existence of the penal laws (active or
quiescent) would deter the Roman Catholics from coming into any prominence in
a matter which would be likely to attract public attention to itself in such a marked
degree. A certain
p. 5
amount of capital has been made by some partisan writers out of this, but to
imagine that the ordinary Roman Catholic of, let us say, the seventeenth century,
was one whit less credulous or superstitious than Protestant peers, bishops, or
judges, would indeed be to form a conception directly at variance with experience
and common sense. Both parties had their beliefs, but they followed different
channels, and affected public life in different ways.
Another point with reverence to the plan of this work as indicated by the title
needs a few words of explanation. It will be seen by the reader that the volume
does not deal solely with the question of witchcraft, though that we have
endeavoured to bring into prominence as much as possible, but that tales of the
supernatural, of the appearance of ghosts, and of the Devil, are also included,
especially in chapters IV and VI. If we have erred in inserting these, we have at
least erred in the respectable company of Sir Walter Scott, C. K. Sharpe, and
other writers of note. We have included them, partly because they afford
interesting reading, and are culled from sources with which
p. 6
the average reader is unacquainted, but principally because they reflect as in a
mirror the temper of the age, and show the degree to which every class of
Society was permeated with the belief in the grosser forms of the supernatural,
and the blind readiness with which it accepted what would at the present day be
tossed aside as unworthy of even a cursory examination. This is forcibly brought
out in the instance of a lawsuit being undertaken at the instigation of a ghost--a
quaint item of legal lore. The judge who adjudicated, or the jury and lawyers who
took their respective parts in such a case, would with equal readiness have tried
and found guilty a person on the charge of witchcraft; and probably did so far
oftener than we are aware of.
The question will naturally be asked by the reader--what reason can be offered
for Ireland's comparative freedom from the scourge, when the whole of Europe
was so sorely lashed for centuries? It is difficult fully to account for it, but the
consideration of the following points affords a partial explanation.
In the first place Ireland's aloofness may
p. 7
be alleged as a reason. The "Emerald Gem of the Western World" lies far away
on the verge of Ocean, remote from those influences which so profoundly
affected popular thought in other countries. It is a truism to say that it has been
separated from England and the Continent by more than geographical features,
or that in many respects, in its ecclesiastical organisation, its literature, and so
on, it has developed along semi-independent lines. And so, on account of this
remoteness. it would seem to have been prevented from acquiring and
assimilating the varying and complex features which went to make up the
witchcraft conception. Or, to put it in other words, mediæval witchcraft was a
byproduct of the civilisation of the Roman Empire. Ireland's civilisation developed
along other and more barbaric lines, and so had no opportunity of assimilating
the particular phases of that belief which obtained elsewhere in Europe.
Consequently, when the Anglo-Normans came over, they found that the native
Celts had no predisposition towards accepting the view of the witch as an
emissary of Satan and
p. 8
an enemy of the Church, though they fully believed in supernatural influences of
both good and evil, and credited their Bards and Druids with the possession of
powers beyond the ordinary. Had this country never suffered a cross-channel
invasion, had she been left to work out her destiny unaided and uninfluenced by
her neighbours, it is quite conceivable that at some period in her history she
would have imbibed the witchcraft spirit, and, with the genius characteristic of
her, would have blended it with her own older beliefs, and so would have
ultimately evolved a form of that creed which would have differed in many points
from what was held elsewhere. As it happens, the English and their successors
had the monopoly, and retained it in their own hands; thus the Anglo-Norman
invaders may be given the credit of having been the principal means of
preventing the growth and spread of witchcraft in Celtic Ireland.
Another point arises in connection with the advance of the Reformation in
Ireland. Unfortunately the persecution of witches did not cease in the countries
where that movement made headway--far from it; on
p. 9
the contrary it was kept up with unabated vigour. Infallibility was transferred from
the Church to the Bible; the Roman Catholic persecuted the witch because
Supreme Pontiffs had stigmatised her as a heretic and an associate of Satan,
while the Protestant acted similarly because Holy Writ contained the grim
command "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Thus persecution flourished
equally in Protestant and Roman Catholic kingdoms. But in Ireland the conditions
were different. We find there a Roman Catholic majority, not racially predisposed
towards such a belief, debarred by their religious and political opinions from
taking their full share in public affairs, and opposed in every way to the Protestant
minority. The consequent turmoil and clash of war gave no opportunity for the
witchcraft idea to come to maturity and cast its seeds broadcast; it was trampled
into the earth by the feet of the combatants, and, though the minority believed
firmly in witchcraft and kindred subjects, it had not sufficient strength to make the
belief general throughout the country.
p. 10
A third reason that may be brought forward to account for the comparative
immunity of Ireland was the total absence of literature on the subject. The
diffusion of books and pamphlets throughout a country or district is one of the
recognised ways of propagating any particular creed; the friends and opponents
of Christianity have equally recognised the truth of this, and have always utilised
it to the fullest extent. Now in England from the sixteenth century we find an
enormous literary output relative to witchcraft, the majority of the works being in
support of that belief. Many of these were small pamphlets, which served as the
"yellow press" of the day; they were well calculated to arouse the superstitious
feelings of their readers, as they were written from a sensational standpoint--
indeed it seems very probable that the compilers, in their desire to produce a
startling catch-penny which would be sure to have a wide circulation,
occasionally drew upon their imaginations for their facts. The evil that was
wrought by such amongst an ignorant and superstitious people can well be
imagined; unbelievers would be
p. 11
converted, while the credulous would be rendered more secure in their credulity.
At a later date, when men had become practical enough to question the reality of
such things, a literary war took place, and in this "battle of the books" we find
such well-known names as Richard Baxter, John Locke, Meric Casaubon,
Joseph Glanvil, and Francis Hutchinson, ranged on one side or the other. Thus
the ordinary Englishman would have no reasonable grounds for being ignorant of
the power of witches, or of the various opinions held relative to them. In Ireland,
on the other hand (with the solitary exception of a pamphlet of 1699, which may
or may not have been locally printed), there is not the slightest trace of any
witchcraft literature being published in the country until we reach the opening
years of the nineteenth century. All our information therefore with respect to
Ireland comes from incidental notices in books and from sources across the
water. We might with reason expect that the important trial of Florence Newton at
Youghal in 1661, concerning the historical reality of which there can be no
possible doubt, would be
p. 12
immortalised by Irish writers and publishers, but as a matter of fact it is only
preserved for us in two London printed books. There is no confusion between
cause and effect; books on witchcraft would, naturally, be the result of witch-
trials, but in their turn they would be the means of spreading the idea and of
introducing it to the notice of people who otherwise might never have shown the
least interest in the matter. Thus the absence of this form of literature in Ireland
seriously hindered the advance of the belief in (and consequent practice of)
When did witchcraft make its appearance in Ireland, and what was its progress
therein? It seems probable that this belief, together with certain aspects of fairy
lore hitherto unknown to the Irish, and ideas relative to milk and butter magic,
may in the main be counted as results of the Anglo-Norman invasion, though it is
possible that an earlier instalment of these came in with the Scandinavians. With
our present knowledge we cannot trace its active existence in Ireland further
back than the Kyteler case of 1324; and this, though it was almost
p. 13
certainly the first occasion on which the evil made itself apparent to the general
public, yet seems to have been only the culmination of events that had been
quietly and unobtrusively happening for some little time previously. The language
used by the Parliament with reference to the case of 1447 would lead us to infer
that nothing remarkable or worthy of note in the way of witchcraft or sorcery had
occurred in the country during the intervening century and a quarter. For another
hundred years nothing is recorded, while the second half of the sixteenth century
furnishes us with two cases and a suggestion of several others.
It is stated by some writers (on the authority, we believe, of an early editor of
Hudibras) that during the rule of the Commonwealth Parliament thirty thousand
witches were put to death in England. Others, possessing a little common sense,
place the number at three thousand, but even this is far too high. Yet it seems to
be beyond all doubt that more witches were sent to the gallows at that particular
period than at any other in English history. Ireland seems to have escaped scot-
p. 14
least we have not been able to find any instances recorded of witch trials at that
time. Probably the terribly disturbed state of the country, the tremendous
upheaval of the Cromwellian confiscations, and the various difficulties and
dangers experienced by the new settlers would largely account for this immunity.
Dr. Notestein 1 shows that the tales of apparitions and devils, of knockings and
strange noises, with which English popular literature of the period is filled, are
indications of a very overwrought public mind; of similar stories in Ireland, also
indicative of a similar state of tension, some examples are given in chapter IV.
Though the first half of the seventeenth century is so barren with respect to
witchcraft, yet it should be noticed that during that period we come across
frequent notices of ghosts, apparitions, devils, &c., which forces us to the
conclusion that the increase of the belief in such subjects at that time was almost
entirely due to the advent of the Cromwellian settlers and the Scotch colonists in
Ulster; indeed the beliefs of the latter
p. 15
made the Northern Province a miniature Scotland in this respect. We cannot
blame them for this; could anything else be expected from men who, clergy and
laity alike, were saturated with the superstitions that were then so prominent in
the two countries from which their ranks had been recruited?
Thus the seventeenth century was the period par excellence of witchcraft,
demonology, and the supernatural in Ireland. The most remarkable witch case of
that time, the trial of Florence Newton in 1661, to which allusion has already
been made, seems to have been largely influenced by what occurred in England,
while the various methods suggested or employed as a test of that old woman's
culpability are quite in accordance with the procedure adopted a few years
previously by the English witch-finder general, the infamous Matthew Hopkins.
After 1711 the period of decadence is reached, while between that date and
1808 nothing has been found, though it may be safely inferred that that blank
was filled by incidents similar to the case of Mar Butters and others, as described
in the final chapter; and possibly too, as in
p. 16
England, by savage outbursts on the part of the ignorant and credulous
Witchcraft never flourished to any great extent in Ireland, nor did anything ever
occur which was worthy of the name of persecution-except perhaps as a sequel
to the Kyteler case, and the details of which we fear will never be recovered. The
first part of this statement must be taken generally and not pressed too closely,
as it is based almost entirely on negative evidence, i.e. the absence of
information on the subject. England has a lengthy list of books and pamphlets,
while Scotland's share in the business may be learnt from the fine series of
criminal trials edited by Pitcairn in. the Miscellanies of the Abbotsford Club, not to
speak of other works; notwithstanding these, many cases in both England and
Scotland must have been unrecorded. Ireland can produce nothing like this, for,
as we have already shown, all printed notices of Irish witchcraft, with one
possible exception, are recorded in books published outside the country.
Nevertheless, if all likely sources, both in MS. and print, could be searched, it is
highly probable that a
p. 17
much fuller volume than the present one could be written on the subject. The
Elizabethan Act was passed on account of cases (recorded and unrecorded) that
had arisen in the country; while, human nature being what it is, it seems likely
that the very passing of that Statute by the Irish Parliament was in itself a
sufficient incentive to the witches to practise their art. No belief really gains
ground until it is forbidden; then the martyrs play their part, and there is a
consequent increase in the number of the followers.
The Act of 1634 shows the opinion that was entertained in the highest circles
relative to the baneful influence of witches and the menace their presence was to
the safety of the community at large; in this no doubt the effect of the "evil eye,"
or of the satirical verses of Bards, would be equally classed with witchcraft
From various hints and incidental notices, such as in the account of the
bewitching of Sir George Pollock, or in Law's statement relative to the case of Mr.
Moor, as well as from a consideration of the prevalence of the belief amongst all
classes of society, it may
p. 18
be inferred that far more cases of witchcraft occurred in Ireland during the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than one imagines, though in comparison
with other countries their numbers would be but small. Future students of old
documents may be able to bear out this statement, and to supply information at
present unavailable.
To deal with the subject of witchcraft in general, with its psychology or with the
many strange items which it included, would be out of place in a work exclusively
devoted to one particular country, nor indeed could it be adequately dealt with in
the space at our disposal; it is necessary, however, to say a few words on the
matter in order to show by comparison how much pain and unhappiness the
people of Ireland escaped through the non-prevalence of this terrible cult
amongst them.
In the first place, to judge from the few witch-trials recorded, it may be claimed
that torture as a means of extracting evidence was never used upon witches in
Ireland (excepting the treatment of Petronilla of Meath by Bishop de Ledrede,
which seems to have been carried out is
p. 19
in what may be termed a purely unofficial manner). It would be interesting indeed
to work through the extant Records for the purpose of seeing how often torture
was judicially used on criminals in Ireland, and probably the student who
undertakes the investigation will find that this terrible and illogical method of
extracting the truth (!) was very seldom utilised. Nor is it at all clear that torture
was employed in England in similar trials. Dr. Notestein 1 thinks that there are
some traces of it, which cannot however be certainly proved, except in one
particular instance towards the end of the reign of James I, though this was for
the exceptional crime of practising sorcery (and therefore high treason) against
that too credulous king. Was its use ever legalised by Act of Parliament in either
In Scotland, on the other hand, it was employed with terrible frequency; there
was hardly a trial for witchcraft or sorcery but some of the unfortunates
incriminated were subjected to this terrible ordeal. Even as late as 1690 torture
was judicially applied to
p. 20
extract evidence, for in that year a Jacobite gentleman was questioned by the
boots. But Scotland, even at its worst, fades into insignificance before certain
parts of the Continent, where torture was used to an extent and degree that can
only be termed hellish; the appalling ingenuity displayed in the various methods
of applying the "question extraordinary" seems the work of demons rather than of
Christians, and makes one blush for humanity. The repetition of torture was
forbidden, indeed, but the infamous Inquisitor, James Sprenger, imagined a
subtle distinction by which each fresh application was a continuation and not a
repetition of the first; one sorceress in Germany suffered this continuation no
less, than fifty-six times.
Nor was the punishment of death by fire for witchcraft or sorcery employed to any
extent in Ireland. We have one undoubted instance, and a general hint of' some
others as a sequel to this. How the two witches were put to death in 1578 we are
not told, but probably it was by hanging. Subsequent to the passing of the Act of
1586 the method of execution would
p. 21
have been that for felony. On the Continent the stake was in continual request. In
1514 three hundred persons were burnt alive for this crime at Como. Between
1615 and 1635 more than six thousand sorcerers were burnt in the diocese of
Strasburg, while, if we can credit the figures of Bartholomew de Spina, in
Lombardy a thousand sorcerers a year were put to death for the space of twenty-
five years. 1 The total number of persons executed in various ways for this crime
has, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, been variously estimated at from
one hundred thousand to several millions; if the latter figure be too high
undoubtedly the former is far too low.
In the persecution of those who practised magical arts no rank or class in society
was spared; the noble equally with the peasant was liable to torture and death.
This was especially true of the earlier stages of the movement when sorcery
rather than witchcraft was the crime committed. For there is a general distinction
between the two,
p. 22
though in many instances they are confounded. Sorcery was, so to speak, more
of an aristocratic pursuit; the sorcerer was the master of the Devil (until his
allotted time expired), and compelled him to do his bidding: the witch generally
belonged to the lower classes, embodied in her art many practices which lay on
the borderland between good and evil, and was rather the slave of Satan, who
almost invariably proved to be a most faithless and unreliable employer. For an
illustration from this country of the broad distinction between the two the reader
may compare Dame Alice Kyteler with Florence Newton. Anybody might become
a victim of the witch epidemic; noblemen, scholars, monks, nuns, titled ladies,
bishops, clergy--none were immune from accusation and condemnation. Nay,
even a saint once fell under suspicion; in 1595 S. Francis de Sales was accused
of having been present at a sorcerers' sabbath, and narrowly escaped being
burnt by the populace. 1 Much more might be written in the same strain, but
p. 23
sufficient illustrations have been brought forward to show the reader that in its
comparative immunity from witchcraft and its terrible consequences Ireland,
generally deemed so unhappy, may be counted the most fortunate country in
In conclusion, we have not considered it necessary to append a bibliography.
The books that have been consulted and which have contained no information
relative to Ireland are, unfortunately, all too numerous, while those that have
proved of use are fully referred to in the text or footnotes of the present volume.
We should like however to acknowledge our indebtedness to such general works
on the subject as Sir Walter Scott's Demonology and Witchcraft, C. K. Sharpe's
History of Witchcraft in Scotland, John Ashton's The Devil in Britain and America,
and Professor Wallace Notestein's History of Witchcraft in England, 1558-1718
(Washington, 1911); the last three contain most useful bibliographical notices.
Much valuable information with respect to the traditional versions of certain
incidents which occurred in Ulster has been gleaned from Classon Porter's
p. 24
Witches, Warlocks, and Ghosts (reprinted from The Northern Whig of 1885). For
a good bird's-eye view of witchcraft on the Continent from the earliest times we
can recommend J. Français' L'église et la Sorcellerie (Paris: Nourry, 1910).
14:1 In his History of Witchcraft in England.
19:1 Notestein, 10. op. cit.
21:1 Français, L'église et la Sorcellerie.
22:1 Français, op. cit.
A.D. 1324
THE history of the proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler and her confederates
on account of their dealings in unhallowed arts is to be found in a MS. in the
British Museum, and has been edited amongst the publications of the Camden
Society by Thomas Wright, who considers it to be a contemporary narrative.
Good modern accounts of it are given in the same learned antiquary's
"Narratives of Witchcraft and Sorcery" in Transactions of the Ossory
Archæological Society, vol. i., and in the Rev. Dr. Carrigan's History of the
Diocese of Ossory, vol. i.
Dame Alice Kyteler (such apparently being her maiden name), the facile princeps
of Irish witches, was a member of a good Anglo-Norman family that had been
p. 26
in the city of Kilkenny for many ears. The coffin-shaped tombstone of one of her
ancestors, Jose de Keteller, who died in 128-, is preserved at S. Mary's church;
the inscription is in Norman-French and the lettering is Lombardic. The lady in
question must have been far removed from the popular conception of a witch as
an old woman of striking ugliness, or else her powers of attraction were very
remarkable, for she had succeeded in leading four husbands to the altar. She
had been married, first, to William Outlawe of Kilkenny, banker; secondly, to
Adam le Blund of Callan; thirdly, to Richard de Valle--all of whom she was
supposed to have got rid of by poison; and fourthly, to Sir John le Poer, whom it
was said she deprived of his natural senses by philtres and incantations.
The Bishop of Ossory at this period was Richard de Ledrede, a Franciscan friar,
and an Englishman by birth. He soon learnt that things were not as they should
be, for when making a visitation of his diocese early in 1324 he found by an
Inquisition, in which were five knights and numerous
p. 27
nobles, that there was in the city a band of heretical sorcerers, at the head of
whom was Dame Alice. The following charges were laid against them.
1. They had denied the faith of Christ absolutely for a year or a month, according
as the object they desired to gain through sorcery was of greater or less
importance. During all that period they believed in none of the doctrines of the
Church; they did not adore the Body of Christ, nor enter a sacred building to hear
mass, nor make use of consecrated bread or holy water.
2. They offered in sacrifice to demons living animals, which they dismembered,
and then distributed at cross-roads to a certain evil spirit of low rank, named the
Son of Art.
3. They sought by their sorcery advice and responses from demons.
4. In their nightly meetings they blasphemously imitated the power of the Church
by fulminating sentence of excommunication, with lighted candles, even against
their own husbands, from the sole of their foot to the crown of their head, naming
each part expressly, and then concluded by extinguishing
p. 28
the candles and by crying Fi! Fi! Fi! Amen.
5. In order to arouse feelings of love or hatred, or to inflict death or disease on
the bodies of the faithful, they made use of powders, unguents, ointments, and
candles of fat, which were compounded as follows. They took the entrails of
cocks sacrificed to demons, certain horrible worms, various unspecified herbs,
dead men's nails, the hair, brains, and shreds of the cerements of boys who were
buried unbaptized, with other abominations, all of which they cooked, with
various incantations, over a fire of oak-logs in a vessel made out of the skull of a
decapitated thief.
6. The children of Dame Alice's four husbands accused her before the Bishop of
having killed their fathers by sorcery, and of having brought on them such
stolidity of their senses that they bequeathed all their wealth to her and her
favourite son, William Outlawe, to the impoverishment of the other children. They
also stated that her present husband, Sir John le Poer, had been reduced to
such a condition by sorcery and the use of powders that he had
p. 29
become terribly emaciated, his nails had dropped off, and there was no hair left
on his body. No doubt he would have died had he not been warned by a maid-
servant of what was happening, in consequence of which be had forcibly
possessed himself of his wife's keys, and had opened some chests in which be
found a sackful of horrible and detestable things which he transmitted to the
bishop by the hands of two priests.
7. The said dame had a certain demon, an incubus, named Son of Art, or Robin
son of Art, who had carnal knowledge of her, and from whom she admitted that
she had received all her wealth. This incubus made its appearance under various
forms, sometimes as a cat, or as a hairy black dog, or in the likeness of a negro
(Æthiops), accompanied by two others who were larger and taller than he, and of
whom one carried an iron rod.
According to another source the sacrifice to the evil spirit is said to have
consisted of nine red cocks, and nine peacocks' eyes. Dame Alice was also
accused of having "swept the streets of Kilkenny betweene compleine and
twilight, raking all the filth
p. 30
towards the doores of hir sonne William Outlawe, murmuring secretly with hir
selfe these words:
"To the house of William my sonne
Hie all the wealth of Kilkennie towne."
On ascertaining the above the Bishop wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger
Outlawe, who was also Prior of the Preceptory of Kilmainham, for the arrest of
these persons. Upon this William Outlawe formed a strong party to oppose the
Bishop's demands, amongst which were the Chancellor, his near relative, and Sir
Arnold le Poer, the Seneschal of Kilkenny, who was probably akin to Dame
Alice's fourth husband. The Chancellor in reply wrote to the Bishop stating that a
warrant for arrest could not be obtained until a public process of
excommunication had been in force for forty days, while Sir Arnold also wrote
requesting him to withdraw the case, or else to ignore it. Finding such obstacles
placed in his way the Bishop took the matter into his own hands, and cited the
Dame, who was then in her son's house in Kilkenny, to appear before him. As
might be expected,
p. 31
she ignored the citation, and fled immediately.
Foiled in this, he cited her son William for heresy. Upon this Sir Arnold came with
William to the Priory of Kells, where De Ledrede was holding a visitation, and
besought him not to proceed further in the matter. Finding entreaty useless he
had recourse to threats, which he speedily put into execution. As the Bishop was
going forth on the following day to continue his visitation he was met on the
confines of the town of Kells by Stephen le Poer, bailiff of the cantred of Overk,
and a posse of armed men, by whom he was arrested under orders from Sir
Arnold, and lodged the same day in Kilkenny jail. This naturally caused
tremendous excitement in the city. The place became ipso facto subject to an
interdict; the Bishop desired the Sacrament, and it was brought to him in solemn
procession by the Dean and Chapter. All the clergy, both secular and religious,
flocked from every side to the prison to offer their consolation to the captive, and
their feelings were roused to the highest pitch by the preaching of a Dominican,
p. 32
who took as his text, Blessed are they which are persecuted, &c. Seeing this,
William Outlawe nervously informed Sir Arnold of it, who thereupon decided to
keep the Bishop in closer restraint, but subsequently changed his mind, and
allowed him to have companions with him day and night, and also granted free
admission to all his friends and servants.
After De Ledrede had been detained in prison for seventeen days, and Sir Arnold
having thereby attained his end, viz. that the day on which William Outlawe was
cited to appear should in the meantime pass by, he sent by the hands of his
uncle the Bishop of Leighlin (Miler le Poer), and the sheriff of Kilkenny a mandate
to the constable of the prison to liberate the Bishop. The latter refused to sneak
out like a released felon, but assumed his pontificals, and, accompanied by all
the clergy and a throng of people, made his way solemnly to S. Canice's
Cathedral, where he gave thanks to God. With a pertinacity we cannot but
admire he again cited William Outlawe by public proclamation to appear before
him, but before the day arrived the Bishop
p. 33
was himself cited to answer in Dublin for having placed an interdict on his
diocese. He excused himself from attending on the plea that the road thither
passed through the lands of Sir Arnold, and that in consequence his life would be
in danger.
De Ledrede had been arrested by Le Poer's orders in Lent, in the year 1324. On
Monday following the octave of Easter the Seneschal held his court in Kilkenny,
to which entrance was denied the Bishop; but the latter, fully robed, and carrying
the Sacrament in a golden vase, made his way into the court-room, and
"ascending the tribunal, and reverently elevating the Body of Christ, sought from
the Seneschal, Justiciary, and Bailiffs that a hearing should be granted to him."
The scene between the two was extraordinary; it is too lengthy to insert, and
does not bear to be condensed--suffice it to say that the Seneschal alluded to the
Bishop as "that vile, rustic, interloping monk (trutannus), with his dirt (hordys)
which he is carrying in his hands," and refused to hear his arguments, or to afford
him any assistance.
Though we have lost sight for a while
p. 34
of Dame Alice, yet she seems to have been eagerly watching the trend of events,
for now we find her having the Bishop summoned to Dublin to answer for having
excommunicated her, uncited, unadmonished, and unconvicted of the crime of
sorcery. He attended accordingly, and found the King's and the Archbishop's
courts against him to a man, but the upshot of the matter was that the Bishop
won the day; Sir Arnold was humbled, and sought his pardon for the wrongs he
had done him. This was granted, and in the presence of the council and the
assembled prelates they mutually gave each other the kiss of peace.
Affairs having come to such a satisfactory conclusion the Bishop had leisure to
turn his attention to the business that had unavoidably been laid aside for some
little time. He directed letters patent, praying the Chancellor to seize the said
Alice Kyteler, and also directed the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Dublin to
cite her to respond on a certain day in Kilkenny before the Bishop. But the bird
escaped again out of the hand of the fowler. Dame Alice fled a second time, on
this occasion
p. 35
from Dublin, where she had been living, and (it is said) made her way to England,
where she spent the remainder of her days unmolested. Several of her
confederates were subsequently arrested, some of them being apparently in a
very humble condition of life, and were committed to prison. Their names were:
Robert of Bristol, a clerk, John Galrussyn, Ellen Galrussyn, Syssok Galrussyn,
William Payn de Boly, Petronilla of Meath, her daughter Sarah, 1 Alice the wife of
Henry Faber, Annota Lange, and Eva de Brownestown. When the Bishop arrived
in Kilkenny from Dublin he went direct to the prison, and interviewed the
unfortunates mentioned above. They all immediately confessed to the charges
laid against them, and even went to the length of admitting other crimes of which
no mention had been made; but, according to them, Dame Alice was the mother
and mistress of them all. Upon this the Bishop wrote letters on the 6th of June to
the Chancellor, and to the Treasurer, Walter de Islep, requesting them to order
the Sheriff to attach the bodies of these people and put
p. 36
them in safe keeping. But a warrant was refused, owing to the fact that William
Outlawe was a relation of the one and a close friend of the other; so at length the
Bishop obtained it through the Justiciary, who also consented to deal with the
case when he came to Kilkenny.
Before his arrival the Bishop summoned William Outlawe to answer in S. Mary's
Church. The latter appeared before him, accompanied by a band of men armed
to the teeth; but in no way overawed by this show of force, De Ledrede formally
accused him of heresy, of favouring, receiving, and defending heretics, as well as
of usury, perjury, adultery, clericide, and excommunications--in all thirty-four
items were brought forward against him, and he was permitted to respond on the
arrival of the Justiciary. When the latter reached Kilkenny, accompanied by the
Chancellor, the Treasurer, and the King's Council, the Bishop in their presence
recited the charges against Dame Alice, and with the common consent of the
lawyers present declared her to be a sorceress, magician, and heretic, and
demanded that she should be handed over
p. 37
to the secular arm and have her goods and chattels confiscated as well. judging
from Friar Clyn's note this took place on the 2nd of July. On the same day the
Bishop caused a great fire to be lit in the middle of the town in which he burnt the
sackful of magical stock-in-trade, consisting of powders, ointments, human nails,
hair, herbs, worms, and other abominations, which the reader will remember he
had received from Sir John le Poer at an early stage in the proceedings.
Further trouble arose with William Outlawe, who was backed by the Chancellor
and Treasurer, but the Bishop finally succeeded in beating him, and compelled
him to submit on his bended knees. By way of penance he was ordered to hear
at least three masses every day for the space of a year, to feed a certain number
of poor people, and to cover with lead the chancel of S. Canice's Cathedral from
the belfry eastward, as well as the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. He thankfully
agreed to do this, but subsequently refused to fulfil his obligations, and was
thereupon cast into prison.
p. 38
What was the fate of Dame Alice's accomplices, whose names we have given
above, is not specifically recorded, except in one particular instance. One of
them, Petronilla of Meath, was made the scapegoat for her mistress. The Bishop
had her flogged six times, and under the repeated application of this form of
torture she made the required confession of magical practices. She admitted the
denial of her faith and the sacrificing to Robert, son of Art, and as well that she
had caused certain women of her acquaintance to appear as if they had goats'
horns, She also confessed that at the suggestion of Dame Alice she had
frequently consulted demons and received responses from them, and that she
had acted as a "medium" (mediatrix) between her and the said Robert. She
declared that although she herself was mistress of the Black Art, yet she was as
nothing in comparison with the Dame from whom she had learnt all her
knowledge, and that there was no one in the world more skilful than she. She
also stated that William Outlawe deserved death as much as she, for he was
privy to their sorceries, and for a year and
p. 39
a day had worn the devil's girdle 1 round his body. When rifling Dame Alice's
house there was found "a wafer of sacramental bread, having the devil's name
stamped thereon instead of Jesus Christ, and a pipe of ointment wherewith she
greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thicke and thin,
when and in what manner she listed." Petronilla was accordingly condemned to
be burnt alive, and the execution of this sentence took place with all due
solemnity in Kilkenny on 3rd November 1324, which according to Clyn fell on a
Sunday. This was the first instance of the punishment of death by fire being
inflicted in Ireland for heresy.
Whether or not Petronilla's fellow-prisoners were punished is not clear, but the
words of the anonymous narrator show us that the burning of that unfortunate
wretch was rather the beginning than the end of persecution--that in fact
numerous other suspected persons were followed up, some of whom shared her
terrible fate, while to others milder
p. 40
forms of punishment were meted out, no doubt in proportion to their guilt. He
says: "With regard to the other heretics and sorcerers who belonged to the
pestilential society of Robin, son of Art, the order of law being pre, served, some
of them were publicly burnt to death; others, confessing their crimes in the
presence of all the people, in an upper garment, are marked back and front with
a cross after they had abjured their heresy, as is the custom; others were
solemnly whipped through the town and the market-place; others were banished
from the city and diocese; others who evaded the jurisdiction of the Church were
excommunicated; while others again fled in fear and were never heard of after.
And thus, by the authority of Holy Mother Church, and by the special grace of
God, that most foul brood was scattered and destroyed."
Sir Arnold le Poer, who had taken such a prominent part in the affair, was next
attacked. The Bishop accused him of heresy, had him excommunicated, and
committed prisoner to Dublin Castle. His innocency was believed in by most
p. 41
and Roger Outlawe, Prior of Kilmainham, who also figures in our story, and who
was appointed Justiciary of Ireland in 1328, showed him some kindness, and
treated him with humanity. This so enraged the Bishop that he actually accused
the Justiciary of heresy. A select committee of clerics vindicated the orthodoxy of
the latter, upon which he prepared a sumptuous banquet for his defenders. Le
Poer died in prison the same year, 1331, before the matter was finally settled,
and as he was under ban of excommunication his body lay unburied for a long
But ultimately the tables were turned with a vengeance. De Ledrede was himself
accused of heresy by his Metropolitan, Alexander de Bicknor, upon which he
appealed to the Holy See, and set out in person for Avignon. He endured a long
exile from his diocese, suffered much hardship, and had his temporalities seized
by the Crown as well. In 1339 he recovered the royal favour, but ten years later
further accusations were brought to the king against him, in consequence of
which the temporalities were a second time taken up, and other
p. 42
severe measures were threatened. However, by 1356 the storm had blown over;
he terminated a lengthy and disturbed episcopate in 1360, and was buried in the
chancel of S. Canice's on the north side of the high altar. A recumbent effigy
under an ogee-headed canopy is supposed to mark the last resting-place of this
turbulent prelate.
In the foregoing pages we have only given the barest outline of the story, except
that the portions relative to the practice of sorcery have been fully dealt with as
pertinent to the purpose of this book, as well as on account of the importance of
the case in the annals of Irish witchcraft. The story of Dame Alice Kyteler and
Bishop de Ledrede occupies forty pages of the Camden Society's publications,
while additional illustrative matter can be obtained from external sources; indeed,
if all the scattered material were gathered together and carefully sifted it would be
sufficient to make a short but interesting biography of that prelate, and would
throw considerable light on the relations between Church and State in Ireland in
the fourteenth century. With regard to the tale it is difficult to know
p. 43
what view should be taken of it. Possibly Dame Alice and her associates actually
tried to practise magical arts, and if so, considering the period at which it
occurred, we certainly cannot blame the Bishop for taking the steps he did. On
the other hand, to judge from the analogy of Continental witchcraft, it is to be
feared that De Ledrede was to some extent swayed by such baser motives as
greed of gain and desire for revenge. He also seems to have been tyrannical,
overbearing, and dictatorial; according to him the attitude adopted by the Church
should never be questioned by the State, but this view was not shared by his
opponents. Though our sympathies do not lie altogether with him, yet to give him
his due it must be said that he was as ready to be persecuted as to persecute; he
did not hesitate to face an opposition which consisted of some of the highest in
the land, nor did fear of attack or imprisonment (which he actually suffered) avail
to turn him aside from following the course he had mapped out for himself.
It should be noticed that the appointment of De Ledrede to the See of Ossory
p. 44
almost synchronised with the elevation of John XXII to the Papacy. The attitude
of that Pope towards magical arts was no uncertain one. He believed himself to
be surrounded by enemies who were ever making attempts on his life by
modelling images of him in wax, to be subsequently thrust through with pins and
melted, no doubt; or by sending him a devil enclosed in a ring, or in various other
ways. Consequently in several Bulls he anathematised sorcerers, denounced
their ill-deeds, excited the inquisitors against them, and so gave ecclesiastical
authorisation to the reality of the belief in magical forces. Indeed, the general
expressions used in the Bull Super illius specula might be applied to the actions
of Dame Alice and her party. He says of certain persons that "they sacrifice to
demons and adore them. making or causing to be made images, rings, &c., with
which they draw the evil spirits by their magical art, obtain responses from them,
and demand their help in performing their evil designs." 1
Heresy and sorcery were now identified, and the punishment for the former was
p. 45
same as that for the latter, viz. burning at the stake and confiscation of property.
The attitude of this Pontiff evidently found a sympathiser in Bishop de Ledrede,
who deemed it necessary to follow the example set by the Head of the Church,
with what results we have already shown: thus we find in Ireland a ripple of the
wave that swept over Europe at this period.
It is very probable, too, that there were many underlying local causes of which we
can know little or nothing; the discontent and anger of the disinherited children at
the loss of the wealth of which Dame Alice had bereft them by her exercise of
"undue influence" over her husbands, family quarrels, private hatreds, and
possibly national jealousy helped to bring about one of the strangest series of
events in the chequered history of Ireland.
35:1 Elsewhere given as Basilia.
39:1 Magical girdles were used for various purposes. Bosc in his Glossaire will
have them to be the origin of the magnetic belts, &c. that are so freely advertised
at the present day.
44:1 Français, op. cit.
A.D. 1223-1583
IN one respect the case of Dame Alice Kyteler stands alone in the history of
magical dealings in Ireland prior to the seventeenth century. We have of the
entire proceedings an invaluable and contemporary account, or at latest one
compiled within a very few years after the death of Petronilla of Meath; while the
excitement produced by the affair is shown by the more or less lengthy allusions
to it in early writings, such as The Book of Howth (Carew MSS.), the Annals by
Friar Clyn, the Chartularies of S. Mary's Abbey (vol. ii.), &c. It is also rendered
more valuable by the fact that those who
p. 47
are best qualified to give their opinion on the matter have assured the writer that
to the best of their belief no entries with respect to trials for sorcery or witchcraft
can be found in the various old Rolls preserved in the Dublin Record Office.
But when the story is considered with reference to the following facts it takes on
a different signification. On the 29th of September 1317 (Wright says 1320),
Bishop de Ledrede held his first Synod, at which several canons were passed,
one of which seems in some degree introductory to the events detailed in the
preceding chapter. In it he speaks of "a certain new and pestilential sect in our
parts, differing from all the faithful in the world, filled with a devilish spirit, more
inhuman than heathens or Jews, who pursue the priests and bishops of the Most
High God equally in life and death, by spoiling and rending the patrimony of
Christ in the diocese of Ossory, and who utter grievous threats against the
bishops and their ministers exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and (by various
means) attempt to hinder the correction of sins and the salvation of souls, in
contempt of God
p. 48
and the Church." 1 From this it would seem that heresy and unorthodoxy had
already made its appearance in the diocese. In 1324 the Kyteler case occurred,
one of the participants being burnt at the stake, while other incriminated persons
were subsequently followed up, some of whom shared the fate of Petronilla. In
1327 Adam Dubh, of the Leinster tribe of O'Toole, was burnt alive on College
Green for denying the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity, as well as
for rejecting the authority of the Holy See. 2 In 1335 Pope Benedict XII wrote a
letter to King Edward III, in which occurs the following passage: "It has come to
our knowledge that while our venerable brother, Richard, Bishop of Ossory, was
visiting his diocese, there appeared in the midst of his catholic people men who
were heretics together with their abettors, some of whom asserted that Jesus
Christ was a mere man and a sinner, and was justly crucified for His own sins;
others after having done homage and offered sacrifice to demons, thought
otherwise of
p. 49
the sacrament of the Body of Christ than the Catholic Church teaches, saying
that the same venerable sacrament is by no means to be worshipped; and also
asserting that they are not bound to obey or believe the decrees, decretals, and
apostolic mandates; in the meantime, consulting demons according to the rites of
those sects among the Gentiles and Pagans, they despise the sacraments of the
Catholic Church, and draw the faithful of Christ after them by their superstitions."
As no Inquisitors of heresy have been appointed in Ireland, he begs the King to
give prompt assistance to the Bishop and other Prelates in their efforts to punish
the aforesaid heretics. 1 If the above refer to the Kyteler case it came rather late
in the day; but it is quite possible, in view of the closing words of the anonymous
narrator, that it has reference rather to the following up of the dame's associates,
a process that must have involved a good deal of time and trouble, and in which
no doubt many unhappy creatures were implicated. Again, in 1353, two men
were tried at Bunratty in co. Clare by Roger Cradok, Bishop of
p. 50
Waterford, for holding heretical opinions (or for offering contumely to the Blessed
Virgin), and were sentenced to be burnt. 1 The above are almost the only (if not
the only) instances known of the punishment of death by fire being inflicted in
Ireland for heresy.
From a consideration of the facts here enumerated it would seem as if a
considerable portion of Ireland had been invaded by a wave of heresy in the first
half of the fourteenth century, and that this manifested itself under a twofold form-
-first, in a denial of the cardinal doctrines of the Church and a consequent revolt
against her jurisdiction'; and secondly, in the use of magical arts, incantations,
charms, familiar spirits, et hoc genus omne. In this movement the Kyteler case
was only an episode, though obviously the most prominent one; while its
importance was considerably enhanced, if not exaggerated out of all due
proportion, by the aggressive attitude adopted by Bishop de Ledrede against the
lady and her companions, as well as by his
p. 51
struggles with Outlawe and Le Poer, and their powerful backers, the Chancellor
and Treasurer of Ireland. The anonymous writer, who was plainly a cleric, and a
partisan of the Bishop's, seems to have compiled his narration not so much on
account of the incident of sorcery as to show the courage and perseverance of
De Ledrede, and as well to make manifest the fact that the Church should dictate
to the State, not the State to the Church. It appears quite possible, too, that other
separate cases of sorcery occurred in Ireland at this period, though they had no
historian to immortalise them, and no doubt in any event would have faded into
insignificance in comparison with the doings of Dame Kyteler and her "infernal
From this on we shall endeavour to deal with the subject as far as possible in
chronological order. It is perhaps not generally known that at one time an Irish
See narrowly escaped (to its misfortune, be it said) having a magician as its
Chief Shepherd. In 1223 the Archbishopric of Cashel became vacant, upon
which the Capitular Body elected as their Archbishop the then
p. 52
Bishop of Cork, to whom the temporalities were restored in the following year.
But some little time prior to this the Pope had set aside the election and
"provided" a nominee of his own, one Master M. Scot, to fill the vacancy: he
however declined the proffered dignity on the ground that he was ignorant of the
Irish language. This papal candidate was none other than the famous Michael
Scot, reputed a wizard of such potency that--
"When in Salamanca's cave
Him listed his magic wand to wave
The bells would ring in Notre Dame."
Scot had studied successively at Oxford and Paris (where he acquired the title of
"mathematicus"); he then passed to Bologna, thence to Palermo, and
subsequently continued his studies at Toledo. His refusal of the See of Cashel
was an intellectual loss to the Irish Church, for, he was so widely renowned for
his varied and extensive learning that he was credited with supernatural powers;
a number of legends grew up around his name which hid his real merit, and
transformed the man
p. 53
of science into a magician. In the Border country traditions of his magical power
are common. Boccaccio alludes to "a great master in necromancy, called Michael
Scot," while Dante places him in the eighth circle of Hell.
The next, who is so slender in the Ranks,
Was Michael Scot, who of a verity
Of magical illusions knew the game." 1
Another man to whom magical powers were attributed solely on account of his
learning was Gerald, the fourth Earl of Desmond, 2 styled the Poet, who died
rather mysteriously in 1398. The Four Masters in their Annals describe him as "a
nobleman of wonderful bounty, mirth, cheerfulness of conversation, charitable in
his deeds, easy of access, a witty and ingenious composer of Irish poetry, a
learned and profound chronicler." No legends are extant of his magical deeds.
King James I of Scotland, whose severities against his nobles had aroused their
bitter resentment, was barbarously assassinated at
p. 54}
Perth in 1437 by some of their supporters, who were aided and abetted by the
aged Duke of Atholl. From a contemporary account of this we learn that the
monarch's fate was predicted to him by an Irish prophetess or witch; had he
given ear to her message he might have escaped with his life. We modernise the
somewhat difficult spelling, but retain the quaint language of the original. "The
king, suddenly advised, made a solemn feast of the Christmas at Perth, which is
clept Saint John's Town, which is from Edinburgh on the other side of the
Scottish sea, the which is vulgarly clept the water of Lethe. In the midst of the
way there arose a woman of Ireland, that clept herself as a soothsayer. The
which anon as she saw the king she cried with loud voice, saying thus: 'My lord
king, and you pass this water you shall never turn again alive.' The king hearing
this was astonied of her words; for but a little before he had read in a prophecy
that in the self same year the king of Scots should be slain: and therewithal the
king, as he rode, cleped to him one of his knights, and gave him in
commandment to turn
p. 55
again to speak with that woman, and ask of her what she would, and what thing
she meant with her loud crying. And she began, and told him as ye have heard of
the King of Scots if he passed that water. As now the king asked her, how she
knew that. And she said, that Huthart told her so. 'Sire,' quoth he, 'men may
"calant" ye take no heed of yon woman's words, for she is but a drunken fool,
and wot not what she saith'; and so with his folk passed the water clept the
Scottish sea, towards Saint John's town." The narrator states some dreams
ominous of James's murder, and afterwards proceeds thus: "Both afore supper,
and long after into quarter of the night, in the which the Earl of Atholl (Athetelles)
and Robert Steward were about the king, where they were occupied at the
playing of the chess, at the tables, in reading of romances, in singing and piping,
in harping, and in other honest solaces of great pleasance and disport. Therewith
came the said woman of Ireland, that clept herself a divineress, and entered the
king's court, till that she came straight to the king's chamber-door, where she
stood, and
p. 56
abode because that it was shut. And fast she knocked, till at the last the usher
opened the door, marvelling of that woman's being there that time of night, and
asking her what she would. 'Let me in, sir,' quoth she, 'for I have somewhat to
say, and to tell unto the king; for I am the same woman that not long ago desired
to have spoken with him at the Leith, when he should pass the Scottish sea.' The
usher went in and told him of this woman. 'Yea,' quoth the king, 'let her come
tomorrow'; because that he was occupied with such disports at that time him let
not to hear her as then. The usher came again to the chamber-door to the said
woman, and there he told her that the king was busy in playing, and bid her come
soon again upon the morrow. 'Well,' said the woman, 'it shall repent you all that
ye will not let me speak now with the king.' Thereat the usher laughed, and held
her but a fool, charging her to go her way, and therewithal she went thence." Her
informant "Huthart" was evidently a familiar spirit who was in attendance on her. 1
p. 57
Considering the barrenness of Irish records on the subject of sorcery and
witchcraft it affords us no small satisfaction to find the following statement in the
Statute Rolls of the Parliament 1 for the year 1447. It consists of a most
indignantly-worded remonstrance from the Lords and Commons, which was
drawn forth by the fact that some highly-placed personage had been accused of
practising sorcery with the intent to do grievous harm to his enemy. When
making it the remonstrants appear to have forgotten, or perhaps, like Members of
Parliament in other ages, found it convenient to forget for the nonce the Kyteler
incident of the previous century. Of the particular case here alluded to
unfortunately no details are given, nor is any clue for obtaining them afforded us.
The remonstrance runs as follows: "Also at the prayer of John, Archbishop of
Armagh (and others). That whereas by the subtle malice and malicious suits of
certain persons slandering a man of rank this land was entirely slandered, and
still is in such slanderous matters as never were known in this land before, as in
p. 58
or destroying any man by sorcery or necromancy., the which they think and
believe impossible to be performed in art--It is ordained and agreed by authority
of this present parliament, with the entire assent of the lords spiritual and
temporal and commons of said parliament, that our lord the king be certified of
the truth in this matter, in avoidance of the slander of this land in common,
asserting that no such art was attempted at any time in this land, known or
rumoured among the people, nor any opinion had or entertained of the same by
the lay men in this land until now." It seems likely that the accusation was
prompted by personal enmity, and was groundless in fact; but the annals of
witchcraft show that such an indictment could prove a most terrible weapon in the
hands of unscrupulous persons. With respect to the above we learn that Ireland
was coming into line with England, for in the latter country during the fifteenth
century charges of sorcery were frequently raised against persons of eminence
by their political adversaries. One of the most celebrated cases of the kind
occurred only six years prior to the
p. 59
above, in 1441, that of the Duchess of Gloucester in the reign of Henry VI.
Nothing further on the subject is recorded until the year 1544, under which date
we find the following entry in the table of the red council book of Ireland:
"A letter to Charles FitzArthur for sendinge a witch to the Lord
Deputie to be examined."
This note is a most tantalising one. The red council book has been lost, but a
succinct "table" of its contents, from which the above has been extracted, and
which was apparently compiled by Sir William Usher, has been preserved in Add.
MSS. 1792, and published in Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Report, appendix, part 3,
but an examination of the original MS. reveals nothing in addition to the above
passage; so, until the lost book is discovered, we must remain in ignorance with
respect to the doings of this particular witch.
The next notice of witchcraft in Ireland occurs in the year 1578, when a witch-trial
took place at Kilkenny, though here again, unfortunately, no details have been
p. 60
In the November of that year sessions were held there by the Lord Justice Drury
and Sir Henry Fitton, who, in their letter to the Privy Council on the 20th of the
same month, inform that Body that upon arriving at the town "the jail being full we
caused sessions immediately to be held. Thirty-six persons were executed,
amongst whom were some good ones, a blackamoor and two witches by natural
law, for that we find no law to try them by in this realm." 1 It is easy to see why the
witches were put to death, but the reason for the negro's execution is not so
obvious. It can hardly have been for the colour of his skin, although no doubt a
black man was as much a rara avis in the town of Kilkenny as a black swan. Had
the words been written at the time the unfortunate negro might well have
exclaimed, though in vain, to his judges:
"Mislike me not for my complexion--
The shadowed livery of the burning sun."
Or could it have been that he was the unhappy victim of a false etymology! For
p. 61
in old writers the word "necromancy" is spelt "nigromancy," as if divination was
practised through the medium of negroes instead of dead persons; indeed in an
old vocabulary of 1475 "Nigromantia" is defined as "divinatio facta per nigros." He
may therefore have been suspected of complicity with the two witches.
As yet the "natural law" held sway in Ireland, but very soon this country was to be
fully equipped with a Statute all to itself. Two Statutes against witchcraft had
already been passed in England, one in 1541, which was repealed six years
later, and a second in 1562. Partly no doubt on account of the Kilkenny case of
1578, and partly to place Ireland on the same footing as England, a Statute was
passed by the Irish Parliament in 1586. Shorn of much legal verbiage the
principal points of it may be gathered from the following extracts:
"Where at this present there is no ordinarie ne condigne punishment provided
against the practices of the wicked offences
p. 62
of conjurations, and of invocations of evill spirites, and of sorceries,
enchauntments, charms, and witchcrafts, whereby manie fantasticall and devilish
persons have devised and practised invocations and conjurations of evill and
wicked spirites, and have used and practised witchcrafts, enchauntments,
charms, and sorceries, to the destruction of the persons and goods of their
neighbours, and other subjects of this realm, and for other lewde and evill intents
and purposes, contrary to the laws of Almighty God, to the peril of their owne
soules, and to the great infamie and disquietnesse of this realm. For reformation
thereof, be it enacted by the Queen's Majestie, with the assent of the lords
spirituall and temporall and the commons in this present Parliament assembled.
"1. That if any person or persons after the end of three months next, and
immediately after the end of the last session of this present parliament, shall use,
practise, or exercise any witchcraft, enchauntment, charme, or sorcery, whereby
any person shall happen to be killed or destroied,
p. 62
that then as well any such offender or offenders in invocations and conjurations,
as is aforesaid, their aydors or councelors . . . being of the said offences lawfully
convicted and attainted, shall suffer paines of death as a felon or felons, and
shall lose the privilege and benefit of clergie and sanctuarie; saving to the widow
of such person her title of dower, and also the heires and successors of such a
person all rights, titles, &c., as though no such attaynder had been made.
"2. If any persons (after the above period) shall use, practise, or exercise any
witchcraft, enchauntment, charme, or sorcery, whereby any person or persons
shall happen to be wasted, consumed, or lamed, in his or their bodie or member,
or whereby any goods or cattels of any such person shall be destroyed, wasted,
or impaired, then every such offender shall for the first offence suffer
imprisonment by the space of one yeare without bayle or maineprise, and once in
every quarter of the said yeare, shall in some market towne, upon the market
day, or at such time as any faire
p. 64
shall be kept there, stand openlie in the pillorie for the space of sixe houres, and
shall there openly confesse his or theire errour and offence, and for the second
offence shall suffer death as a felon, saving, &c. (as in clause 1).
"3. Provided always, that if the offender in any of the cases aforesaid, for which
the paines of death shall ensue, shall happen to be a peer of this realm: then his
triall therein to be had by his peers, as is used in cases of felony and treason,
and not otherwise.
"4. And further, to the intent that all manner of practice, use, or exercise of
witchcraft, enchauntment, charme, or sorcery, should be from henceforth utterly
avoide, abolished. and taken away; be it enacted by the authority of this present
Parliament that if any person or persons . . . shall take upon them by witchcraft,
&c., to tell or declare in what place any treasure of gold or silver shall or might be
found or had in the earth or other secret Places, or where goods or things lost or
stollen should be found or become, or shall use or practice any sorcery, &c., to
the intent to provoke
p. 65
any person to unlawful love (for the first offence to be punished as in clause 2),
but if convicted a second time shall forfeit unto the Queen's Majesty all his goods
and chattels, and suffer imprisonment during life."
On the whole, considering the temper of the time, this Statute was exceedingly
mild. It made no provision whatsoever for the use of torture to extract evidence,
nor indeed did it offer any particular encouragement to the witch hunter, while the
manner of inflicting the death penalty was precisely that for felony, viz. hanging,
drawing, and quartering for men, and burning (preceded by strangulation) for
women--sufficiently unpleasant, no doubt, but far more merciful than burning
alive at the stake.
In some way Ireland was fortunate enough to escape the notice of that keen
witch hunter, King James I and VI; had it been otherwise we have little doubt but
that this country would have contributed its share to the list of victims in that
monarch's reign. The above was therefore the only
p. 66
Statute against witchcraft passed by the Irish Parliament; it is said that it was
never repealed, and so no doubt is in force at the present day. Another Act of the
Parliament of Ireland, passed in 1634, and designed to facilitate the
administration of justice, makes mention of witchcraft, and it is there held to be
one of the recognised methods by which one man could take the life of another.
"Forasmuch as the most necessary office and duty of law is to preserve and save
the life of man, and condignly to punish such persons that unlawfully or wilfully
murder, slay, or destroy men . . . and where it often happeneth that a man is
feloniously strucken in one county, and dieth in another county, in which case it
hath not been found by the laws of this realm that any sufficient indictment
thereof can be taken in any of the said two counties. . . . For redress and
punishment of such offences . . . be it enacted . . . that where any person shall be
traiterously or feloniously stricken, poysoned, or bewitched in one county (and
die in another, or out of
p. 67
the kingdom, &c.), that an indictment thereof found by jurors in the county where
the death shall happen, shall be as good and effectual in the law as if, &c. &c. )."
Before passing from the subject we may note a curious allusion to a mythical Act
of Parliament which was intended to put a stop to a certain lucrative form of
witchcraft. It is gravely stated by the writer of a little book entitled Beware the
Cat 1 (and by Giraldus Cambrensis before him), that Irish witches could turn
wisps of hay, straw, &c. into red-coloured pigs, which they dishonestly sold in the
market, but which resumed their proper shape when crossing running water. To
prevent this it is stated that the Irish Parliament passed an Act forbidding the
purchase of red swine. We regret to say, however, that no such interesting Act is
to be found in the Statute books.
The belief in the power of witches to
p. 68
inflict harm on the cattle of those whom they hated, of which we have given some
modern illustrations in the concluding chapter, was to be found in Elizabethan
times in this country. Indeed if we are to put credence in the following passage
from Reginald Scot, quoted by Thomas Ady in his Perfect Discovery of Witches
(London, 1661), a certain amount of witch persecution arose with reference to
this point, possibly as a natural outcome of the Statute of 1586. "Master Scot in
his Discovery telleth us, that our English people in Ireland, whose posterity were
lately barbarously cut off, were much given to this Idolatry [belief in witches] in
the Queen's time [Elizabeth], insomuch that there being a Disease amongst their
Cattel that grew blinde, being a common Disease in that Country, they did
commonly execute people for it, calling them eye-biting Witches."
From incidental notices in writers of the latter half of the sixteenth century it
would seem at first sight as if witchcraft, as we are treating of it in this work, was
very prevalent in Ireland at this period. Barnabe
p. 69
Rich says in his description of Ireland: "The Irish are wonderfully addicted to give
credence to the prognostications of Soothsayers and Witches." Stanihurst writes
that in his time (1547-1618) there were many sorcerers amongst the Irish. A note
in Dr. Hanmer's Collection speaks of "Tyrone his witch the which he hanged." 1
But these statements seem rather to have reference to the point of view from
which the English writers regarded the native bards, as well as the "wise women"
who foretold the future; probably "Tyrone" put his "witch" to death, not through
abhorrence of her unhallowed doings, but in a fit of passion because her
interpretation of coming events, by which he may have allowed himself to be
guided, turned out wrongly.
We have already alluded to Gerald, the fourth Earl of Desmond. His namesake,
the sixteenth holder of the title, commonly known as the "Great Earl," who was
betrayed and killed in 1583, has passed from the region of history to that of
p. 70
as he is credited with being the husband (or son) of a goddess. Not many miles
from the city of Limerick is a lonely, picturesque lake, Lough Gur, which was
included in his extensive possessions, and at the bottom of which he is supposed
to lie enchanted. According to the legend 1 he was a very potent magician, and
usually resided in a castle which was built on a small island in that lake. To this
he brought his bride, a young and beautiful girl, whom he loved with a too fond
love, for she succeeded in prevailing upon him to gratify her selfish desires, with
fatal results. One day she presented herself in the chamber in which her husband
exercised his forbidden art, and begged him to show her the wonders of his evil
science. With the greatest reluctance he consented, but warned her that she
must prepare herself to witness a series of most frightful phenomena, which,
once commenced, could neither be abridged nor mitigated, while if she spoke a
single word during the proceedings the castle and all it contained
p. 71
would sink to the bottom of the lake.
Urged on by curiosity she gave the required promise, and he commenced.
Muttering a spell as he stood before her, feathers sprouted thickly over him, his
face became contracted and hooked, a corpse-like smell filled the air, and
winnowing the air with beats of its heavy wings a gigantic vulture rose in his
stead, and swept round and round the room as if on the point of pouncing upon
her. The lady controlled herself through this trial, and another began.
The bird alighted near the door, and in less than a minute changed, she saw not
how, into a horribly deformed and dwarfish hag, who, with yellow skin hanging
about her face, and cavernous eyes, swung herself on crutches towards the lady,
her mouth foaming with fury, and her grimaces and contortions becoming more
and more hideous every moment, till she rolled with a fearful yell on the floor in a
horrible convulsion at the lady's feet, and then changed into a huge serpent,
which came sweeping and arching towards her with crest erect and quivering
p. 72
Suddenly, as it seemed on the point of darting at her, she saw her husband in its
stead, standing pale before her, and with his finger on his lips enforcing the
continued necessity of silence. He then placed himself at full length on the floor
and began to stretch himself out, longer and longer, until his head nearly reached
to one end of the vast room and his feet to the other. This utterly unnerved her.
She gave a wild scream of horror, whereupon the castle and all in it sank to the
bottom of the lake.
Once in seven years the great Earl rises, and rides by night on his white horse
round Lough Gur. The steed is shod with silver shoes, and when these are worn
out the spell that holds the Earl will be broken, and he will regain possession of
his vast estates and semi-regal power. In the opening years of the nineteenth
century there was living a man named Teigue O'Neill, who claimed to have seen
him on the occasion of one of his septennial appearances under the following
curious conditions. O'Neill was a blacksmith, and his forge: stood on the brow of
a hill
p. 73
overlooking the lake, on a lonely part of the road to Cahirconlish. One night,
when there was a bright moon, he was working very late and quite alone. In one
of the pauses of his work he heard the ring of many hoofs ascending the steep
road that passed his forge, and, standing in his doorway, he saw a gentleman on
a white horse, who was dressed in a fashion the like of which he had never seen
before. This man was accompanied by a mounted retinue, in similar dress. They
seemed to be riding up the hill at a gallop, but the pace slackened as they drew
near, and the rider of the white horse, who seemed from his haughty air to be a
man of rank, drew bridle, and came to a halt before the smith's door. He did not
speak, and all his train were silent, but he beckoned to the smith, and pointed
down at one of the horse's hoofs. Teigue stooped and raised it, and held it just
long enough to see that it was shod with a silver shoe, which in one place was
worn as thin as a shilling. Instantly his situation was made apparent to him by this
sign, and he recoiled with a terrified prayer. The
p. 74
lordly rider, with a look of pain and fury, struck at him suddenly with something
that whistled in the air like a whip; an icy streak seemed to traverse his body, and
at the same time he saw the whole cavalcade break into a gallop, and disappear
down the hill. It is generally supposed that for the purpose of putting an end to his
period of enchantment the Earl endeavours to lead someone on to first break the
silence and speak to him; but what, in the event of his succeeding, would be the
result, or would befall the person thus ensnared, no one knows.
In a letter 1 written in the year 1640, the Earl assumes a different appearance.
We learn from it that as a countryman was on his way to the ancient and
celebrated fair of Knockaney, situated a few miles from Lough Gur, he met "a
gentleman standing in the waye, demanding if he would sell his horse. He
answered, yea, for £5. The gentleman would give him but £4, 10 s., saying he
would not get so much at the ffaire. The fellow
p. 75
went to the ffaire, could not get so much money, and found the gentleman on his
return in the same place, who proffered the same money. The fellow accepting of
it, the other bid him come in and receive his money. He carried him into a fine
spacious castle, payed him his money every penny, and showed him the fairest
black horse that ever was seene, and told him that that horse was the Earl of
Desmond, and that he had three shoes alreadye, when he hath the fourthe shoe,
which should be very shortlie, then should the Earl be as he was before, thus
guarded with many armed men conveying him out of the gates. The fellow came
home, but never was any castle in that place either before or since." The local
variant of the legend states that the seller of the horse was a Clare man, and that
he went home after having been paid in gold the full amount of a satisfactory
bargain, but on the following morning found to his great mortification, that instead
of the gold coins he had only a pocketful of ivy leaves. Readers of Victor Hugo's
Notre Dame will recall the incident of the écu that (apparently)
p. 76
was transformed by magic into a withered leaf. Similar tales of horse-dealing with
mysterious strangers are told in Scotland in connection with the celebrated
Thomas the Rhymer, of Erceldoune.
48:1 Carrigan, History of the Diocese of Ossory, i. p. 48.
48:2 Stokes, Ireland and the Anglo-Norman Church, p. 374.
49:1 Theiner, Vet. Mon., p. 269.
50:1 Westropp, Wars of Turlough (Proc. R.I.A.), p. 161; Seymour, Pre-Ref.
Archbishops of Cashel, 47.
53:1 Dict. Nat. Biog., Seymour, op. cit., p. 18.
53:2 O'Daly, History of the Geraldines.
56:1 Sharpe, History of Witchcraft in Scotland, p. 30.
57:1 Ed. H. F. Berry, D.Litt.
60:1 Carrigan, op. cit., iii. p. 18.
67:1 Quoted in Journal of Royal Society of Antiquaries, 3rd series, vol. i. Français
mentions a Swiss sorcerer, somewhat of a wag, who used to play the same trick
on people.
69:1 Ulster Journal of Archæology, vol. iv. (for 1858).
70:1 All the Year Round (for April 1870).
74:1 Lenihan, History of Limerick, p. 147.
A.D. 1606-1656
AN interesting trial of a clergyman for the practice of unhallowed arts took place
early in 1606--interesting and valuable, if for no other reason than that it is the
first instance of such a case being discovered in the Rolls at the Record Office
(not counting those of the Parliament of 1447), though we hope that it will not
prove to be a unique entry, but rather the earnest of others. Shorn of legal
redundancies it runs as follows: "Inquiry taken before our lord the King at the
King's Court the Saturday
p. 78
next after the three weeks of Easter in the 6th year of James I by the oath of
upright and lawful men of the County of Louth. Who say, that John Aston, late of
Mellifont, Co. Louth, clerk, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being
wholly seduced by the devil, on December 1st at Mellifont aforesaid, and on
divers other days and places, wickedly and feloniously used, practised, and
exercised divers invocations and conjurings of wicked and lying spirits with the
intent and purpose that he might find and recover a certain silver cup formerly
taken away at Mellifont aforesaid, and also that he might understand where and
in what region the most wicked traitor Hugh, Earl of Tyrone, then was, and what
he was contriving against the said lord the King and the State of this kingdom of
Ireland, and also that he might find out and obtain divers treasures of gold and
silver concealed in the earth at Mellifont aforesaid and at Cashel in the county of
the Cross of Tipperary, feloniously and against the peace of the said lord the
King. It is to be known that the aforesaid John was taken, and being a prisoner in
p. 79
Castle of the City of Dublin by warrant of the lord King was sent into England,
therefore further proceedings shall cease." 1 His ultimate fate is not known; nor is
it easy to see why punishment was not meted out to him in Ireland, as he had
directly contravened section 4 of the Elizabethan Act. Possibly the case was
unique, and so King James may have been anxious to examine in person such
an interesting specimen. If so, heaven help the poor parson in the grip of such a
witch hunter.
In the year 1609 there comes from the County of Tipperary a strange story of
magical spells being counteracted by the application of a holy relic; this is
preserved for us in that valuable monastic record, the Triumphalia S. Crucis. At
Holy Cross Abbey, near Thurles, there was preserved for many years with the
greatest veneration a supposed fragment of the True Cross, which attracted vast
numbers of people, and by which it was said many wonderful miracles were
worked. Amongst those that came thither in that year was "Anastasia Sobechan,
an inhabitant of the district of
Callan (co. Kilkenny), tortured by magical spells (veneficis incantationibus
collisa), who at the Abbey, in presence of the Rev. Lord Abbot Bernard [Foulow],
placed a girdle round her body that had touched the holy relic. Suddenly she
vomited small pieces of cloth and wood, and for a whole month she spat out from
her body such things. The said woman told this miracle to the Rev. Lord Abbot
while she was healed by the virtue of the holy Cross. This be took care to set
down in writing."
That most diligent gleaner of things strange and uncommon, Mr. Robert Law, to
whom we are deeply indebted for much of the matter in this volume, informs us in
his Memorialls that in the first half of the seventeenth century there was to be
found in Ireland a celebrated Doctor of Divinity, in Holy Orders of the Episcopal
Church, who possessed extreme adroitness in raising the Devil-a process that
some would have us believe to be commonly practised in Ireland at the present
day by persons who have no pretensions to a knowledge of the Black Art! Mr.
Law also gives the modus operandi at full length. A
p. 81
servant-girl in the employment of Major-General Montgomerie at Irvine in
Scotland was accused of having stolen some silver-work. "The lass being
innocent takes it ill, and tells them, If she should raise the Devil she should know
who took these things." Thereupon, in order to summon that Personage she went
into a cellar, "takes the Bible with her, and draws a circle about her, and turns a
riddle on end from south to north, or from the right to the left hand [i.e. contrary to
the path of the sun in the heavens], having in her right hand nine feathers which
she pulled out of the tail of a black cock, and having read the 51st [Psalm?]
forwards, she reads backwards chapter ix., verse 19, of the Book of Revelation."
Upon this the Devil appeared to her, and told her who was the guilty person. She
then cast three of the feathers at him, and bade him return to the place from
whence he came. This process she repeated three times, until she had gained all
the information she desired; she then went upstairs and told her mistress, with
the result that the goods were ultimately recovered. But escaping Scylla she fell
p. 82
into Charybdis; her uncanny practices came to the ears of the authorities, and
she was apprehended. When in prison she confessed that she had learnt this
particular branch of the Black Art in the house of Dr. Colville in Ireland, who
habitually practised it.
That instructor of youth in such unchristian practices, the Rev. Alexander Colville,
D.D., was ordained in 1622 and subsequently held the vicarage of Carnmoney,
the prebend of Carncastle, and the Precentorship of Connor. He was possessed
of considerable wealth, with which he purchased the Galgorm estate, on which
he resided; this subsequently passed into the Mountcashel family through the
marriage of his great granddaughter with Stephen Moore, first Baron Kilworth
and Viscount Mountcashel. Where Dr. Colville got the money to purchase so
large an estate no one could imagine, and Classon Porter in his useful pamphlet
relates for us the manner in which popular rumour solved the problem. It was
said that he had sold himself to the Devil, and that he had purchased the estate
with the money his body
p. 83
and soul had realised. Scandal even went further still, and gave the exact terms
which Dr. Colville had made with the Evil One. These were, that the Devil was at
once to give the Doctor his hat full of gold, and that the latter was in return, at a
distant but specified day, to deliver himself body and soul to the Devil. The
appointed place of meeting was a lime-kiln; the Devil may have thought that this
was a delicate compliment to him on account of the peculiarly homelike
atmosphere of the spot, but the Doctor had different ideas. The Devil produced
the gold, whereupon Dr. Colville produced a hat with a wide slit in the crown,
which he boldly held over the empty kiln-pit, with the result that by the time the
terms of the bargain were literally complied with, a very considerable amount of
gold lay at the Doctor's disposal, which he prudently used to advance his worldly
So far, so good. But there are two sides to every question. Years rolled by,
bringing ever nearer and nearer the time at which the account had to be settled,
and at length the fatal day dawned. The Devil arrived
p. 84
to claim his victim, and found him sitting in his house reading his Bible by the
light of a candle, whereupon he directed him to come along with him. The Doctor
begged that he might not be taken away until the candle, by which he was
reading, was burned out. To this the Devil assented, whereupon Dr. Colville
promptly extinguished the candle, and putting it between the leaves of the Bible
locked it up in the chest where he kept his gold. The candle was thus deposited
in a place of safety where there was no danger of any person coming across it,
and thus of being the innocent cause of the Doctor's destruction. It is; even said
that he gave orders that the candle should be put into his coffin and buried with
him. So, we may presume, Dr. Colville evaded the payment of his debt. Our
readers may perchance wonder why such stories as the above should have
become connected with the reverend gentleman,. and an explanation is not hard
to be found. Dr. Colville was a well-known divine, possessed of great wealth
(inherited lawfully, we may presume), and enjoyed considerable influence in the
country-side. At this time
p. 85
Ulster was overrun by triumphant Presbyterianism, which the Doctor, as a firm
upholder of Episcopacy, opposed with all his might, and thereupon was spoken
of with great acerbity by his opponents. It is not too uncharitable, therefore, to
assume that these stories originated with some member of that body, who may
well have believed that such had actually happened.
For the next instance of witchcraft and the supernatural in connection with Ireland
we are compelled to go beyond the confines of our country. Though in this the
connection with the Green Isle is slight, yet it is of interest as affording an
example of that blending of fairy lore with sorcery which is not an uncommon
feature of Scottish witchcraft-trials. In the year 1613 a woman named Margaret
Barclay, of Irvine in Scotland, was accused of having caused her brother-in-law's
ship to be cast away by magical spells. A certain strolling vagabond and juggler,
John Stewart, was apprehended as her accomplice; be admitted (probably under
torture) that Margaret had applied to him to teach her some magic arts in order
that "she might get gear,
p. 86
kye's milk, love of man, her heart's desire on such persons as had done her
wrong." Though he does not appear to have granted her request, yet he gave
detailed information as to the manner in which he had gained the supernatural
power and knowledge with which he was credited. "It being demanded of him by
what means he professed himself to have knowledge of things to come, the said
John confessed that the space of twenty-six years ago, he being travelling on All-
Hallow Even night between the towns of Monygoif and Clary, in Galway, he met
with the King of the Fairies and his company, and that the King gave him a stroke
with a white rod over the forehead, which took from him the power of speech and
the use of one eye, which he wanted for the space of three years. He declared
that the use of speech and eyesight was restored to him by the King of Fairies
and his company on a Hallowe'en night at the town of Dublin." At his subsequent
meetings with the fairy band he was taught all his knowledge. The spot on which
he was struck remained impervious to pain although a pin was thrust into it. The
p. 87
unfortunate wretch was cast into prison, and there committed suicide by hanging
himself from the "cruik" of the door with his garter or bonnet-string, and so
"ended his life miserably with the help of the devil his master." 1
A tale slightly resembling portion of the above comes from the north of Ireland a
few years later. "It's storied, and the story is true," says Robert Law in his
Memorialls, 2 "of a godly man in Ireland, who lying one day in the fields sleeping,
he was struck with dumbness and deafness. The same man, during this
condition he was in, could tell things, and had the knowledge of things in a
strange way, which he had not before; and did, indeed, by signs make things
known to others which they knew not. Afterwards he at length, prayer being
made for him by others, came to the use of his tongue and ears; but when that
knowledge of things he had in his deaf and dumb condition ceased, and when he
was asked how he had the knowledge of these things he made signs of, he
answered he had that
p. 88
knowledge when dumb, but how and after what manner he knew not, only he had
the impression thereof in his spirit. This story was related by a godly minister, Mr.
Robert Blair, to Mr. John Baird, who knew the truth of it."
The Rev. Robert Blair, M.A., was a celebrated man, if for no other reason than on
account of his disputes with Dr. Echlin, Bishop of Down, or for his description of
Oliver Cromwell as a greeting (i.e. weeping) devil. On the invitation of Lord
Claneboy he arrived in Ireland in 1623, and in the same year was settled as
(Presbyterian) parish minister at Bangor in Co. Down, with the consent of patron
and people; he remained there until 1631, when he was suspended by Dr.
Echlin, and was deposed and excommunicated in November, 1634. He has left a
few writings behind him, and was grandfather of the poet Robert Blair, author of
The Grave. 1
During the years of his ministry at Bangor the following incident occurred to him,
which he of course attributes to demonic possession, though homicidal mania
p. 89
resulting from intemperate habits would be nearer the truth. One day a rich man,
the constable of the parish, called upon him in company with one of his tenants
concerning the baptizing of the latter's child. "When I had spoken what I thought
necessary, and was ready to turn into my house, the constable dismissing the
other told me he had something to say to me in private. I looking upon him saw
his eyes like the eyes of a cat in the night, did presently conceive that he had a
mischief in his heart, yet I resolved not to refuse what he desired, but I keeped a
watchful eye upon him, and stayed at some distance; and being near to the door
of the church I went in, and invited him to follow me. As soon as he entered
within the doors he fell atrembling, and I, awondering. His trembling continuing
and growing without any speech, I approached to him, and invited him to a seat,
w, herein he could hardly sit. The great trembling was like to throw him out of the
seat. I laid my arm about him, and asked him what ailed him? But for a time he
could speak none. At last his
p. 90
shaking ceased, and he began to speak, telling me, that for a long time the Devil
had appeared to him; first at Glasgow he bought a horse from him, receiving a
sixpence in earnest, and that in the end he offered to him a great purse full of
sylver to be his, making no mention of the horse; he said that he blessed himself,
and so the buyer with the sylver and gold that was poured out upon the table
vanished. But some days thereafter he appeared to him at his own house,
naming him by his name, and said to him, Ye are mine, for I arled you with a
sixpence, which yet ye have. Then said he, I asked his name, and he answered,
they call me Nickel Downus (I suppose that he repeated evil, that he should have
said Nihil Damus). Being thus molested with these and many other apparitions of
the Devil, he left Scotland; but being come to Ireland he did often likewise appear
to him, and now of late he still commands me to kill and slay; and oftentimes,
says he, my whinger hath been drawn and kept under my cloak to obey his
commands, but still something holds my hand that I cannot strike. But then I
asked him go
p. 91
whom he was bidden kill? He answered, any that comes in my way; but
'The better they be
The better service to me,
Or else I shall kill thee.'
When he uttered these words he fell again atrembling, and was stopped in his
speaking, looking lamentably at me, designing me to be the person he aimed at;
then he fell a crying and lamenting. I showed him the horribleness of his
ignorance and drunkenness; he made many promises of reformation, which were
not well keep'd; for within a fortnight he went to an alehouse to crave the price of
his malt, and sitting there long at drink, as he was going homeward the Devil
appeared to him, and challenged him for opening to me what had passed betwixt
them secretly, and followed him to the house, pulling his cap off his head and his
band from about his neck, saying to him, I On Hallow-night I shall have thee, soul
and body, in despite of the minister and of all that he will do for thee.'"
In his choice of a date his Satanic Majesty
p. 92
showed his respect for popular superstitions. This attack of delirium tremens
(though Mr. Blair would not have so explained it) had a most salutary effect; the
constable was in such an abject state of terror lest the Devil should carry him off
that he begged Mr. Blair to sit up with him all Hallow-night, which he did,
spending the time very profitably in prayer and exhortation, which encouraged
the man to defy Satan and all his works. The upshot of the matter was, that he
became very charitable to the poor, and seems to have entirely renounced his
intemperate habits. 1
Rejecting the supernatural element in the above as being merely the fruits of a
diseased mind, there is no reason to doubt the truth of the story. Mr. Blair also
met with some strange cases of religious hysteria, which became manifest in
outbursts of weeping and bodily convulsions, but which he attributed to the Devils
"playing the ape, and counterfeiting the works of the Lord." He states that one
Sunday, in the midst of public worship,
p. 93
"one of my charge, being a dull and ignorant person, made a noise and
stretching of her body. Incontinent I was assisted to rebuke that lying spirit that
disturbed the worship of God, charging the same not to disturb the congregation;
and through God's mercy we met with no more of that work." Thus modestly our
writer sets down what happened in his Autobiography; but the account of the
incident spread far and wide, and at length came to the ears of Archbishop
Usher, who, on his next meeting with Mr. Blair, warmly congratulated him on the
successful exorcism he had practised. 1
If the period treated of in this chapter, viz. from the commencement of the
seventeenth century to the Restoration of Charles II, be barren of witchcraft
proper, it must at least be admitted that it is prodigal in regard to the marvellous
under various shapes and forms, from which the hysterical state of the public
mind can be fairly accurately gauged. The rebellion of 1641, and the Cromwellian
confiscations, that troubled period when the
p. 94
country was torn by dissention, and ravaged by fire, sword, and pestilence, was
aptly ushered in by a series of supernatural events which occurred in the county
of Limerick. A letter dated the 13th August 1640, states that "for news we have
the strangest that ever was heard of, there inchantments in the Lord of
Castleconnell's Castle four miles from Lymerick, several sorts of noyse,
sometymes of drums and trumpets, sometimes of other curious musique with
heavenly voyces, then fearful screeches, and such outcries that the neighbours
near cannot sleepe. Priests have adventured to be there, but have been cruelly
beaten for their paynes, and carryed away they knew not how, some two miles
and some four miles. Moreover were seen in the like manner, after they appear
to the view of the neighbours, infinite number of armed men on foote as well as
on horseback. . . . One thing more [i.e. something supernatural] by Mrs. Mary
Burke with twelve servants yes in the house, and never one hurt, onley they must
dance with them every night; they say, Mrs. Mary come away,
p. 95
telling her she must be wyfe to the inchanted Earl of Desmond. . . . Uppon a
Mannour of my Lord Bishoppe of Lymerick, Loughill, hath been seen upon the hill
by most of the inhabitants aboundance of armed men marching, and these seene
many tymes--and when they come up to them they do not appeare. These things
are very strange, if the cleargie and gentrie say true." 1
During the rebellion an appalling massacre of Protestants took place at
Portadown, when about a hundred persons, men, women, and children, were
forced over the bridge into the river, and so drowned; the few that could swim,
and so managed to reach the shore, were either knocked on the head by the
insurgents when they landed, or else were shot. It is not a matter of surprise that
this terrible incident gave rise to legends and stories in which anything strange or
out of the common was magnified out of all proportion. According to one
deponent there appeared one evening in the river "a vision or spirit assuming the
shape of a woman, waist
p. 96
high, upright in the water, naked with [illegible] in her hand, her hair dishevelled,
her eyes seeming to twinkle in her head, and her skin as white as snow; which
spirit seeming to stand upright in the water often repeated the word Revenge!
Revenge! Revenge!" Also Robert Maxwell, Archdeacon of Down, swore that the
rebels declared to him, (and some deponents made similar statements) "that
most of those that were thrown from that bridge were daily and nightly seen to
walk upon the River, sometimes singing Psalms, sometimes brandishing of
Swords, sometimes screeching in a most hideous and fearful manner." Both
these occurrences are capable of a rational explanation. The supposed spectre
was probably a poor, bereaved woman, demented by grief and terror, who stole
out of her hiding-place at night to bewail the murder of her friends, while the
weird cries arose from the half-starved dogs of the country-side, together with the
wolves which abounded in Ireland at that period, quarrelling and fighting over the
corpses. Granting the above, and bearing in mind the credulity
p. 97
of all classes of Society, it is not difficult to see how the tales originated; but to
say that, because such obviously impossible statements occur in certain
depositions, the latter are therefore worthless as a whole, is to wilfully
misunderstand the popular mind of the seventeenth century.
We have the following on the testimony of the Rev. George Creighton, minister of
Virginia, co. Cavan. He tells us that "divers women brought to his House a young
woman, almost naked, to whom a Rogue came upon the way, these women
being present, and required her to give him her mony, or else he would kill her,
and so drew his sword; her answer was, You cannot kill me unless God give you
leave, and His will be done. Thereupon the Rogue thrust three times at her
naked body with his drawn sword, and never pierced her skin; whereat he being,
as it seems, much confounded, went away and left her." A like story comes from
the other side: "At the taking of the Newry a rebel being appointed to be shot
upon the bridge, and stripped stark-naked, notwithstanding the musketeer stood
p. 98
two yards of him, and shot him in the middle of the back, yet the bullet entered
not, nor did him any more hurt than leave a little black spot behind it. This many
hundreds were eye-witnesses of. Divers of the like have I confidently been
assured of, who have been provided of diabolical charms." 1 Similar tales of
persons bearing charmed lives could no doubt be culled from the records of
every war that has been fought on this planet of ours since History began.
The ease with which the accidental or unusual was transformed into the
miraculous at this period is shown by the following. A Dr. Tate and his wife and
children were flying to Dublin from the insurgents. On their way they were
wandering over commons covered with snow, without any food. The wife was
carrying a sucking child, John, and having no milk to give it she was about to lay
it down in despair, when suddenly "on the Brow of a Bank she found a Suck-
bottle with sweet milk in it, no Footsteps appearing in the snow
p. 99
of any that should bring it thither, and far from any Habitation; which preserved
the child's life, who after became a Blessing to the Church." The Dr. Tate
mentioned above was evidently the Rev. Faithful Tate, D.D., father of Nahum
Tate of "Tate and Brady" fame. 1
On the night of Sunday, the 8th of May 1642, a terrific storm of hail and rain
came upon the English soldiers, which of course they attributed to other than the
correct source. "All the tents were in a thrice blown over. It was not possible for
any match to keep fire, or any sojor to handle his musket or yet to stand. Yea,
severalls of them dyed that night of meere cold. Our sojors, and some of our
officers too (who suppose that no thing which is more than ordinarie can be the
product of nature), attributed this hurrikan to the divilish skill of some Irish
witches." 2 Apparently the English were not as wise in their generation as the
inhabitants of Constance in Switzerland were on the occasion
p. 100
of a similar ebullition of the elements. The latter went out, found a witch,
persuaded her to confess herself the guilty author of the storm, and then burnt
her--by which time, no doubt, the wind had subsided!
Much in the same strain might be added, but, lest we should weary our readers,
we shall content ourselves with giving two more marvellous relations from this
particular period so full of the marvellous. O'Daly in his History of the Geraldines
relates that during the siege of Limerick three portents appeared. The first was a
luminous globe, brighter than the moon and little inferior to the sun, which for two
leagues and a half shed a vertical light on the city, and then faded into darkness
over the enemy's camp; the second was the apparition of the Virgin,
accompanied by several of the Saints; and the third was a lusus naturæ, of the
Siamese-twins type: all three of which O'Daly interprets to his own satisfaction.
The first of these was some form of the northern lights, and is also recorded in
the diary of certain Puritan officers. That learned, but somewhat
p. 101
too credulous English antiquary, John Aubrey, relates in his Miscellanies that
before the last battle between the contending parties "a woman of uncommon
Statue all in white appearing to the Bishop [Heber McMahon, whom Aubrey
terms Veneras] admonished him not to cross the River first to assault the Enemy,
but suffer them to do it, whereby he should obtain the Victory. That if the Irish
took the water first to move towards the English they should be put to a total
Rout, which came to pass. Ocahan and. Sir Henry O'Neal, who were both killed
there, saw severally the same apparition, and dissuaded the Bishop from giving
the first onset, but could not prevail upon him."
An instance of an Irishman suffering from the effects of witchcraft outside Ireland
is afforded us in a pathetic petition sent up to the English Parliament between the
years 1649 and 1653. 1 The petitioner, John Campbell, stated that twelve years
since he lost his sight in co. Antrim, where he was born, by which he was
reduced to such extremity that he was forced to come
p. 102
over to England to seek some means of livelihood for himself in craving the
charity of well-disposed people, but contrary to his expectation he has been often
troubled there with dreams and fearful visions in his sleep, and has been twice
bewitched, insomuch that he can find no quietness or rest here, and so prays for
a pass to return to Ireland.
The saintly James Usher, Archbishop of Armagh, was a Prelate who, if he had
happened to live at an earlier period would certainly have been numbered
amongst those whose wide and profound learning won for themselves the title of
magician--as it was, be was popularly credited with prophetical powers. Most of
the prophecies attributed to him may be found in a little pamphlet of eight pages,
entitled "Strange and Remarkable Prophecies and Predictions of the Holy,
Learned, and Excellent James Usher, &c. . . . Written by the person who heard it
from this Excellent person's own Mouth," and apparently published in 1656.
According to it, be foretold the rebellion of 1641 in a sermon on Ezekiel iv. 6,
preached in Dublin in
p. 103
1601. "And of this Sermon the Bishop reserved the Notes, and put a note thereof
in the Margent of his Bible, and for twenty years before he still lived in the
expectation of the fulfilling thereof, and the nearer the time was the more
confident he was that it was nearer accomplishment, though there was no visible
appearance of any such thing." He also foretold the death of Charles I, and his
own coming poverty and loss of property, which last he actually experienced for
many years before his death. The Rev. William Turner in his Compleat History of
Remarkable Providences (London, 1697 gives a premonition of approaching
death that the Archbishop received. A lady who was dead appeare to him in his
sleep, and invited him to sup with her the next night. He accepted the invitation,
and died the following afternoon, 21st March 1656.
This chapter may be brought to a conclusion by the following story from Glanvill's
Relations. 1 One Mr. John Browne of Durley in Ireland was made by his
neighbour, John Mallett of Enmore, trustee
p. 104
for his children in minority. In 1654 Mr. Browne lay a-dying: at the foot of his bed
stood a great iron chest fitted with three locks, in which were the trustees' papers.
Some of his people and friends were sitting by him, when to their horror they
suddenly saw the locked chest begin to open, lock by lock, without the aid of any
visible hand, until at length the lid stood upright. The dying man, who had not
spoken for twenty-four hours, sat up in the bed, looked at the chest, and said:
You say true, you say true, you are in the right (a favourite expression of his), I'll
he with you by and by, and then lay down again, and never spoke after. The
chest slowly locked itself in exactly the same manner as it had opened, and
shortly after this Mr. Browne died.
79:1 Enrolment of Pleas, 6 James I, memb. 2 (Queen's Bench).
87:1 Scott, Demonology and Witchcraft, Letter V.
87:2 Ed. C. X. Sharpe (Edinburgh, 1818).
88:1 Witherow, Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland.
92:1 Quot. in Law's Memorialls.
93:1 Witherow, op. cit., pp. 15-16.
95:1 Lenihan, History of Limerick, p. 147.
98:1 Hickson, Ireland in the Seventeenth Century, vol. i.; Fitzpatrick, Bloody
Bridge, p. 125; Temple's History of the Rebellion.
99:1 Baxter, Certainty of the World of Spirits (London, 1691); Clark, A Mirrour or
Looking-Glass for Saints and Sinners. (London, 1657-71).
99:2 Fitzpatrick, op. cit., p. 127.
101:1 Hist. MSS. Comm. Report 13 (Duke of Portland MSS.).
103:1 No. 25 in Sadducismus Triumphatus (London, 1726).
A.D. 1661
WITH the Restoration of King Charles II witchcraft did not cease; on the other
hand it went on with unimpaired vigour, and several important cases were
brought to trial in England. In one instance, at least, it made its appearance in
Ireland, this time far south, at Youghal. The extraordinary tale of Florence
Newton and her doings, which is related below, forms the seventh Relation in
Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus (London, 1726); it may also be found,
together with some English cases of notoriety, in Francis Bragge's Witchcraft
further displayed (London, 1712). It is from the first of these sources that we have
taken it, and reproduce it here verbatim, except that some redundant matter has
been omitted, i.e. where one witness
p. 106
relates facts(!) which have already been brought forward as evidence in the
examination of a previous witness, and which therefore do not add to our
knowledge, though no doubt they materially contributed to strengthen the case
against the unfortunate old woman. Hayman in his Guide to Youghal attributes
the whole affair to the credulity of the Puritan settlers, who were firm believers in
such things. In this he is correct no doubt, but it should be borne in mind by the
reader that such a belief was not confined to the new-comers at Youghal, but
was common property throughout England and Ireland.
The tale shows that there was a little covey of suspected witches in Youghal at
that date, as well as some skilful amateur witch-finders (Messrs. Perry,
Greatrakes, and Blackwall). From the readiness with which the Mayor proposed
to try the "water-experiment" one is led to suspect that such a process as
swimming a witch was not altogether unknown in Youghal. For the benefit of the
uninitiated we may briefly describe the actual process, which, as we shall see,
the Mayor contemplated,
p. 107
but did not actually carry out. The suspected witch is taken, her right thumb tied
to her left great toe, and vice versa. She is then thrown into the water: if she
sinks (and drowns, by any chance!) her innocence is conclusively established; if,
on the other hand, she floats, her witchcraft is proven, for water, as being the
element in Baptism, refuses to receive such a sinner in its bosom.
"Florence Newton was committed to Youghal prison by the Mayor of the town,
24th March 1661, for bewitching Mary Longdon, who gave evidence against her
at the Cork Assizes (11th September), as follows:
"Mary Longdon being sworn, and bidden to look upon the prisoner, her
countenance chang'd pale, and she was very fearful to look towards her, but at
last she did, and being asked whether she knew her, she said she did, and
wish'd she never had. Being asked how long she had known her, she said for
three or four years. And that at Christmas the said Florence came to the
Deponent, at
p. 108
the house of John Pyne in Youghal, where the Deponent was a servant, and
asked her to give her a piece of Beef out of the Powdering Tub; and the
Defendant answering her that she would not give away her Master's Beef, the
said Florence seemed to be very angry, and said, Thou had'st as good give it
me, and went away grumbling.
"That about a week after the Defendant going to the water with a Pail of Cloth on
her head she met the said Florence Newton, who came full in her Face, and
threw the Pail off her head, and violently kiss'd her, and said, Mary, I pray thee let
thee and I he Friends; for I hear thee no ill will, and I pray thee do thou bear me
none. And that she the Defendant afterwards went home, and that within a few
Days after she saw a Woman with a Vail over her Face stand by her bedside,
and one standing by her like a little old Man in Silk Cloaths, and that this Man
whom she took to be a Spirit drew the Vail off the Woman's Face, and then she
knew it to be Goody Newton: and that the Spirit spoke to the Defendant and
would have her promise him to follow his advice and
p. 109
she would have all things after her own Heart, to which she says she answered
that she would have nothing to say to him, for her trust was in the Lord.
"That within a month after the said Florence had kiss'd her, she this Defendant
fell very ill of Fits or Trances, which would take her on a sudden, in that violence
that three or four men could not hold her; and in her Fits she would be taken with
Vomiting, and would vomit up Needles, Pins, Horsenails, Stubbs, Wooll, and
Straw, and that very often. And being asked whether she perceived at these
times what she vomited? She replied, she did; for then she was not in so great
distraction as in other parts of her Fits she was. And that before the first
beginning of her Fits several (and very many) small stones would fall upon her as
she went up and down, and would follow her from place to place, and from one
Room to another, and would bit her on the head, shoulders, and arms, and fall to
the ground and vanish away. And that she and several others would see them
both fall upon her and on the ground, but could never take
p. 110
them, save only some few which she and her Master caught in their hands.
Amongst which one that had a hole in it she tied (as she was advised) with a
leather thong to her Purse, but it was vanish'd immediately, though the latter
continu'd tied in a fast knot.
"That in her Fits she often saw Florence Newton, and cried out against her for
tormenting of her, for she says, that she would several times Stick Pins into her
Arms, and some of them so fast, that a Man must pluck three or four times to get
out the Pins, and they were stuck between the skin and the flesh. That
sometimes she would be remov'd out of the bed into another Room, sometimes
she would be carried to the top of the House, and laid on a board between two
Sollar Beams, sometimes put into a Chest, sometimes under a parcel of Wooll,
sometimes between two Feather-Beds on which she used to lie, and sometimes
between the Bed and the Mat in her Master's Chamber, in the Daytime. And
being asked how she knew that she was thus carried about and disposed of,
seeing in her Fits she was
p. 111
in a violent distraction? She answered, she never knew where she was, till they
of the Family and the Neighbours with them, would be taking her out of the
places whither she was so carried and removed. And being asked the reason
and wherefore she cried out so much against the said Florence Newton in her
Fits? She answered, because she saw her, and felt her torturing her.
"And being asked how she could think it was Florence Newton that did her this
prejudice? She said, first, because she threatened her, then because after she
had kiss'd her she fell into these Fits, and that she saw and felt her tormenting.
And lastly, that when the people of the Family, by advice of the Neighbours and
consent of the Mayor, had sent for Florence Newton to come to the Defendant,
she was always worse when she was brought to her, and her Fits more violent
than at another time. And that after the said Florence was committed at Youghal
the Defendant was not troubled, but was very well till a little while after the said
Florence was removed to Cork, and then the Defendant was as
p. 112
ill as ever before. And then the Mayor of Youghal, one Mr. Mayre, sent to know
whether the said Florence was bolted (as the Defendant was told), and finding
she was not, the order was given to put her Bolts on her; which being done, the
Deponent saith she was well again, and so hath continued ever since, and being
asked whether she had such like Fits before the said Florence gave her the kiss,
she saith she never had any, but believed that with the kiss she bewitch'd her,
and rather because she had heard from Nicholas Pyne and others that Florence
had confessed so much.
"This Mary Longdon having closed her evidence, Florence Newton peeped at her
as it were betwixt the heads of the bystanders that interposed between her and
the said Mary, and lifting up both her hands together, as they were manacled,
cast them in a violent angry motion (as was observed by W. Aston) towards the
said Mary, as if she intended to strike at her if she could have reached her, and
said, Now she is down. Upon which the Maid fell suddenly down to the ground
like a
p. 113
stone, and fell into a most violent Fit, that all the people that could come to lay
hands on her could scarce hold her, she biting her own arms and shreeking out
in a most hideous manner, to the amazement of all the Beholders. And
continuing so for about a quarter of an hour (the said Florence Newton sitting by
herself all that while pinching her own hands and arms, as was sworn by some
that observed her), the Maid was ordered to be carried out of Court, and taken
into a House. Whence several Persons after that brought word, that the Maid
was in a Vomiting Fit, and they brought in several crook'd Pins, and Straws, and
Wooll, in white Foam like Spittle, in great proportion. Whereupon the Court
having taken notice that the Maid said she had been very well when the said
Florence was in Bolts, and ill again when out of them, till they were again put on
her, demanded of the Jaylor if she were in Bolts or no, to which he said she was
not, only manacled. Upon which order was given to put on her Bolts, and upon
putting them on she cried out that she was killed, she was undone, she was
spoiled, why do you torment me
p. 114
thus? and so continued complaining grievously for half a quarter of an hour. And
then came in a messenger from the Maid, and informed the Court the Maid was
well. At which Florence immediately and cholerickly uttered these words, She is
not well yet! And being demanded, how she knew this, she denied she said so,
though many in Court heard her say the words, and she said, if she did, she
knew not what she said, being old and disquieted, and distracted with her
sufferings. But the Maid being reasonably well come to herself, was, before the
Court knew anything of it, sent out of Town to Youghall, and so was no further
"The Fit of the Maid being urged by the Court with all the circumstance of it upon
Florence Newton, to have been a continuance of her devilish practice, she
denied it, and likewise the motion of her hands, and the saying, Now she is
down, though the Court saw the first, and the words were sworn to by one Roger
Moor. And Thomas Harrison swore that be had observed the said Florence peep
at her, and use that motion with her hands, and saw
p. 115
the Maid fall immediately upon that motion, and heard the words, Now she is
down, uttered.
"Nicholas Stout was next produced by Mr. Attorney-General,, who being sworn
and examined, saith, That he had often tried her, having heard say that Witches
could not say the Lord's Prayer, whether she could or no, and she could not.
Whereupon she said she could say it, and had often said it, and the Court being
desired by her to hear her say it, gave her leave; and four times together after
these words, Give us this day our daily bread, she continually said, As we forgive
them, leaving out altogether the words, And forgive us our trespasses, upon
which the Court appointed one near her to teach her the words she left out. But
she either could not, or would not, say them, using only these or the like words
when these were repeated, Ay, ay, trespasses, that's the word. And being often
pressed to utter the words as they were repeated to her, she did not. And being
asked the reason, she said she was old and had a bad memory; and being asked
how her memory served her so well for other
p. 116
parts of the Prayer, and only failed her for that, she said she knew not, neither
could she help it.
"John Pyne being likewise sworn and examined, saith, That about January last
[1661] the said Mary Longdon, being his Servant, was much troubled with small
stones that were thrown at her [&c., as in the Deponent's statement, other items
of which he also corroborated]. That sometimes the Maid would be reading in a
Bible, and on a sudden he hath seen the Bible struck out of her Hand into the
middle of the Room, and she immediately cast into a violent Fit. That in the Fits
he hath seen two Bibles laid on her Breast, and in the twinkling of an eye they
would be cast betwixt the two Beds the Maid lay upon, sometimes thrown into the
middle of the Room, and that Nicholas Pyne held the Bible in the Maid's hand so
fast, that it being suddenly snatch'd away, two of the leaves were torn.
"Nicholas Pyne being sworn, saith, That the second night after that the Witch had
been in Prison, being the 24th [26?] of March last, he and Joseph Thompson,
Roger Hawkins, and some others went to,
p. 117
speak with her concerning the Maid, and told her that it was the general opinion
of the Town that she had bewitched her, and desired her to deal freely with them,
whether she had bewitched her or no. She said she had not bewitched her, but it
may be she had overlooked her, and that there was a great difference between
bewitching and overlooking, and that she could not have done her any harm if
she had not touch'd her, and that therefore she had kiss'd her. And she said that
what mischief she thought of at that time she kiss'd her, that would fall upon her,
and that she could not but confess she had wronged the Maid, and thereupon fell
down upon her knees, and prayed God to forgive her for wronging the poor
Wench. They wish'd that she might not be wholly destroyed by her; to which she
said, it must be another that would help her, and not they that did the harm. And
then she said, that there were others, as Goody Halfpenny and Goody Dod, in
Town, that could do these things as well as she, and that it might be one of these
that had done the Maid wrong.
p. 118
"He further saith, That towards Evening the Door of the Prison shook, and she
arose up hastily and said, What makest thow here this time a night? And there
was a very great noise, as if some body with Bolts and Chains had been running
up and down the Room, and they asked her what it was she spoke to, and what it
was that made the noise; and she said she saw nothing, neither did she speak,
and if she did, it was she knew not what. But the next day she confess'd it was a
Spirit, and her Familiar, in the shape of a Greyhound.
"He further saith, That he and Mr. Edward Perry and others for Trial of her took a
Tile off the Prison, went to the place where the Witch lay, and carried it to the
House where the Maid lived, and put it in the fire until it was red-hot, and then
dripped some of the Maid's water upon it, and the Witch was then grievously
tormented, and when the water consumed she was well again.
"Edward Perry being likewise sworn, deposeth, That he, Mr. Greatrix, and Mr.
Blackwall went to the Maid, and Mr. Greatrix and he had read of a way to
p. 119
discover a Witch, which he would practise. And so they sent for the Witch, and
set her on a Stool, and a Shoemaker with a strong Awl endeavoured to stick it
into the Stool, but could not till the third time. And then they bade her come off
the Stool, but she said she was very weary and could not stir. Then two of them
pulled her off, and the Man went to pull out his Awl, and it dropped into his hand
with half an Inch broke off the blade of it, and they all looked to have found where
it had been stuck, but could find no place where any entry had been made by it.
Then they took another Awl, and put it into the Maid's hand, and one of them took
the Maid's hand, and ran violently at the Witch's hand with it, but could not enter
it, though the Awl was so bent that none of them could put it straight again. Then
Mr. Blackwall took a Launce, and launc'd one of her hands an Inch and a half
long, and a quarter of an Inch deep, but it bled not at all. Then he launc'd the
other hand, and then they bled.
"He further saith, That after she was in Prison he went with Roger Hawkins and
p. 120
others to discourse with the Witch about the Maid, and they asked what it was
she spoke to the day before, and after some denial she said it was a Greyhound
which was her Familiar, and went out at the Window; and then she said, If have
done the Maid hurt I am sorry for it. And being asked whether she had done her
any hurt she said she never did bewitch her, but confess'd she had overlooked
her, at that time she kiss'd her, but that she could not now help her, for none
could help her that did the mishap, but others. Further the Deponent saith, That
meeting after the Assizes at Cashel with one William Lap [who suggested the
test of the tile, &c.].
"Mr. Wood, a Minister, being likewise sworn and examined, deposeth, That
having heard of the stones dropped and thrown at the Maid, and of her Fits, and
meeting with the Maid's Brother, he went along with him to the Maid, and found
her in her Fit, crying out against Gammer Newton, that she prick'd and hurt her.
And when she came to herself he asked her what had troubled her; and she said
p. 121
Gammer Newton. And the Deponent saith, Why, she was not there. Yes, said
she, I saw her by my bedside. The Deponent then asked her the original of all,
which she related from the time of her begging the Beef, and after kissing, and so
to that time. That then they caused the Maid to be got up, and sent for Florence
Newton, but she refused to come, pretending she was sick, though it indeed
appeared she was well. Then the Mayor of Youghall came in, and spoke with the
Maid, and then sent again and caused Florence Newton to be brought in, and
immediately the Maid fell into her Fit far more violent, and three times as long as
at any other time, and all the time the Witch was in the Chamber the Maid cried
out continually of her being hurt here and there, but never named the Witch: but
as soon as she was removed, then she cried out against her by the name of
Gammer Newton, and this for several times. And still when the Witch was out of
the Chamber the Maid would desire to go to Prayers, and he found good
affections of her in time of Prayer, but when the Witch was brought in again,
p. 122
though never so privately, although she could not possibly, as the Deponent
conceives, see her, she would be immediately senseless, and like to be
strangled, and so would continue till the Witch was taken out, and then though
never so privately carried away she would come. again to her senses. That
afterwards Mr. Greatrix, Mr. Blackwall, and some others, who would need satisfy
themselves in the influence of the Witch's presence, tried it and found it several
"Richard Mayre, Mayor of Youghall, sworn, saith, That about the 24th of March
last he sent for Florence Newton and examined her about the Maid, and she at
first denied it, and accused Goodwife Halfpenny and Goodwife Dod, but at length
when he had caused a Boat to be provided, and thought to have tried the Water-
Experiment on all three, Florence Newton confessed to overlooking. Then he
likewise examined the other two Women, but they utterly denied it, and were
content to abide any trial; whereupon he caused Dod, Halfpenny, and Newton to
be carried to the Maid; and
p. 123
he told her that these two Women, or one of them, were said by Gammer Newton
to have done her hurt, but she said, No, no, they are honest Women, but it is
Gammer Newton that hurts me, and I believe she is not far off. [She was then
brought in privately, with the usual result.] He further deposeth that there were
three Aldermen in Youghall, whose children she had kiss'd, as he had heard
them affirm, and all the children died presently after.
"Joseph Thompson being likewise sworn, saith [the same as Nicholas Pyne
relative to the Greyhound-Familiar.]
"Hitherto we have beard the most considerable Evidence touching Florence
Newton's witchcraft upon Mary Longdon, for which she was committed to
Youghall Prison, 24th March 1661. But April following she bewitched one David
Jones to death by kissing his hand through the Grate of the Prison, for which she
was indicted at Cork Assizes, and the evidence is as follows:
"Elenor Jones, Relict of the said David Jones, being sworn and examined in open
Court what she knew concerning any practice
p. 124
of Witchcraft by the said Florence Newton upon the said David Jones her
Husband, gave in Evidence, That in April last the said David, having been out all
Night, came home early in the Morning, and said to her, Where dost thou think I
have been all Night? To which she answered she knew not; whereupon he
replied, I and Frank Beseley have been standing Centinel over the Witch all
night. To which the said Elenor said, Why, what hurt is that? Hurt? quoth he.
Marry I doubt it's never a jot the better for me; for she hath kiss'd my Hand, and I
have a great pain in that arm, and I verily believe she hath bewitch'd me, if ever
she hewitch'd any Man. To which she answered, The Lord forbid! That all that
Night, and continually from that time, he was restless and ill, complaining
exceedingly of a great pain in his arm for seven days together, and at the seven
days' end be complained that the pain was come from his Arm to his Heart, and
then kept his bed Night and Day, grievously afflicted, and crying out against
Florence Newton, and about fourteen days after he died.
p. 125
"Francis Beseley being sworn and examined, saith, That about the time
aforementioned meeting with the said David Jones, and discoursing with him of
the several reports then stirring concerning the said Florence Newton, that she
had several Familiars resorting to her in sundry shapes, the said David Jones
told him he had a great mind to watch her one Night to see whether he could
observe any Cats or other Creatures resort to her through the Grate, as 'twas
suspected they did, and desired the said Francis to go with him, which he did.
And that when they came thither David Jones came to Florence, and, told her
that he heard she could not say the Lord's Prayer; to which she answered, She
could. He then desir'd her to say it, but she excused herself by the decay of
Memory through old Age. Then David Jones began to teach her, but she could
not or would not say it, though often taught it. Upon which the said Jones and
Beseley being withdrawn a little from her, and discoursing of her not being able
to learn this Prayer, she called out to David Jones, and said, David, David, come
p. 126
hither, I can say the Lord's Prayer now. Upon which David went towards her, and
the said Deponent would have pluckt him back, and persuaded him not to have
gone to her, but he would not be persuaded, but went to the Grate to her, and
she began to say the Lord's Prayer, but could not say Forgive us our trespasses,
so that David again taught her, which she seem'd to take very thankfully, and told
him she had a great mind to have kiss'd him, but that the Grate hindered her, but
desired she might kiss his Hand; whereupon he gave her his Hand through the
Grate, and she kiss'd it; and towards break of Day they went away and parted,
and soon after the Deponent heard that David Jones was ill. Whereupon be went
to visit him, [and was told by him that the Hag] had him by the Hand, and was
pulling off his Arm. And he said, Do you not see the old hag How she pulls me?
Well, I lay my Death on her, she has hewitch'd me. About fourteen days
languishing he died."
This concludes the account of Florence Newton's trial, as given by Glanvill; the
p. 127
source from which it was taken will be alluded to shortly. It would seem that the
witch was indicted upon two separate charges, viz. with bewitching the servant-
girl, Mary Longdon, and with causing the death of David Jones. The case must
have created considerable commotion in Youghal, and was considered so
important that the Attorney-General went down to prosecute, but unfortunately
there is no record of the verdict. If found guilty (and we can have little doubt but
that she was), she would have been sentenced to death in pursuance of the
Elizabethan Statute, section i.
Many of the actors in the affair were persons of local prominence, and can be
identified. The "Mr. Greatrix" was Valentine Greatrakes, the famous healer or
"stroker," who also makes his appearance in the tale of the haunted butler (see
p. 164). He was born in 1629, and died in 1683, He joined the Parliamentary
Army, and when it was disbanded in 1656, became a country magistrate. At the
Restoration he was deprived of his offices, and then gave himself up to a life of
p. 128
contemplation. In 1662 the idea seized him that he had the power of healing the
king's-evil. He kept the matter quiet for some time, but at last communicated it to
his wife, who jokingly bade him try his power on a boy in the neighbourhood.
Accordingly he laid his hands on the affected parts with prayer, and within a
month the boy was healed. Gradually his fame spread, until patients came to him
from various parts of England as well as Ireland. In 1665 he received an
invitation from Lord Conway to come to Ragley to cure his wife of perpetual
headaches. He stayed at Ragley about three weeks, and while there he
entertained his hosts with the story of Florence Newton and her doings; although
he did not succeed in curing Lady Conway, yet many persons in the
neighbourhood benefited by his treatment. The form of words he always used
was: "God Almighty heal thee for His mercy's sake"; and if the patient professed
to receive any benefit he bade them give God the praise. He took no fees, and
rejected cases which were manifestly incurable. In modern times the
p. 129
cures have been reasonably attributed to animal magnetism. He was buried
beside his father at Affane, co. Waterford. 1 Some of his contemporaries had a
very poor opinion of him; Increase Mather, writing in 1684, alludes
contemptuously to "the late miracle-monger or Mirabilian stroaker in Ireland,
Valentine Greatrix," whom he accuses of attempting to cure an ague by the use
of that "hobgoblin word, Abrodacara."
John Pyne, the employer of the bewitched servant-girl, served as Bailiff of
Youghal along with Edward Perry in 1664, the latter becoming Mayor in 1674;
both struck tradesmen's tokens of the usual type. Richard Myres was Bailiff of
Youghal in 1642, and Mayor in 1647 and 1660. The Rev. James Wood was
appointed "minister of the gospel" at Youghal, by the Commonwealth
Government, at a salary Of £120 per annum; in 1654 his stipend was raised to
£140, and in the following year he got a further increase of £40. He was sworn in
a freeman at
p. 130
large in 1656, and appears to have been presented by the Grand Jury in 1683 as
a religious vagrant. 1
Furthermore, it seems possible to recover the name of the judge who tried the
case at the Cork Assizes. Glanvill says that he took the Relation from "a copy of
an Authentick Record, as I conceive, every half-sheet having W. Aston writ in the
Margin, and then again W. Aston at the end of all, who in all likelihood must be
some publick Notary or Record-Keeper." This man, who is also mentioned in the
narrative, is to be identified with Judge Sir William Aston, who after the
establishment of the Commonwealth came to Ireland, and was there practising
as a barrister at the time of the Restoration, having previously served in the
royalist army. On 3rd November 1660 he was appointed senior puisne judge of
the Chief Place, and died in 1671. 2 The story accordingly is based on the notes
taken by the Judge before whom the case was brought, and is therefore of
p. 131
value, in that it affords us a picture, drawn by an eye-witness in full possession of
all the facts, of a witch-trial in Ireland in the middle of the seventeenth century.
129:1 Dict. Nat. Biog.
130:1 Cork Hist. and Arch. Journal, vol. x. (2nd series).
130:2 Ibid., vol. vii. (2nd series).
A.D. 1662-1686
FROM the earliest times the Devil has made his mark, historically and
geographically, in Ireland; the nomenclature of many places indicates that they
are his exclusive property, while the antiquarian cannot be sufficiently thankful to
him for depositing the Rock of Cashel where he did. But here we must deal with
a later period of his activity. A quaint tale comes to us from co. Tipperary of a
man bargaining with his Majesty for the price of his soul, in which as usual the
Devil is worsted by
p. 133
a simple trick, and gets nothing for his trouble. Near Shronell in that county are
still to be seen the ruins of Damerville Court, formerly the residence of the Damer
family, and from which locality they took the title of Barons Milton of Shronell. The
first of the family to settle in Ireland, Joseph Damer, had been formerly in the
service of the Parliament, but not deeming it safe to remain in England after the
Restoration, came over to this country and, taking advantage of the cheapness of
land at that time, Purchased large estates. It was evidently of this member of the
family that the following tale is told. He possessed great wealth, and 'twas darkly
hinted that this had come to him from no lawful source, that in fact he had made
a bargain with the Devil to sell his soul to him for a top-boot full of gold. His
Satanic Majesty greedily accepted the offer, and on the day appointed for the
ratification of the bargain arrived with a sufficiency of bullion from the Bank of
Styx--or whatever may be the name of the establishment below! He was ushered
into a room, in the middle of which stood the empty top-boot; into
p. 134
this he poured the gold, but to his surprise it remained as empty as before. He
hastened away for more gold, with the same result. Repeated journeys to and fro
for fresh supplies still left the boot as empty as when he began, until at length in
sheer disgust he took his final departure, leaving Damer in possession of the
gold, and as well (for a few brief years, at all events) of that spiritual commodity
he had valued at so little. In process of time the secret leaked out. The wily
Damer had taken the sole off the boot, and had then securely fastened the latter
over a hole in the floor. In the storey underneath was a series of large, empty
cellars, in which he had stationed men armed with shovels, who were under
instructions to remove each succeeding shower of gold, and so make room for
Another story 1 comes from Ballinagarde in co. Limerick. the residence of the
Croker family, though it is probably later in point of time; in it the Devil appears in
a different rôle. Once upon a time Mr. Croker of Ballinagarde was out
p. 135
hunting, but as the country was very difficult few were able to keep up with the
hounds. The chase lasted all day, and late in the evening Croker and a
handsome dark stranger, mounted on a magnificent black horse, were alone at
the death. Croker, delighted at his companion's prowess, asked him home, and
the usual festivities were kept up fast and furious till far into the night. The
stranger was shown to a bedroom, and as the servant was pulling off his boots
he saw that he had a cloven hoof. In the morning he acquainted his master with
the fact, and both went to see the stranger. The latter had disappeared, and so
had his horse, but the bedroom carpet was seared by a red-hot hoof, while four
hoof-marks were imprinted on the floor of the horse's stall. What incident gave
rise to the story we cannot tell, but there was a saying among the peasantry that
such-and-such a thing occurred "as sure as the Devil was in Ballinagarde"; while
he is said to have appeared there again recently.
A most remarkable instance of legal proceedings being instituted at the
p. 136
of a ghost comes from the co. Down in the year 1662. 1 About Michaelmas one
Francis Taverner, servant to Lord Chichester, was riding home on horseback late
one night from Hillborough, and on nearing Drumbridge his horse suddenly stood
still, and he, not suspecting anything out of the common, but merely supposing
him to have the staggers, got down to bleed him in the mouth, and then
remounted. As he was proceeding two horsemen seemed to pass him, though he
heard no sound of horses' hoofs. Presently there appeared a third at his elbow,
apparently clad in a long white coat, having the appearance of one James
Haddock, an inhabitant of Malone who had died about five years previously.
When the startled Taverner asked him in God's name who he was, he told him
that he was James Haddock, and recalled himself to his mind by relating a trifling
incident that had occurred in Taverner's father's house a short while before
Haddock's death. Taverner asked him why he spoke with him he told him,
because he was a man
p. 137
of more resolution than other men, and requested him to ride along with him in
order that he might acquaint him with the business he desired him to perform.
Taverner refused, and, as they were at a cross-road, went his own way.
Immediately after parting with the spectre there arose a mighty wind, "and withal
he heard very hideous Screeches and Noises, to his great amazement. At last he
heard the cocks crow, to his great comfort; he alighted off his horse, and falling to
prayer desired God's assistance, and so got safe home."
The following night the ghost appeared again to him as he sat by the fire, and
thereupon declared to him the reason for its appearance, and the errand upon
which it wished to send him. It bade him go to Eleanor Walsh, its widow, who
was now married to one Davis, and say to her that it was the will of her late
husband that their son David should be righted in the matter of a lease which the
father had bequeathed to him, but of which the step-father had unjustly deprived
him. Taverner refused to do so, partly because
p. 138
he did not desire to gain the ill-will of his neighbours, and partly because he
feared being taken for one demented; but the ghost so thoroughly frightened him
by appearing to him every night for a month, that in the end he promised to fulfil
its wishes. He went to Malone, found a woman named Eleanor Walsh, who
proved to be the wrong person, but who told him she had a namesake living hard
by, upon which Taverner took no further trouble in the matter, and returned
without delivering his message.
The same night he was awakened by something pressing upon him, and saw
again the ghost of Haddock in a white coat, which asked him if he had delivered
the message, to which Taverner mendaciously replied that he had been to
Malone and had seen Eleanor Walsh. Upon which the ghost looked with a more
friendly air upon him, bidding him not to be afraid, and then vanished in a flash of
brightness. But having learnt the truth of the matter in some mysterious way, it
again appeared, this time in a great fur and threatened to tear him to pieces if he
p. 139
not do as it desired. Utterly unnerved by these unearthly visits, Taverner left his
house in the mountains and went into the town of Belfast, where he sat up all
night in the house of a shoemaker named Peirce, where were also two or three
of Lord Chichester's servants. "About midnight, as they were all by the fireside,
they beheld Taverner's countenance change and a trembling to fall upon him;
who presently espied the Apparition in a Room opposite him, and took up the
Candle and went to it, and resolutely ask'd it in the name of God wherefore it
haunted him? It replied, Because he had not delivered the message; and withal
repeated the threat of tearing him in pieces if he did not do so speedily: and so,
changing itself into many prodigious Shapes, it vanished in white like a Ghost."
In a very dejected frame of mind Taverner related the incident to some of Lord
Chichester's family, and the chaplain, Mr. James South, advised him to go and
deliver the message to the widow, which he accordingly did, and thereupon
experienced great quietness of mind. Two nights
p. 140
later the apparition again appeared, and on learning what had been done,
charged him to bear the same message to the executors. Taverner not
unnaturally asked if Davis, the step-father, would attempt to do him any harm, to
which the spirit gave a very doubtful response, but at length reassured him by
threatening Davis if he should attempt anything to his injury, and then vanished
away in white.
The following day Taverner was summoned before the Court of the celebrated
Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down, who carefully examined him about the matter,
and advised him the next time the spirit appeared to ask it the following
questions: Whence are you? Are you a good or a bad spirit? Where is your
abode? What station do you hold? How are you regimented in the other world?
What is the reason that you appear for the relief of your son in so small a matter,
when so many widows and orphans are oppressed, and none from thence of
their relations appear as you do to right them?
That night Taverner went to Lord Conway's house. Feeling the coming presence
p. 141
of the apparition, and being unwilling to create any disturbance within doors, he
and his brother went out into the courtyard, where they saw the spirit coming
over the wall. He told it what he had done, and it promised not to trouble him any
more, but threatened the executors if they did not see the boy righted. "Here his
brother put him in mind to ask the Spirit what the Bishop bid him, which he did
presently. But it gave him no answer, but crawled on its hands and feet over the
wall again, and so vanished in white with a most melodious harmony." The boy's
friends then brought an action (apparently in the Bishop's Court) against the
executors and trustees; one of the latter, John Costlet, who was also the boy's
uncle, tried the effect of bluff, but the threat of what the apparition could and
might do to him scared him into a promise of justice. About five years later, when
the story was forgotten, Costlet began to threaten the boy with an action, but,
coming home drunk one night, he fell off his horse and was killed. In the above
there is no mention of the fate of Davis.
p. 142
Whatever explanation we may choose to give of the supernatural element in the
above, there seems to be no doubt that such an incident occurred, and that the
story is, in the main, true to fact, as it was taken by Glanvill from a letter of Mr.
Thomas Alcock's, the secretary to Bishop Taylor's Court, who must therefore
have heard the entire story from Taverner's own lips. The incident is vividly
remembered in local tradition, from which many picturesque details are added,
especially with reference to the trial, the subsequent righting of young David
Haddock, and the ultimate punishment of Davis, on which points Glanvill is rather
unsatisfactory. According to this source, 1 Taverner (or Tavney, as the name is
locally pronounced) felt something get up behind him as he was riding home, and
from the eerie feeling that came over him, as well as from the mouldy smell of the
grave that assailed his nostrils, he perceived that his companion was not of this
world. Finally the ghost urged Taverner to bring the case into Court, and it came
up for
p. 143
trial at Carrickfergus. The Counsel for the opposite side browbeat Taverner for
inventing such an absurd and malicious story about his neighbour Davis, and
ended by tauntingly desiring him to call his witness. The usher of the Court, with
a sceptical sneer, called upon James Haddock, and at the third repetition of the
name a clap of thunder shook the Court; a hand was seen on the witness-table,
and a voice was heard saying, "Is this enough?" Which very properly convinced
the jury. Davis slunk away, and on his homeward road fell from his horse and
broke his neck. Instead of propounding Bishop Taylor's shorter catechism,
Taverner merely asked the ghost, "Are you happy in your present state?" "If," it
replied in a voice of anger, "you were not the man you are, I would tear you in
pieces for asking such a question"; and then went off in a flash of fire!!--which,
we fear, afforded but too satisfactory an answer to his question.
In the following year, 1663, a quaintly humorous story 1 of a most persistent and
troublesome ghostly visitant comes from
p. 144
the same part of the world, though in this particular instance its efforts to right the
wrong did not produce a lawsuit: the narrator was Mr. Alcock, who appears in the
preceding story. One David Hunter, who was neat-herd to the Bishop of Down
(Jeremy Taylor) at his house near Portmore, saw one night, as he was carrying a
log of wood into the dairy, an old woman whom he did not recognise, but
apparently some subtle intuition told him that she was not of mortal mould, for
incontinent he flung away the log, and ran terrified into his house. She appeared
again to him the next night, and from that on nearly every night for the next nine
months. "Whenever she came he must go with her through the Woods at a good
round rate; and the poor fellow look'd as if he was bewitch'd and travell'd off his
legs." Even if be were in bed he had to rise and follow her wherever she went,
and because his wife could not restrain him she would rise and follow him till
daybreak, although no apparition was visible to her. The only member of the
family that took the matter philosophically was Hunter's little
p. 145
dog, and he became so accustomed to the ghost that he would inevitably bring
up the rear of the strange procession--if it be true that the lower classes
dispensed with the use of night-garments when in bed, the sight must truly have
been a most remarkable one.
All this time the ghost afforded no indication as to the nature and object of her
frequent appearances. "But one day the said David going over a Hedge into the
Highway, she came just against him, and he cry'd out, 'Lord bless me, I would I
were dead; shall I never be delivered from this misery?' At which, 'And the Lord
bless me too,' says she. 'It was very happy you spoke first, for till then I had no
power to speak, though I have followed you so long. My name,' says she, 'is
Margaret ------. I lived here before the War, and had one son by my Husband;
when he died I married a soldier, by whom I had several children which the
former Son maintained, else we must all have starved. He lives beyond the Ban-
water; pray go to him and bid him dig under such a hearth, and there he shall find
28s. Let
p. 146
him pay what I owe in such a place, and the rest to the charge unpay'd at my
Funeral, and go to my Son that lives here, which I had by my latter Husband, and
tell him that he lives a very wicked and dissolute life, and is very unnatural and
ungrateful to his Brother that nurtured him, and if he does not mend his life God
will destroy him.'"
David Hunter told her he never knew her. "No," says she, "I died seven years
before you came into this Country"; but she promised that, if he would carry her
message, she would never hurt him. But he deferred doing what the apparition
bade him, with the result that she appeared the night after, as he lay in bed, and
struck him on the shoulder very hard; at which he cried out, and reminded her
that she had promised to do him no hurt. She replied that was if he did her
message; if not, she would kill him. He told her he could not go now, because the
waters were out. She said that she was content that he should wait until they
were abated; but charged him afterwards not to fail her. Ultimately be did her
errand, and afterwards
p. 147
she appeared and thanked him. "For now," said she, "I shall be at rest, and
therefore I pray you lift me up from the ground, and I will trouble you no more."
So Hunter lifted her up, and declared afterwards that she felt just like a bag of
feathers in his arms; so she vanished, and he heard most delicate music as she
went off over his head.
An important witch-case occurred in Scotland in 1678, the account of which is of
interest to us as it incidentally makes mention of the fact that one of the guilty
persons had been previously tried and condemned in Ireland for the crime of
witchcraft. Four women and one man were strangled and burnt at Paisley for
having attempted to kill by magic Sir George Maxwell of Pollock. They had
formed a wax image of him, into which the Devil himself had stuck the necessary
pins; it was then turned on a spit before the fire, the entire band repeating in
unison the name of him whose death they desired to compass. Amongst the
women was "one Bessie Weir, who was hanged up the last of the four (one that
had been taken
p. 148
before in Ireland and was condemned to the fyre for malifice before; and when
the hangman there was about to cast her over the gallows, the devill takes her
away from them out of their sight; her dittay [indictment] was sent over here to
Scotland), who at this tyme, when she was cast off the gallows, there appears a
raven, and approaches the hangman within an ell of him, and flyes away again.
All the people observed it, and cried out at the sight of it." 1
A clergyman, the Rev. Daniel Williams (evidently the man who was pastor of
Wood Street, Dublin, and subsequently founded Dr. Williams's Library in
London), relates the manner in which he freed a girl from strange and unpleasant
noises which disturbed her; the incident might have developed into something
analogous to the Drummer of Tedworth in England, but on the whole works out
rather tamely. He tells us that about the year 1678 the niece of Alderman Arundel
of Dublin was troubled by noises in her uncle's house, "as by violent Sthroaks on
the Wainscots and
p. 149
Chests, in what Chambers she frequented." In the hope that they would cease
she removed to a house near Smithfield, but the disturbances pursued her
thither, and were no longer heard in her former dwelling. She thereupon betook
herself to a little house in Patrick Street, near the gate, but to no purpose. The
noises lasted in all for about three months, and were generally at their worst
about two o'clock in the morning. Certain ministers spent several nights in prayer
with her, heard the strange sounds, but did not succeed in causing their
cessation. Finally the narrator, Williams, was called in, and came upon a night
agreed to the house, where several persons had assembled. He says: "I
preached from Hebrews ii. 18, and contrived to be at Prayer at that Time when
the Noise used to be greatest. When I was at Prayer the Woman, kneeling by
me, catched violently at my Arm, and afterwards told us that she raw a terrible
Sight--but it pleased God there was no noise at all. And from that Time God
graciously freed her from all that Disturbance." 1
p. 150
Many strange stories of apparitions seen in the air come from all parts of the
world, and are recorded by writers both ancient and modern, but there are
certainly few of them that can equal the account of that weird series of incidents
that was seen in the sky by a goodly crowd of ladies and gentlemen in co.
Tipperary on 2nd March 1678. 1 "At Poinstown in the county of Tepperary were
seen divers strange and prodigious apparitions. On Sunday in the evening
several gentlemen and others, after named, walked forth in the fields, and the
Sun going down, and appearing somewhat bigger than usual, they discoursed
about it, directing their eyes towards the place where the Sun set; when one of
the company observed in the air, near the place where the Sun went down, an
Arm of a blackish blue colour, with a ruddy complection'd Hand at one end, and
at the other end a cross piece with a ring fasten'd to the middle of it, like one end
of an anchor, which stood still for a while, and then made northwards, and so
disappeared. Next, there
p. 151
appeared at a great distance in the air, from the same part of the sky, something
like a Ship coming towards them; and it came so near that they could distinctly
perceive the masts, sails, tacklings, and men; she then seem'd to tack about, and
sail'd with the stern foremost, northwards, upon a dark smooth sea, which
stretched itself from south-west to north-west. Having seem'd thus to sail some
few minutes she sunk by degrees into the sea, her stern first; and as she sunk
they perceived her men plainly running up the tacklings in the forepart of the
Ship, as it were to save themselves from drowning. Then appeared a Fort, with
somewhat like a Castle on the top of it; out of the sides of which, by reason of
some clouds of smoak and a flash of fire suddenly issuing out, they concluded
some shot to be made. The Fort then was immediately divided in two parts,
which were in an instant transformed into two exact Ships, like the other they had
seen, with their heads towards each other. That towards the south seem'd to
chase the other with its stem [stern?] foremost, northwards, till it sunk with its
stem first, as
p. 152
the, first Ship had done; the other Ship sail'd some time after, and then sunk with
its head first. It was observ'd that men were running upon the decks of these two
Ships, but they did not see them climb up, as in the last Ship, excepting one
man, whom they saw distinctly to get up with much haste upon the very top of the
Bowsprit of the second Ship as they were sinking. They supposed the two last
Ships were engaged, and fighting, for they saw the likeness of bullets rouling
upon the sea, while they were both visible. Then there appear'd a Chariot, drawn
with two horses, which turn'd as the Ships had done, northward, and immediately
after it came a strange frightful creature, which they concluded to be some kind
of serpent, having a head like a snake, and a knotted bunch or bulk at the other
end, something resembling a snail's house. This monster came swiftly behind the
chariot and gave it a sudden violent blow, then out of the chariot leaped a Bull
and a Dog, which follow'd him [the bull], and seem'd to bait him. These also went
northwards, as the former had done, the Bull first, holding
p. 153
his head downwards, then the Dog, and then the Chariot, till all sunk down one
after another about the same place, and just in the same manner as the former.
These meteors being vanished, there were several appearances like ships and
other things. The whole time of the vision lasted near an hour, and it was a very
clear and calm evening, no cloud seen, no mist, nor any wind stirring. All the
phenomena came out of the West or Southwest, and all moved Northwards; they
all sunk out of sight much about the same place. Of the whole company there
was not any one but saw all these things, as above-written, whose names follow:
'"Mr. Allye, a minister, living near the place.
Lieutenant Dunsterville, and his son. Mr. Grace, his son-in-law.
Lieutenant Dwine. Mr. Dwine, his brother.
Mr.. Christopher Hewelson. Mr. Richard Foster.
Mr. Adam Hewelson.
Mr. Bates, a schoolmaster. p. 154
Mr. Larkin.
Mrs. Dunsterville.
Her daughter-in-law.
Her maiden daughter.
Mr. Dwine's daughter.
Mrs. Grace, her daughter."
The first of the sixteen persons who subscribed to the truth of the above was the
Rev. Peter Alley, who had been appointed curate of Killenaule Union (Dio.
Cashel) in 1672, but was promoted to livings in the same diocese in the autumn
of the year the apparitions appeared. 1 There is a townland named Poyntstown in
the parish of Buolick and barony of Slievardagh, and another of the same name
in the adjoining parish of Fennor. It must have been at one or other of these
places that the sights were witnessed, as both parishes are only a few miles
distant from Killenaule. Somewhat similar tales, although not so full of marvellous
detail, are reported at different periods from the west of Ireland. Such indeed
seem to have been the origin of the belief in that mysterious island
p. 155
O'Brasil, lying far out in the western ocean. About the year 1665, a Quaker
pretended that he had a revelation from Heaven that he was the man ordained to
discover it, and accordingly fitted out a ship for the purpose. In 1674, Captain
John Nisbet, formerly of co. Fermanagh, actually landed there! At this period it
was located off Ulster. 1
Between the clergy and the witches a continuous state of warfare existed; the
former, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, ever assumed the offensive, and
were most diligent in their attempts to eradicate such a damnable heresy from
the world--indeed with regret it must be confessed that their activity in this
respect was frequently the means of stirring up the quiescent Secular Arm,
thereby setting on foot bloody persecutions, in the course of which many
innocent creatures were tortured and put to a cruel death. Consequently, human
nature being what it is, it is not a matter of surprise to learn that witches
p. 156
appear as the aggressors, and cause the clergy as much uneasiness of mind
and body as they possibly could. In or about the year 1670 an Irish clergyman,
the Rev. James Shaw, Presbyterian minister of Carnmoney, "was much troubled
with witches, one of them appearing in his chamber and showing her face behind
his cloke hanging on the clock-pin, and then stepping to the door, disappeared.
He was troubled with cats coming into his chamber and bed; be sickens and
dyes; his wyfe being dead before him, and, as was supposed, witched." Some
equally unpleasant experiences befel his servant. "Before his death his man
going out to the stable one night, sees as if it had been a great heap of hay
rolling towards him, and then appeared in the shape and likeness of a bair [bear].
He charges it to appear in human shape, which it did. Then he asked, for what
cause it troubled him? It bid him come to such a place and it should tell him,
which he ingaged to do, yet ere be did it, acquainted his master with it; his
master forbids him to keep sic a tryst; he obeyed his master, and went not. That
night he should have
p. 157
kept, there is a stone cast at him from the roof of the house, and only touches
him, but does not hurt him; whereupon he conceives that had been done to him
by the devill, because he kept not tryst; wherefore he resolutely goes forth that
night to the place appointed, being a rash bold fellow, and the divill appears in
human shape, with his heid running down with blood. He asks him again, why he
troubles him? The devill replyes, that he was the spirit of a murdered man who
lay under his bed, and buried in the ground, and who was murdered by such a
man living in sic a place twenty years ago. The man comes home, searches the
place, but finds nothing of bones or anything lyke a grave, and causes send to
such a place to search for such a man, but no such a one could be found, and
shortly after this man dyes." To which story Mr. Robert Law 1 sagely adds the
warning: "It's not good to come in communing terms with Satan, there is a snare
in the end of it, but to resyst him by prayer and faith and to turn a deaf ear to his
p. 158
Whatever explanation we may choose to give of the matter, there is no doubt but
at the time the influence of witchcraft was firmly believed in, and the deaths of
Mr. Shaw and his wife attributed to supernatural and diabolical sources. The Rev.
Patrick Adair, a distinguished contemporary and co-religionist of Mr. Shaw,
alludes to the incident as follows in his True Narrative: "There had been great
ground of jealousy that she [Mrs. Shaw] in her child-bed had been wronged by
sorcery of some witches in the parish. After her death, a considerable time, some
spirit or spirits troubled the house by casting stones down at the chimney,
appearing to the servants, and especially having got one of them, a young man,
to keep appointed times and places, wherein it appeared in divers shapes, and
spake audibly to him. The people of the parish watched the house while Mr.
Shaw at this time lay sick in his bed, and indeed he did not wholly recover, but
within a while died, it was thought not without the art of sorcery."
Classon Porter in his pamphlet gives
p. 159
an interesting account of the affair, especially of the trend of events between the
deaths of the husband and wife respectively; according to this source the
servant-boy was an accomplice of the Evil One, not a foolish victim. Mrs. Shaw
was dead, and Mr. Shaw lay ill, and so was unable to go to the next monthly
meeting of his brethren in the ministry to consult them about these strange
occurrences. However, he sent his servant, who was supposed to be implicated
in these transactions, with a request that his brethren would examine him about
the matter, and deal with him as they thought best. The boy was accordingly
questioned on the subject, and having confessed that he had conversed and
conferred with the evil spirit, and even assisted it in its diabolical operations, he
was commanded for the future to have no dealings of any kind with that spirit.
The boy promised obedience, and was dismissed. But the affair made a great
commotion in the parish, so great that the brethren not only ordered the
Communion (which was then approaching) to be delayed in Carnmoney "until the
confusion should fall a little,"
p. 160
but appointed two of their number to hold a special fast in the congregation of
Carnmoney, "in consideration of the trouble which had come upon the minister's
house by a spirit that appeared to some of the family, and the distemper of the
minister's own body, with other confusions that had followed this movement in
the parish." The ministers appointed to this duty were, Kennedy of Templepatrick,
and Patton of Ballyclare, who reported to the next meeting that they had kept the
fast at Carnmoney, but with what result is not stated. Mr. Shaw died about two
months later.
Most wonderful and unpleasant were the bodily contortions that an Irish
gentleman suffered, as the result of not having employed a woman who to the
useful trade of sage-femme added the mischievous one of witch--it is quite
conceivable that a country midwife, with some little knowledge of medicine and
the use of simples, would be classed in popular opinion amongst those who had
power above the average. "In Ireland there was one Thomas Moor, who had his
wife brought to bed of a child, and not having made use of her former
p. 161
midwife, who was malæ famæ, she was witched by her so that she dies. The
poor man resenting it, she was heard to say that that was nothing to that which
should follow. She witches him also, so that a certain tyme of the day, towards
night, the Devil did always trouble him, once every day for the space of 10 or 12
yeirs, by possessing his body, and causing it to swell highly, and tearing him so
that he foamed, and his face turned about to his neck, having a most fearfull
disfigured visage. At which tyme he was held by strong men, out of whose grips
when he gott, he would have rushed his head against the wall in hazard of
braining himself, and would have leaped up and down fearfully, tumbling now
and then on the ground, and cryed out fearfully with a wyld skirle and noise, and
this he did ordinarily for the space of ane hour; when the fitt was over he was
settled as before; and without the fitt he was in his right mynd, and did know
when it came on him, and gave notice of it, so that those appoynted for keeping
of him prepared for it. He was, by appointment of the ministers, sent from
p. 162
parish to parish for the case of his keepers. At length, people being wearied with
waiting on him, they devysed a way for ease, which was to put him in a great
chyer [chair] fitted for receiving of his body, and so ordered it that it clasped
round about so that he could not get out, and then by a pillue [pulley] drew him
up off the ground; and when the fitt came on (of whilk he still gave warning) put
him in it and drew him up, so that his swinging to and froo did not hurt him, but
was keept till the fitt went over save fra danger, and then lett down till that tyme
of the next day, when the fitt recurred. Many came to see him in his fitts, but the
sight was so astonishing that few desired to come again. He was a man of a
good report, yet we may see givin up to Satan's molestations by the wise and
soveraigne God. Complains were givin in against her [the midwife] for her
malefices to the magistrat there, but in England and Ireland they used not to
judge and condemn witches upon presumptions, but are very sparing as to that.
He was alive in the year 1679." The concluding words of the story would lead us
to infer that
p. 163
trials for witchcraft had taken place in Ireland, of which Law had heard, and from
the report of which he formed his opinion relative to the certain amount of
commonsense displayed by the magistrates in that country, in contradistinction to
Scotland, where the very slightest evidence sufficed to bring persons to torture
and death.
In the following tale 1 the ghostly portion is rather dwarfed by the strong fairy
element which appears in it, and, as we have already shown, many witchcraft
cases in Scotland were closely interwoven with the older belief in the "good
people"; Lord Orrery, when giving the account to Baxter, considered it to be "the
effect of Witchcraft or Devils." The reader is free to take what view he likes of the
matter! The Lord Orrery mentioned therein is probably Roger, the second Earl,
whom Lodge in his Peerage describes as being "of a serious and contemplative
disposition, which led him to seek retirement." If this identification be correct the
following event must have occurred between 1679 and 1682, during which years
the Earl held the title.
p. 164
The butler of a gentleman living near the Earl was sent to buy a pack of cards, As
he was crossing a field he was surprised to see a company of people sitting
down at a table loaded with all manner of good things, of which they invited him
to partake, and no doubt he would have accepted had not someone whispered in
his ear, "Do nothing this company invites you to," upon which he refused. After
this they first fell to dancing, and playing on musical instruments, then to work, in
both of which occupations they desired the butler to join, but to no purpose.
The night following the friendly spirit came to his bedside and warned him not to
stir out of doors the next day, for if he did so the mysterious company would
obtain possession of him. He remained indoors the greater part of that day, but
towards evening he crossed the threshold, and hardly had he done so when a
rope was cast about his waist, and he was forcibly dragged away with great
swiftness. A horseman coming towards him espied both the man and the two
ends of the rope, but could see nothing pulling. By catching
p. 165
hold of one end he succeeded in stopping the man's headlong course, though as
a punishment for so doing he received a smart blow on his arm from the other.
This came to the ears of the Earl of Orrery, who requested the butler's master to
send him to his house, which the latter did. There were then staying with the Earl
several persons of quality, two Bishops, and the celebrated Healer, Valentine
Greatrakes. Here the malice of the spirits or fairies manifested itself in a different
manner. The unfortunate man was suddenly perceived to rise from the ground,
and the united efforts of Greatrakes and another were unable to check his
upward motion--in fact all that the spectators could do was to keep running under
him to protect him from being hurt if the invisible power should suddenly relax its
hold. At length he fell, but was caught by them before he reached the ground,
and so received no harm.
That night the spectre, which had twice proved so friendly, appeared at his
bedside with a wooden platter full of some grey
p. 166
liquid, which it bade him drink, as he had brought it to him to cure him of two
sorts of fits he was subject to. He refused to drink it, and it would appear from
another part of the narration that his refusal was based on the advice of the two
Bishops, whom he had consulted in the matter. At this the spirit was very angry,
but told him he had a kindness for him, and that if he drank the juice of plantain-
roots he would be cured of one sort of fit, but that he should suffer the other one
till his death. On asking his visitant who he was, he replied that he was the ghost
of a man who had been dead seven years, and who in the days of his flesh had
led a loose life, and was therefore condemned to be borne about in a restless
condition with the strange company until the Day of judgment. He added that "if
the butler had acknowledged God in all His ways he had not suffered such things
by their means," and reminded him that he had not said his prayers the day
before he met the company in the field; and thereupon vanished. Had this story
rested alone on the evidence of the butler the "two sorts
p. 167
of fits" would have been more than sufficient to account for it, but what are we to
say to the fact that all the main points of the narrative were borne out by the Earl,
while Mr. Greatrakes (according to Dr. More, the author of Collections of
Philosophical Writings) declared that he was actually an eye-witness of the man's
being carried in the air above their heads.
At the instigation of a ghost a lawsuit took place at Downpatrick in 1685. The
account of this was given to Baxter 1 by Thomas Emlin, "a worthy preacher in
Dublin," as well as by Claudius Gilbert, one of the principal parties therein
concerned: the latter's son and namesake proved a liberal benefactor to the
Library of Trinity College--some of his books have been consulted for the present
work. It appears that for some time past there had been a dispute about the
tithes of Drumbeg, a little parish about four miles outside Belfast, between Mr.
Gilbert, who was vicar of that town, and the Archdeacon
p. 168
of Down, Lemuel Matthews, whom Cotton in his Fasti describes as "a man of
considerable talents and legal knowledge, but of a violent overbearing temper,
and a litigous disposition." The parishioners of Drumbeg favoured Gilbert, and
generally paid the tithes to him as being the incumbent in possession; but the
Archdeacon claimed to be the lawful recipient, in support of which claim he
produced a warrant. In the execution of this by his servants at the house of
Charles Lostin, one of the parishioners, they offered some violence to his wife
Margaret, who refused them entrance, and who died about a month later (1st
Nov. 1685) of the injuries she had received at their hands. Being a woman in a
bad state of health little notice was taken of her death, until about a month after
she appeared to one Thomas Donelson, who had been a spectator of the
violence done her, and "affrighted him into a Prosecution of Robert Eccleson, the
Criminal. She appeared divers times, but chiefly upon one Lord's Day-Evening,
when she fetch'd him with a strange force out of his House into
p. 169
the Yard and Fields adjacent. Before her last coming (for she did so three times
that Day) several Neighbours were called in, to whom he gave notice that she
was again coming; and beckon'd him to come out; upon which they went to shut
the Door, but he forbad it, saying that she looked with a terrible Aspect upon him,
when they offered it. But his Friends laid hold on him and embraced him, that he
might not go out again; notwithstanding which (a plain evidence of some invisible
Power), he was drawn out of their Hands in a surprizing manner, and carried
about into the Field and Yard, as before, she charging him to prosecute Justice:
which Voice, as also Donelson's reply, the people heard, though they saw no
shape. There are many Witnesses of this yet alive, particularly Sarah (Losnam),
the Wife of Charles Lostin, Son to the deceased Woman, and one William
Holyday and his Wife." This last appearance took place in Holyday's house; there
were also present several young persons, as well as Charles and Helen Lostin,
children of the deceased, most of whom appeared as witnesses at the trial.
p. 170
Upon this Donelson deposed all he knew of the matter to Mr. Randal Brice, a
neighbouring justice of the Peace; the latter brought the affair before the notice of
Sir William Franklin in Belfast Castle. The depositions were subsequently carried
to Dublin, and the case was tried at Downpatrick Assizes by judge John Lindon in
1685. 1 On behalf of the plaintiff, Charles Lostin, Counseller James Macartney
acted--if he be the judge who subsequently makes his appearance in a most
important witch-trial at Carrickfergus, he certainly was as excellent an advocate
as any plaintiff in a case of witchcraft could possibly desire, as he was strongly
prejudiced in favour of the truth of all such matters. "The several Witnesses were
heard and sworn, and their Examinations were entred in the Record of that
Assizes, to the Amazement and Satisfaction of all that Country and of the judges,
whom I have heard speak of it at that time with much Wonder; insomuch
p. 171
that the said Eccleson hardly escaped with his life, but was Burnt in the Hand."
A case of supposed witchcraft occurred in Cork in 1685-6, the account of which
is contained in a letter from Christopher Crofts to Sir John Perceval (the third
Baronet, and father of the first Earl of Egmont) written on the fifteenth of March in
that year. Though the narrator professes his disbelief in such superstitions, yet
there seems to have been an unconscious feeling in his mind that his strict
administration of the law was the means of bringing the affliction on his child. He
says: "My poor boy Jack to all appearances lay dying; he had a convulsion for
eight or nine hours. His mother and several others are of opinion he is bewitched,
and by the old woman, the mother of Nell Welsh, who is reputed a bad woman;
and the child was playing by her that day she was upon her examination, and
was taken ill presently after she was committed to Bridewell. But I have not faith
to believe it was anything but the hand of God. I have committed the girl
p. 172
to Bridewell, where she shall stay some time." 1
At one period in their history that peculiar people, known amongst themselves as
the Society of Friends, and by their opponents as Quakers, appear to have been
most troublesome, and to have caused a good deal of annoyance to other
religious bodies. Not unnaturally their enemies credited any wild tales which were
related about them to their detriment, especially when they had reference to their
doctrine of the influence of the Spirit. Dr. More, in his continuation to Glanvill's
book, has in the sixth Relation an account of a man, near Cambridge in England,
who was possessed by an evil spirit which led him to do the most extraordinary
things in its attempt to convert him to Quakerism. In the Life of Mr. Alexander
Peden, late Minister of the Gospel at New Glenluce in Galloway, who died in
1686, there is an account of a Quakers' meeting in this country at which the Devil
appeared in most blasphemous parody of the Holy Ghost. As Mr. Peden was
travelling one
p. 173
time by himself in Ireland "the night came on, and a dark mist, which obliged him
to go into a house belonging to a Quaker. Mr. Peden said, 'I must beg the favour
of the roof of your house all night.' The Quaker said, 'Thou art a stranger, thou art
very welcome and shalt be kindly entertained, but I cannot wait upon thee, for I
am going to the meeting.' Mr. Peden said, 'I will go along with you. The Quaker
said, 'Thou may, if thou please, but thou must not trouble us.' He said, 'I will be
civil.' When they came to the meeting, as their ordinary is, they sat for some time
silent, some with their faces to the wall, and others covered. There being a void
in the loft above them there came down the appearance of a raven, and sat upon
one man's head, who started up immediately, and spoke with such vehemence
that the froth flew from his mouth; it went to a second, and he did the same; and
to a third, who did as the former two. Mr. Peden sitting near to his landlord said,
'Do you not see that? Ye will not deny it afterwards?' When they dismissed, going
home Mr. Peden
p. 174
said to him, 'I always thought there was devilry among you, but never thought
that he did appear visibly among you till now that I have seen it.' The poor man
fell a-weeping, and said, 'I perceive that God hath sent you to my house, and put
it into your heart to go along with me, and permitted the Devil to appear visibly
among us this night. I never saw the like before. Let me have the help of your
prayers.' After this he became a singular Christian."
Mr. Peden was also somewhat of a prophet, and his speciality appears to have
been the prognostication of unpleasant events, at all events to persons in Ireland.
Two instances will suffice. When in a gentleman's house in co. Antrim he foretold
that a maid-servant was enceinte, that she would murder the child, and would be
punished. "Which accordingly came to pass, and she was burnt at Craig Fergus."
On another occasion two messengers were sent to inform the Lord-Lieutenant
that the Presbyterian ministers in Ireland should affirm that they had nothing to
do with the rebellion at Bothwell Bridge. Mr.
p. 175
Peden said they were on the Devil's errand, but God would arrest them by the
gate. Accordingly one was stricken with sickness, while the other fell from his
horse and broke his leg.
134:1 Furnished to the writer by T. J. Westropp, Esq., M.A.
136:1 Glanvill, Sadducismus Triumphatus, Rel. 26.
142:1 Ulster Journal of Archæology, vol. iii. (for 1855).
143:1 Glanvill, op. cit., Rel. 27.
148:1 Law's Memorialls.
149:1 Baxter, Certainty of the World of Spirits.
150:1 William Turner, Compleat History of Most Remarkable Providences
(London, 1697).
154:1 Seymour, Succession of Clergy in Cashel and Emly.
155:1 O'Donoghue, Brendaniana, p. 301. See Joyce, Wonders of Ireland, p. 30,
for an apparition of a ship in the air in Celtic times. See also Westropp, Brasil
(Proc. R.I.A.); that writer actually sketched an illusionary island in 1872.
157:1 Memorialls.
163:1 Glanvill, op. cit., Rel. 18; Baxter, op. cit.
167:1 Op. cit.; W. P., History of Witches and Wizards (London, 1700 ?).
170:1 John Lindon (or Lyndon) became junior puisne judge of the Chief Place in
1682, was knighted in 1692, and died in 1697 (Cork Hist. and Arch. Journal, vol.
vii., 2nd series).
172:1 Egmont MSS. (Hist. MSS. Comm.), ii. 181.
A.D. 1688
IT is often said that Irishmen succeed best out of Ireland; those qualities they
possess, which fail to ripen and come to maturity in the lethargic atmosphere of
the Green Isle, where nothing matters very much provided public opinion is not
run counter to, become factors of history under the sunshine and storm of
countries where more ample scope is given for the full development of pugnacity,
industry, or state-craft. At any rate, from the days of Duns Scotus and St.
Columbanus down to the present, Irishmen have filled, and still fill, positions of
the highest importance in every part of the globe as friends of kings, leaders of
armies, or preachers of the Truth--of such every Irishman, be his creed or politics
what they may, is
p. 177
justly proud. To the lengthy and varied list of honours and offices may be added
(in one instance at least) the item of witchcraft. Had the unhappy creature, whose
tale is related below, remained in her native land, she would most probably have
ended her days in happy oblivion as a poor old woman, in no way distinguishable
from hundreds of others in like position; as it was, she attained unenviable
notoriety as a powerful witch, and was almost certainly the means of starting the
outbreak at Salem. Incidentally the story is of interest as showing that at this time
there were some Irish-speaking people in Boston.
Shortly after the date of its colonisation the State of Massachusetts became
remarkable for its cases of witchcraft; several persons were tried, and some were
hanged, for this crime. But at the time about which we are writing there was in
Boston a distinguished family of puritanical ministers named Mather. The father,
Increase Mather, is to be identified with the person of that name who was
Commonwealth "minister of the Gospel" at Magherafelt in Ireland in 1656; his
p. 178
more famous son, Cotton, was a most firm believer in all the possibilities of
witchcraft, and it is to his pen that we owe the following. He first gave an account
of it to the world in his Memorable Providences relating to Witchcraft, published
at Boston in 1689, the year after its occurrence; and subsequently reproduced it,
though in a more condensed form, in his better-known Magnalia Christi (London,
1702). It is from this latter source that we have taken it, and the principal
passages which are omitted in it, but occur in the Memorable Providences, are
here inserted either within square brackets in the text, or as footnotes. We may
now let the reverend gentleman tell his tale in his own quaint and rotund
"Four children of John Goodwin in Boston which had enjoyed a Religious
Education, and answer'd it with a towardly Ingenuity; Children indeed of an
exemplary Temper and Carriage, and an Example to all about them for Piety,
Honesty, and Industry. These were in the year 1688 arrested by a stupendous
p. 179
Witchcraft. The Eldest of the children, a Daughter of about Thirteen years old,
saw fit to examine their Laundress, the Daughter of a Scandalous Irish Woman in
the Neighbourhood, whose name was Glover [whose miserable husband before
he died had sometimes complained of her, that she was undoubtedly a witch,
and that wherever his head was laid, she would quickly arrive unto the
punishments due to such a one], about Some Linnen that was missing, and the
Woman bestowing very bad language on the Child, in the Daughter's Defence,
the Child was immediately taken with odd Fits, that carried in them something
Diabolical. It was not long before one of her Sisters, with two of her Brothers,
were horribly taken with the like Fits, which the most Experienc'd Physicians
[particularly our worthy and prudent friend Dr. Thomas Oakes] pronounced
Extraordinary and preternatural; and one thing the more confirmed them in this
Opinion was, that all the Children were tormented still just the same part of their
Bodies, at the same time, though their Pains flew like swift lightning
p. 180
from one part to another, and they were kept so far asunder that they neither saw
nor heard each other's Complaints. At nine or ten a-clock at Night they still had a
Release from their miseries, and slept all Night pretty comfortably. But when the
Day came they were most miserably handled. Sometimes they were Deaf,
sometimes Dumb, and sometimes Blind, and often all this at once. Their tongues
would be drawn down their throats, and then pull'd out upon their Chins, to a
prodigious Length. Their Mouths were forc'd open to such a Wideness, that their
jaws were out of joint; and anon clap together again, with a Force like a
Springlock: and the like would happen to their Shoulder-blades, their Elbows and
Handwrists, and several of their joints. . . . Their Necks would be broken, so that
their Neck-bone would seem dissolv'd unto them that felt after it, and yet on the
sudden it would become again so stiff, that there was no stirring of their Heads;
yea, their Heads would be twisted almost round. And if the main Force of their
Friends at any time obstructed a dangerous Motion
p. 181
which they seemed upon, they would roar exceedingly. "But the Magistrates
being awakened by the Noise of these Grievous and Horrid Occurrences,
examin'd the Person who was under the suspicion of having employ'd these
Troublesome Dæmons, and she gave such a Wretched Account of herself that
she was committed unto the Gaoler's Custody. [Goodwin had no proof that could
have done her any hurt; but the hag had not power to deny her interest in the
enchantment of the children; and when she was asked, Whether she believed
there was a God? her answer was too blasphemous and horrible for any pen of
mine to mention. Upon the commitment of this extraordinary woman all the
children had some present ease, until one related to her, accidentally meeting
one or two of them, entertain'd them with her blessing, that is railing, upon which
three of them fell ill again.]
"It was not long before this Woman was brought upon her Trial; but then [thro' the
efficacy of a charm, I suppose, used upon her by one or some of her crue] the
p. 182
Court could have no Answers from her but in the Irish, which was her Native
Language, although she understood English very well, and had accustom'd her
whole Family to none but English in her former Conversation. [It was long before
she could with any direct answers plead unto her Indictment, and when she did
plead] it was with owning and bragging rather than denial of her Guilt. And the
Interpreters, by whom the Communication between the Bench and the Barr was
managed, were made sensible that a Spell had been laid by another Witch on
this, to prevent her telling Tales, by confining her to a language which 'twas
hoped nobody would understand. The Woman's House being searched, several
Images, or Poppets, or Babies, made of Raggs and stuffed with Goat's Hair,
were found; when these were produced the vile Woman confess'd, that her way
to torment the Objects of her Malice was by wetting of her Finger with her Spittle,
and stroaking of these little Images. The abus'd Children were then produced in
Court, and the Woman still kept stooping and shrinking, as one that was almost
p. 183
to death with a mighty Weight upon her. But one of the Images being brought to
her, she odly and swiftly started up, and snatch'd it into her Hand. But she had no
sooner snatch'd it than one of the Children fell into sad Fits before the whole
Assembly. The judges had their just Apprehensions at this, and carefully causing.
a repetition of the Experiment, they still found the same Event of it, tho' the
Children saw not when the Hand of the Witch was laid upon the Images. They
ask'd her, Whether she had any to stand by her? She reply'd, She had; and
looking very fixtly into the air, she added, No, he's gone! and then acknowledged
she had One, who was her Prince, with whom she mention'd I know not what
Communion. For which cause the Night after she was heard expostulating with a
Devil for his thus deserting her, telling him, that because he had served her so
basely and falsely she had confessed all.
"However to make all clear the Court appointed five or six Physicians to examine
her very strictly, whether she were no way craz'd in her Intellectuals. Divers
p. 184
did they spend with her, and in all that while no Discourse came from her but
what was agreeable; particularly when they ask'd her what she thought would
become of her Soul, she reply'd, You ask me a very solemn Question, and I
cannot tell what to say to it. She profest herself a Roman Catholick, and could
recite her Paternoster in Latin very readily, but there was one Clause or two
always too hard for her, whereof she said, She could not repeat it, if she might
have all the world. 1 In the Upshot the Doctors returned her Compos Mentis, and
Sentence of Death was past upon her.
"Divers Days past between her being arraign'd and condemn'd; and in this time,
one Hughes testify'd, that her Neighbour (called Howen), who was cruelly
bewitchd unto Death about six years before, laid her Death to the charge of this
Woman [she had seen Glover sometimes come down her chimney], and bid her,
the said Hughes,
p. 185
to remember this; for within six years there would be occasion to mention it. [This
Hughes now preparing her testimony, immediately one of her children, a fine boy
well grown towards youth] was presently taken ill in the same wofal manner that
Goodwin's were; and particularly the Boy in the Night cry'd out, that a Black
Person with a Blue Cap in the Room tortur'd him, and that they try'd with their
Hand in the Bed for to pull out his Bowels. The Mother of the Boy went unto
Glover on the day following, and asked her, Why she tortured her poor Lad at
such a rate? Glover answered, Because of the Wrong she had receiv'd from her;
and boasted That she had come at him as a Black Person with a Blue Cap, and
with her Hand in the Bed would have pulled his Bowels out, but could not.
Hughes denied that she had wronged her; and Glover then desiring to see the
Boy, wished him well; upon which he had no more of his Indisposition.
"After the Condemnation of the Woman, I did my self give divers Visits to her,
wherein she told me, that she did use to be at Meetings, where her Prince with
p. 186
more were present. She told me who the Four were, and plainly said, That her
Prince was the Devil. [She entertained me with nothing but Irish, which language
I had not learning enough to understand without an interpreter.] When I told her
that, and how her Prince had deserted her, she reply'd [I think in English, and
with passion too], If it he so, I am sorry for that. And when she declined
answering some things that I ask'd her, she told me, She could give me a full
answer, but her Spirits would not give her leave: nor could she consent, she said,
without this leave that I should pray for her. [However against her will I pray'd
with her, which if it were a fault it was in excess of pity. When I had done she
thanked me with many good words, but I was no sooner out of her sight than she
took a stone, a long and slender stone, and with her finger and spittle fell to
tormenting it; though whom or what she meant I had the mercy never to
understand.] At her Execution she said the afflicted Children should not be
relieved by her Death, for others besides she had a hand in their Affliction."
p. 187
Mrs. Glover was hanged, but in accordance with her dying words the young
Goodwins experienced no relief from their torments, or, as Cotton Mather
characteristically puts it, "the Three Children continued in their Furnace, as
before; and it grew rather seven times hotter than before," and as this was
brought about by our Irish witch it may not be out of place to give some extracts
relative to the extraordinary adventures that befel them. In their Fits they cried
out of They and Them as the Authors of all their Miseries; but who that They and
Them were, they were not able to declare. Yet at last one of the Children was
able to discern their Shapes, and utter their names. A Blow at the Place where
they saw the Spectre was always felt by the Boy himself in that part of his Body
that answer'd what might be stricken at. And this tho' his Back were turned, and
the thing so done, that there could be no Collusion in it. But a Blow at the Spectre
always helped him too, for he would have a respite from his Ails a considerable
while, and the Spectre would be gone. Yea, 'twas very credibly affirmed, that a
p. 188
Woman or two in the Town received Wounds by the Blows thus given to their
spectres. . . . Sometimes they would be very mad, and then they would climb
over high Fences, yea, they would fly like Geese, and be carry'd with an
incredible Swiftness through the Air, having but just their Toes now and then
upon the Ground (sometimes not once in Twenty Foot), and their Arms wav'd like
the Wings of a Bird. . . . If they were bidden to do a needless thing (as to rub a
clean Table) they were able to do it unmolested; but if to do any useful thing (as
to rub a dirty Table), they would presently, with many Torments, be made
Finally Cotton Mather took the eldest of the three children, a girl, to his own
house, partly out of compassion for her parents, but chiefly, as he tells us "that I
might be a critical Eye-witness of things that would enable me to confute the
Sadducism of this Debauched Age"--and certainly her antics should have
provided him with a quiverful of arguments against the "Sadducees." "In her Fits
she would
p. 189
cough up a Ball as big as a small Egg into the side of her Windpipe that would
near choak her, till by Stroaking and by Drinking it was again carry'd down. When
I pray'd in the Room her Hands were with a strong, though not even, Force clapt
upon her Ears. And when her Hands were by our Force pull'd away, she cry'd
out, They make such a noise, I cannot hear a word. She complained that
Glover's chain was upon her Leg; and assaying to go, her Gate was exactly such
as the chain'd Witch had before she dy'd. [Sometimes she imagined she was
mounted on horseback], and setting herself in a riding Posture, she would in her
Chair be agitated, as one sometimes Ambling, sometimes Trotting, and
sometimes Galloping very furiously. In these Motions we could not perceive that
she was mov'd by the Stress of her Feet upon the Ground, for often she touched
it not. When she had rode a Minute or two, she would seem to be at a
Rendezvous with Them that were her Company, and there she would maintain a
Discourse with them, asking them many Questions concerning her self. At length
she pretended
p. 190
that her Horse could ride up the Stairs; and unto admiration she rode (that is,
was toss'd as one that rode) up the Stair."
Subsequently, when the clergy of Boston and Charleston had kept a day of
prayer with fasting, the children improved until they became perfectly well. But in
an unlucky moment Mr. Mather determined to entertain his congregation with a
sermon on these Memorable Providences, and the study of this again affected
the girl. Formerly, in the worst of her attacks, she had been most dutiful and
respectful to Cotton Mather, "but now her whole Carriage to me was with a
Sauciness which I am not us'd anywhere to be treated withal. She would knock at
my Study door, affirming that some one below would be glad to see me, tho'
there was none that ask'd for me. And when I chid her for telling what was false,
her Answer was that Mrs. Mather is always glad to see you! Once when lying in a
fit, as he that was praying was alluding to the Words of the Canaanitess, and
saying, Lord, have mercy on a Daughter vext with a Devil, there came a big, but
p. 191
voice from her, in which the Spectators did not see her Mouth to move, There's
two or three of us."
Finally after three days of fasting and prayer the children were completely cured,
but the storm thus raised was not easily allayed. The old woman seems, like
many another of her years and sex, to have been of a choleric and crotchety
disposition, while it is also quite within the bounds of possibility that she had
become so infected with the popular superstition (and who could blame her!) that
she actually believed herself to be capable of harming people by merely stroking
dolls, or stones with her finger. That not uncommon form of mental torture
employed, namely, the making her repeat the Lord's Prayer, all the time watching
carefully for lapsus linguæ, and thence drawing deductions as to her being in
league with the Devil, was particularly absurd in the case of such a person as
Mrs. Glover, whose memory was confused by age. At any rate there are probably
very few of us at the present day who would care to be forced to say in public
either that Prayer or the Apostles'
p. 192
Creed if we knew that our lives depended on absolute verbal accuracy, and that
the slightest slip might mean death. It is possible, too, that some of the fits of
Goodwin's children were due to conscious imposture; and certain it is, from a
study of the whole case, that the deep-rooted belief of the self-opinionated
Cotton Mather in the truth of such things, as well as the flattering his vanity
received, contributed very largely to the success of the whole incident. Cotton
Mather's account of the case was very highly praised by Mr. Baxter in his
Certainty of the World of Spirits, and this so delighted Mr. Mather that he
distributed the latter work throughout New England as being one that should
convince the most obdurate "Sadducee." The result of this was speedily seen.
Three years after the Boston incident a similar outbreak occurred amongst some
young persons in the house of the Rev. Samuel Parris at Salem, then a small
village about nineteen miles north-east of Boston. The contagion spread with
appalling rapidity; numerous persons were brought to trial, of whom, in the space
of sixteen months,
p. 193
nineteen (twenty-five according to Ashton) 1 were hanged, one of them being a
clergyman, the Rev. George Burroughs, about one hundred and fifty were put in
prison, and more than two hundred accused of witchcraft. Finally the
Government put a stop to the trials, and released the accused in April 1693; Mr.
Parris, in whose house the affair commenced, was dismissed from his cure, as
being the "Beginner and Procurer of the sorest Afflictions," but, directly and
indirectly, Mrs. Glover may be considered the first cause, for if the case of
Goodwin's children, had not occurred at Boston it is more than probable the
village of Salem would never have been plagued as it was.
184:1 "An experiment was made, whether she could recite the Lord's Prayer: and
it was found that though clause after clause was most carefully repeated unto
her, yet when she said it after them that prompted her, she could not possibly
avoid making nonsense of it, with some ridiculous depravations. This experiment
I had the curiosity to see made upon two more, and it had the same effect."
193:1 The Devil in Britain and America, chap. xxiv.

A.D. 1689-1720
THE account of the following portent is given us in Aubrey's Miscellanies. "When
King James II first entered Dublin after his Arrival from France, 1689, one of the
Gentlemen that bore the Mace before him, stumbled without any rub in his way,
or other visible occasion. The Mace fell out of his hands, and the little Cross upon
the Crown thereof stuck fast between two Stones in the Street. This is well
known all over Ireland, and did much trouble King James himself with many of
his chief Attendants"; but no doubt greatly raised the hopes of his enemies.
A few years later a witch-story comes from the north of Ireland, and is related
p. 195
by George Sinclair in his Satan's Invisible World displayed (in later editions, not
in the first). This book, by the way, seems to have been extremely popular, as it
was reprinted several times, even as late as 1871. "At Antrim in Ireland a little girl
of nineteen (nine?) years of age, inferior to none in the place for beauty,
education, and birth, innocently put a leaf of sorrel which she had got from a
witch into her mouth, after she had given the begging witch bread and beer at the
door; it was scarce swallowed by her, but she began to be tortured in the bowels,
to tremble all over, and even was convulsive, and in fine to swoon away as dead.
The doctor used remedies on the 9th of May 1698, at which time it happened, but
to no purpose, the child continued in a most terrible paroxysm; whereupon they
sent for the minister, who scarce had laid his hand upon her when she was
turned by the demon in the most dreadful shapes. She began first to rowl herself
about, then to vomit needles, pins, hairs, feathers, bottoms of thread, pieces of
glass, window-nails, nails drawn out of a cart or coach-wheel, an iron knife about
a span long, eggs, and fish-shells
p. 196
and when the witch came near the place, or looked to the house, though at the
distance of two hundred paces from where the child was, she was in worse
torment, insomuch that no life was expected from the child till the witch was
removed to some greater distance. The witch was apprehended, condemned,
strangled, and burnt, and was desired to undo the incantation immediately before
strangling; but said she could not, by reason others had done against her
likewise. But the wretch confessed the same, with many more. The child was
about the middle of September thereafter carried to a gentleman's house, where
there were many other things scarce credible, but that several ministers and the
gentleman have attested the same. The relation is to be seen in a pamphlet
printed 1699, and entitled The Bewitching of a Child in Ireland."
Baxter in his Certainty of the World of Spirits quotes what at first sight appears to
be the same case, but places it at Utrecht, and dates it 1625. But it is quite
possible for a similar incident to have occurred on the Continent as well
p. 197
as in Ireland; many cases of witchcraft happening at widely different places and
dates have points of close resemblance. Sinclair's story appears to be based on
an actual trial for witchcraft in co. Antrim, the more so as he has drawn his
information from a pamphlet on the subject which was printed the year after its
occurrence. The mention of this latter is particularly interesting; it was probably
locally printed, but there appears to be no means of tracing it, and indeed it must
have been thumbed out of existence many years ago. The above story,
marvellous though it may seem, is capable of explanation. The oxalic acid in
sorrel is an irritant poison, causing retching and violent pains. But when once the
suspicion of witchcraft arose the ejection of such an extraordinary collection of
miscellaneous articles followed quite as a matter of course--it would, so to speak,
have been altogether against the rules of the game for the girl to have got rid of
anything else at that particular date.
Classon Porter gives what he considers to be the traditional version of the above.
p. 198
According to it the supposed witch was a poor old woman, who was driven mad
by the cruel and barbarous treatment which she received from many of her
neighbours on the ground of her being a witch. To escape this treatment she
sought refuge in a cave, which was in a field attached to the old (not the present)
meeting-house in Antrim. Her living in such a place being thought a confirmation
of what was alleged against her, she was thereupon stabbed to death, and her
body cut in pieces, which were then scattered over the places where she was
supposed to have exercised her evil influence. For some years after this terrible
tragedy her ghost, in the form of a goat, was believed to haunt the session-house
of the old meeting-house near which she had met her cruel fate; it was popularly
known as MacGregor's ghost, this having been the name of the man who was
sexton of the meeting-house when these things took place, and who probably
had been concerned in the murder. So far Classon Porter. But we very much
doubt if the above has really any connection with the Antrim witch-case
p. 199
of 1698. It seems more probable that it occurred at a later date, possibly after the
Island-Magee trial, and thus would be an instance of one of those outbursts of
cruelty on the part of a mob rendered ferocious by ignorance and superstition, of
which examples are to be found in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth
On one occasion an Irish witch or wise woman was the means of having a
Scotch girl delated by the Kirk for using charms at Hallow-Eve apparently for the
purpose of discovering who her future husband should be. She confessed that
"at the instigation of an old woman from Ireland she brought in a pint of water
from a well which brides and burials pass over, and dipt her shirt into it, and hung
it before the fire; that she either dreamed, or else there came something and
turned about the chair on which her shirt was, but she could not well see what it
was." Her sentence was a rebuke before the congregation; considering the state
of Scotland at that period it must be admitted she escaped very well. 1
p. 200
We now come to the last instance of witches being tried and convicted in Ireland-
-as offenders against the laws of the realm--the celebrated Island-Magee case.
There is a very scarce published account of this, said to have been compiled by
an eyewitness, and entitled: "A Narrative of the sufferings of a young girl called
Mary Dunbar, who was strangely molested by spirits and witches, at Mr. James
Haltridge's house, parish of Island Magee, near Carrigfergus, in the County of
Antrim, and Province of Ulster, in Ireland, and in some other places to which she
was removed during her disorder; as also of the aforesaid Mr. Haltridge's house
being haunted by spirits in the latter end of 1710 and beginning of 1711." This
continued for many years in manuscript, but in 1822 it was printed as a pamphlet
at Belfast, under the editorship of M'Skimin, author of the History of Carrigfergus.
This pamphlet we have not seen; but full particulars of the entire case can be
obtained by combining the following sources of information, viz. Wright's
Narratives of Sorcery and Witchcraft; the Dublin University
p. 201
Magazine, vol. lxxxii.; a letter by Dr. Tisdall, the Vicar of Belfast, in the Hibernian
Magazine for January 1775; Classon Porter's pamphlet; M'Skimin's History of
Carrigfergus (ed. M'Crum, 1909); while the depositions that were taken are
published in Young's Historical Notices of Old Belfast, pp. 161-4.
The actual trial of the witches was preceded by a series of most extraordinary
incidents. In September 1710, Mrs. Anne Haltridge, widow of the Rev. John
Haltridge, late Presbyterian minister at Island Magee, while staying in the house
of her son, James Haltridge of the same place, suffered great annoyance every
night from some invisible object, which threw stones and turf at her bed, the force
of the blow often causing the curtains to open, and even drawing them from one
end of the bed to the other. About the same time, also, the pillows were taken
from under her head, and the clothes pulled off; and though a strict search was
made, nothing could be discovered. Continuing to be annoyed in this way she
removed to another room,
p. 202
being afraid to remain in her own any longer.
Then about the 11th of December, as she was sitting in the twilight at the kitchen
fire, a little boy came in and sat down beside her. He appeared to be about
eleven or twelve years old, with short black hair, having an old black bonnet on
his head, a half-worn blanket about him trailing on the floor, and a torn vest under
it, and kept his face covered with the blanket held before it. Mrs. Haltridge asked
him several questions: Where he came from? Where he was going? Was he cold
or hungry? and so on; but instead of answering her he got up and danced very
nimbly round the kitchen, and then ran out of the house and disappeared in the
cow-shed. The servants ran after him, but he was nowhere to be seen; when
they returned to the house, however, there he was beside them. They tried to
catch him, but every time they attempted it he ran off and could not be found. At
last one of the servants, seeing the master's dog coming in, cried out that her
master was returning home, and that he would soon
p. 203
catch the troublesome creature, upon which he immediately vanished, nor were
they troubled with him again till February 1711.
On the 11th of that month, which happened to be a Sunday, old Mrs. Haltridge
was reading Dr. Wedderburn's Sermons on the Covenant, when, laying the book
aside for a little while, nobody being in the room all the time, it was suddenly
taken away. She looked for it everywhere, but could not find it. On the following
day the apparition already referred to came to the house, and breaking a pane of
glass in one of the windows, thrust in his hand with the missing volume in it. He
began to talk with one of the servants, Margaret Spear, and told her that he had
taken the book when everybody was down in the kitchen, and that her mistress
would never get it again. The girl asked him if he could read it, to which he
replied that he could, adding that the Devil had taught him. Upon hearing this
extraordinary confession she exclaimed, "The Lord bless me from thee! Thou
hast got ill lear (learning)." He told her she might bless
p. 204
herself as often as she liked, but that it could not save her; whereupon he
produced a sword, and threatened to kill everybody in the house. This frightened
her so much that she ran into the parlour and fastened the door, but the
apparition laughed at her, and declared that he could come in by the smallest
hole in the house like a cat or mouse, as the Devil could make him anything he
pleased. He then took up a large stone, and hurled it through the parlour window,
which, upon trial, could not be put out at the same place. A little after the servant
and child looked out, and saw the apparition catching the turkey-cock, which he
threw over his shoulder, holding him by the tail; and the bird making a great
sputter with his feet, the stolen book was spurred out of the loop in the blanket
where the boy had put it. He then leaped over a wall with the turkey-cock on his
back. Presently the girl saw him endeavouring to draw his sword to kill the bird,
but it escaped. Missing the book out of his blanket he ran nimbly up and down in
search of it, and then with a club came and broke the glass of the
p. 205
parlour window. The girl again peeped out through the kitchen window, and saw
him digging with his sword. She summoned up courage to ask him what he was
doing, and he answered, "Making a grave for a corpse which will come out of this
house very soon." He refused, however, to say who it would be, but having
delivered himself of this enlivening piece of information, flew over the hedge as if
he had been a bird.
For a day or two following nothing happened, but on the morning of the 15th the
clothes were mysteriously taken off Mrs. Haltridge's bed, and laid in a bundle
behind it. Being put back by some of the family they were again removed, and
this time folded up and placed under a large table which happened to be in the
room. Again they were laid in order on the bed, and again they were taken off,
and this. third time made up in the shape of a corpse, or something that very
closely resembled it. When this strange news spread through the neighbourhood
many persons came to the house, and, after a thorough investigation lest there
might be a trick in
p. 206
the matter, were obliged to acknowledge that there was some invisible agent at
work. Mr. Robert Sinclair, the Presbyterian minister of the place, with John Man
and Reynold Leaths, two of his Elders, stayed the whole of that day and the
following night with the distressed family, spending much of the time in prayer. At
night Mrs. Haltridge went to bed as usual in the haunted room, but got very little
rest, and at about twelve o'clock she cried out suddenly as if in great pain. Upon
Mr. Sinclair asking her what was the matter, she said she felt as if a knife had
been stuck into her back. Next morning she quitted the haunted room and went
to another; but the violent pain never left her back, and at the end of the week, on
the 22nd of February, she died. During her illness the clothes were frequently
taken off the bed which she occupied, and made up like a corpse, and even
when a table and chairs were laid upon them to keep them on, they were
mysteriously removed without any noise, and made up as before; but this never
happened when anyone was in the room.
p. 207
The evening before she died they were taken off as usual; but this time, instead
of being made up in the customary way, they were folded with great care, and
laid in a chest upstairs, where they were only found after a great deal of
We now reach the account of the witchcraft proper, and the consequent trial. In
or about the 27th of February 1711, a girl about eighteen years of age, Miss Mary
Dunbar, whom Dr. Tisdall describes as "having an open and innocent
countenance, and being a very intelligent young person," came to stay with Mrs.
Haltridge, junior, to keep her company after her mother-in-law's death. A rumour
was afloat that the latter had been bewitched into her grave, and this could not
fail to have its effect on Miss Dunbar. Accordingly on the night of her arrival her
troubles began. When she retired to her bedroom, accompanied by another girl,
they were surprised to find that a new mantle and some other wearing apparel
had been taken out of a trunk and scattered through the house. Going to look
p. 208
for the missing articles, they found lying on the parlour floor an apron which two
days before had been locked up in another apartment. This apron, when they
found it, was rolled up tight, and tied fast with a string of its own material, which
had upon it five strange knots 1 (Tisdall 2 says nine). These she proceeded to
unloose, and having done so, she found a flannel cap, which had belonged to old
Mrs. Haltridge, wrapped up in the middle of the apron. When she saw this she
was frightened, and threw both cap and apron to young Mrs. Haltridge, who also
was alarmed, thinking that the mysterious knots boded evil to some inmate of the
house. That evening Miss Dunbar was seized with a most violent fit, and,
recovering, cried out that a knife was run through her thigh, and that she was
most grievously afflicted by three women, whom she described particularly,
p. 210
but did not then give any account of their names. About midnight she was, seized
with a second fit; when she saw in her vision seven or eight women who
conversed together, and in their conversation called each other by their names.
When she came out of her fit she gave their names as Janet Liston, Elizabeth
Cellor, Kate M'Calmont, Janet Carson, Janet Mean, Latimer, and one whom they
termed Mrs. Ann. She gave so minute a description of them that several of them
were guessed at, and sent from different parts of the district to the "Afflicted," as
Dr. Tisdall terms her, whom she distinguished from many other women that were
brought with them. "She was constantly more afflicted as they approached the
house; particularly there was one Latimer, who had been sent from Carrigfergus
privately by Mr. Adair, the dissenting teacher; who, when she came to the house
where the Afflicted was, viz. in Island Magee, none of them suspected her, but
the Afflicted fell into a fit as she came near the house, and recovering when the
woman was in the chamber the first
p. 210
words she said were, O Latimer, Latimer (which was her name), and her
description agreed most exactly to the person. After this manner were all the rest
discovered; and at one time she singled out one of her tormentors amongst thirty
whom they brought in to see if they could deceive her either in the name or
description of the accused person. All this was sworn to by persons that were
present, as having heard it from the Afflicted as she recovered from her several
Between the 3rd and the 24th of March depositions relative to various aspects of
the case were sworn to by several people, and the Mayor of Carrigfergus issued
a warrant for the arrest of all suspected persons. Seven women were arrested;
their names were
Janet Mean, of Braid Island.
Jane Latimer, of Irish quarter, Carrigfergus.
Margaret Mitchell, of Kilroot.
Catherine M'Calmont, of Island Magee.
Janet Liston, alias Sellar, of same.
Elizabeth Sellar, of same.
Janet Carson, of same.
p. 211
Her worst tormentors seem to have been taken into custody at an early stage in
the proceedings, for Miss Dunbar stated in her deposition, made on the 12th of
March, that since their arrest she received no annoyance, except from "Mrs. Ann,
and another woman blind of an eye, who told her when Mr. Robb, the curate,
was going to pray with and for her, that she should be little the better for his
prayers, for they would hinder her from hearing them, which they accordingly
did." In one of her attacks Miss Dunbar was informed by this "Mrs. Ann" that she
should never be discovered by her name, as the rest had been, but she seems to
have overlooked the fact that her victim was quite capable of giving an accurate
description of her, which she accordingly did, and thus was the means of bringing
about the apprehension of one Margaret Mitchell, upon which she became free
from all annoyance, except that she felt something strange in her stomach which
she would be glad to get rid of--and did, as we shall see presently.
With regard to the woman blind in
p. 212
one eye, we learn from another deponent that three women thus disfigured were
brought to her, but she declared that they never troubled her. "One Jane Miller, of
Carrigfergus, blind of an eye, being sent for, as soon as she drew near the house
the said Mary, who did not know of her coming, became very much afraid,
faintish, and sweat, and as soon as she came into the room the said Mary fell
into such a violent fit of pains that three men were scarce able to bold her, and
cryed out, 'For Christ's sake, take the Devil out of the room.' And being asked,
said the third woman, for she was the woman that did torment her." Yet Jane
Miller does not seem to have been arrested.
In one of the earliest of the depositions, that sworn by James Hill on the 5th of
March, we find an extraordinary incident recorded, which seems to show that at
least one of the accused was a victim of religious mania. He states that on the
1st of March, "he being in the house of William Sellar of Island Magee, one Mary
Twmain (sic!) came to the said house and called out Janet Liston to speak to
p. 213
her, and that after the said Janet came in again she fell a-trembling, and told this
Deponent that the said Mary had been desiring her to go to Mr. Haltridge's to see
Mary Dunbar, but she declared she would not go for all Island Magee, except Mr.
Sinclair would come for her, and said: If the plague of God was on her (Mary
Dunbar), the plague of God be on them altogether; the Devil be with them if he
was among them. If God had taken her health from her, God give her health: if
the Devil had taken it from her, the Devil give it her. And then added: O
misbelieving ones, eating and drinking damnation to themselves, crucifying
Christ afresh, and taking all out of the hands of the Devil!"
Finally the accused were brought up for trial at Carrigfergus before Judges Upton
and Macartney 1 on 31st March 1711. Amongst the witnesses examined
p. 214
were Mr. Skeffington, curate of Larne; Mr. Ogilvie, Presbyterian minister of Larne;
Mr. Adair, Presbyterian minister of Carrigfergus; Mr. Cobham, Presbyterian
minister of Broad Island; Mr. Edmonstone, of Red Hall, and others. The
proceedings commenced at six o'clock in the morning, and lasted until two in the
afternoon. An abstract of the evidence was made by Dr. Tisdall, who was present
in Court during the trial, and from whose letter we extract the following passages-
-many of the foregoing facts (!) being also adduced.
"It was sworn to by most of the evidences that in some of her fits three strong
men were scarce able to hold her down, that she would mutter to herself, and
speak some words distinctly, and tell everything she had said in her conversation
with the witches, and how she came to say such things, which she spoke when in
her fits."
"In her fits she often had her tongue thrust into her windpipe in such a manner
that she was like to choak, and the root seemed pulled up into her mouth. Upon
p. 215
her recovery she complained extremely of one Mean, who had twisted her
tongue; and told the Court that she had tore her throat, and tortured her violently
by reason of her crooked fingers and swelled knuckles. The woman was called to
the Bar upon this evidence, and ordered to show her hand; it was really amazing
to see the exact agreement betwixt the description of the Afflicted and the hand
of the supposed tormentor; all the joints were distorted and the tendons
shrivelled up, as she had described."
"One of the men who had held her in a fit swore she had nothing visible on her
arms when he took hold of them, and that all in the room saw some worsted yarn
tied round her wrist, which was put on invisibly; there were upon this string seven
double knots and one single one. In another fit she cried out that she was
grievously tormented with a pain about her knee; upon which the women in the
room looked at her knee, and found a fillet tied fast about it; her mother swore to
the fillet, that it was the same she had given her that morning, and had seen it
p. 216
about her head; this had also seven double knots and one single one."
"Her mother was advised by a Roman Catholic priest to use a counter-charm,
which was to write some words out of the first chapter of St. John's Gospel in a
paper, and to tie the paper with an incle three times round her neck, knotted each
time. This charm the girl herself declined; but the mother, in one of the times of
her being afflicted, used it. She was in a violent fit upon the bed held down by a
man, and, recovering a little, complained grievously of a pain in her back and
about her middle; immediately the company discovered the said incle tied round
her middle with seven double knots and one single one: this was sworn to by
several. The man who held the Afflicted was asked by the judge if it were
possible she could reach the incle about her neck while he held her; he said it
was not, by the virtue of his oath, he having her hands fast down."
"The Afflicted, during one of her fits, was observed by several persons to slide off
the bed in an unaccountable manner,
p. 217
and to be laid gently on the ground as if supported and drawn invisibly. Upon her
recovery she told them the several persons who had drawn her in that manner,
with the intention, as they told her, of bearing her out of the window; but that she
reflecting at that time, and calling upon God in her mind, they let her drop on the
"The Afflicted, recovering from a fit, told the persons present that her tormentors
had declared that she should not have power to go over the threshold of the
chamber-door; the evidence declared that they had several times attempted to
lead her out of the door, and that she was as often thrown into fits as they had
brought her to the said threshold; that to pursue the experiment further they had
the said threshold taken up, upon which they were immediately struck with so
strong a smell of brimstone that they were scarce able to bear it; that the stench
spread through the whole house, and afflicted several to that degree that they fell
sick in their stomachs, and were much disordered." The above were the principal
facts sworn
p. 218
to in the Court, to which most of the witnesses gave their joint testimony.
"There was a great quantity of things produced in Court, and sworn to be what
she vomited out of her throat. I had them all in my hand, and found there was a
great quantity of feathers, cotton, yarn, pins, and two large waistcoat buttons, at
least as much as would fill my hand. They gave evidence to the Court they had
seen those very things coming out of her mouth, and had received them into their
hands as she threw them up."
Her tormentors had told Miss Dunbar that she should have no power to give
evidence against them in Court. "She was accordingly that day before the trial
struck dumb, and so continued in Court during the whole trial, but had no violent
fit. I saw her in Court cast her eyes about in a wild distracted manner.) and it was
then thought she was recovering from her fit [of dumbness], and it was hoped
she would give her own evidence. I observed, as they were raising her up, she
sank into the arms of a person who held her, closed her eyes, and seemed
perfectly senseless and
p. 219
motionless. I went to see her after the trial; she told me she knew not where she
was when in Court; that she had been afflicted all that time by three persons, of
whom she gave a particular description both of their proportion, habits, hair,
features, and complexion, and said she had never seen them till the day before
the trial."
The prisoners had no lawyer to defend them, while it is hardly necessary to say
that no medical evidence as to the state of health of Miss Dunbar was heard.
When the witnesses had been examined the accused were ordered to make their
defence. They all positively denied the charge of witchcraft; one with the worst
looks, who was therefore the greatest suspect, called God to witness that she
was wronged. Their characters were inquired into, and some were reported
unfavourably of, which seemed to be rather due to their ill appearance than to
any facts proved against them. "It was made appear on oath that most of them
had received the Communion, some of them very lately, that several of them had
been laborious, industrious people,
p. 220
and had frequently been known to pray with their families, both publickly and
privately; most of them could say the Lord's Prayer, which it is generally said they
learnt in prison, they being every one Presbyterians."
"Judge Upton summed up the whole evidence with great exactness and
perspicuity, notwithstanding the confused manner in which it was offered. He
seemed entirely of opinion that the jury could not bring them in guilty upon the
sole testimony of the afflicted person's visionary images. He said he could not
doubt but that the whole matter was preternatural and diabolical, but he
conceived that. had the persons accused been really witches and in compact
with the Devil, it could hardly be presumed that they should be such constant
attenders upon Divine Service, both in public and private."
Unfortunately his Brother on the Bench was not so open-minded. Judge
Macartney, who is almost certainly the Counsel for the plaintiff in the Lostin case,
differed altogether from him, and thought that the jury might well bring them in
p. 221
The twelve good men and true lost no time in doing so, and, in accordance with
the Statute, the prisoners were sentenced to a year's imprisonment, and to stand
in the pillory four times during that period. It is said that when placed in this relic
of barbarism the unfortunate wretches were pelted by the mob with eggs and
cabbage-stalks to such an extent that one of them had an eye knocked out. And
thus ended the last trial for witchcraft in Ireland.
It is significant that witch-trials stopped in all three countries within a decade of
each other. The last condemnation in England occurred in 1712, when a woman
in Hertfordshire, Jane Wenharn, was found guilty by a jury, but was reprieved at
the representation of the judge; another trial occurred in 1717, but the accused
were acquitted. In Scotland the Sheriff-depute of Sutherland passed sentence of
death on a woman (though apparently illegally) in 1722, who was consequently
strangled and burnt. Ashton indeed states (p. 192) that the last execution in
Ireland occurred at Glarus, when a servant was burnt as a
p. 222
witch in 1786. This would be extremely interesting, were it not for the fact that it is
utterly incorrect. It is clear from what J. Français says that this happened at
Glaris in Switzerland, and was the last instance of judicial condemnation and
execution in Europe. We have drawn attention to this lest it should mislead
others, as it did us.
Before concluding this chapter it will not be out of place to mention the fact that
one of the most strenuous writers against witchcraft subsequently ornamented
the Irish Episcopal Bench. This was Dr. Francis Hutchinson, who wrote the
"Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft" in the form of a dialogue between a
clergyman (the author), a Scotch advocate, and an English juror. The first edition
was published in 1718, and was followed by a second in 1720, in which year he
was promoted to the See of Down and Connor. As to the value of his book, and
the important position it occupied in the literary history of witchcraft in England,
we cannot do better than quote Dr. Notestein's laudatory criticism. He says:
p. 223
book must rank with Reginald Scot's Discoverie as one of the great classics of
English witch-literature. So nearly was his point of view that of our own day that it
would be idle to rehearse his arguments. A man with warm sympathies for the
oppressed, he had been led probably by the case of Jane Wenham, with whom
he had talked, to make a personal investigation of all cases that came at all
within the ken of those living. Whoever shall write the final story of English
witchcraft will find himself still dependent upon this eighteenth-century historian.
His work was the last chapter in the witch controversy. There was nothing more
to say."
199:1 C. K. Sharpe, op. cit.
208:1 A man in the Orkneys was ruined by nine knots tied in a blue thread
(Dalyell's Darker Superstitions of Scotland).
208:2 The Rev. Dr. Tisdall, who has given such a full account of the trial, was
Vicar of Belfast. For his attitude towards the Presbyterians, see Witherow's
Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, pp. 118, 159. Yet his narrative of the
trial is not biassed, for all his statements can be home out by other evidence.
213:1 James Macartney became second puisne justice of the King's Bench in
1701, puisne justice of Common Pleas (vice A. Upton) in 1714, and retired in
1726. Anthony Upton became puisne Justice of Common Pleas, was succeeded
as above, and committed suicide in 1718. Both were natives of co. Antrim.
OLD beliefs die hard, especially when their speedy demise is a consummation
devoutly to be wished; if the Island-Magee case was the last instance of judicial
condemnation of witchcraft as an offence against the laws of the realm it was
very far indeed from being the last occasion on which a witch and her doings
formed the centre of attraction in an Irish law-court. Almost a century after the
Island-Magee incident the town of Carrigfergus again became the scene of
action, when the celebrated "Carnmoney witch," Mary Butters, was put forward
for trial at the Spring Assizes in March 1808. It is an instance of black
p. 225
magic versus white (if we may dignify the affair with the title of magic!), though it
should be borne in mind that in the persecution of witches many women were put
to death on the latter charge, albeit they were really benefactors of the human
race; the more so as their skill in simples and knowledge of the medicinal virtue
of herbs must have added in no small degree to, the resources of our present
pharmacopoeia. The following account of this is taken from the Belfast News-
Letter for 21st August 1807, as well as from some notes by M'Skimin in Young's
Historical Notice of Old Belfast.
One Tuesday night (evidently in August 1807) an extraordinary affair took place
in the house of a tailor named Alexander Montgomery, who lived hard by
Carnmoney Meeting-House. The tailor had a cow which continued to give milk as
usual, but of late no butter could be produced from it. An opinion was
unfortunately instilled into the mind of Montgomery's wife, that whenever such a
thing occurred, it was occasioned by the cow having been bewitched. Her belief
in this was
p. 226
strengthened by the fact that every old woman in the parish was able to relate
some story illustrative of what she had seen or heard of in times gone by with
respect to the same. At length the family were informed of a woman named Mary
Butters, who resided at Carrigfergus. They went to her, and brought her to the
house for the purpose of curing the cow. About ten o'clock that night war was
declared against the unknown magicians. Mary Butters ordered old Montgomery
and a young man named Carnaghan to go out to the cow-house, turn their
waistcoats inside out, and in that dress to stand by the head of the cow until she
sent for them, while the wife, the son, and an old woman named Margaret Lee
remained in the house with her.
Montgomery and his ally kept their lonely vigil until daybreak, when, becoming
alarmed at receiving no summons, they left their post and knocked at the door,
but obtained no response. They then looked through the kitchen window, and to
their horror saw the four inmates stretched on the floor as dead. They
immediately burst
p. 227
in the door, and found that the wife and son were actually dead, and the
sorceress and Margaret Lee nearly so. The latter soon afterwards expired; Mary
Butters was thrown out on a dung-heap, and a restorative administered to her in
the shape of a few hearty kicks, which had the desired effect. The house had a
sulphureous smell, and on the fire was a large pot in which were milk, needles,
pins, and crooked nails. At the inquest held at Carnmoney on the 19th of August,
the jurors stated that the three victims had come by their deaths from suffocation,
owing to Mary Butters having made use of some noxious ingredients, after the
manner of a charm, to recover a sick cow. She was brought up at the Assizes,
but was discharged by proclamation. Her version of the story was, that a black
man had appeared in the house armed with a huge club, with which he killed the
three persons and stunned herself.
Lamentable though the whole affair was, as well for the gross superstition
displayed by the participants as for its tragical ending, yet it seems to have
aroused no other feelings amongst the inhabitants of Carnmoney
p. 228
and Carrigfergus than those of risibility and derision. A clever racy ballad was
made upon it by a resident in the district, which, as it is probably the only poem
on the subject of witchcraft in Ireland, we print here in its entirety from the Ulster
Journal of Archæology for 1908, though we have not had the courage to attempt
a glossary to the "braid Scots." It adds some picturesque details to the more
prosaic account of the News-Letter.
"In Carrick town a wife did dwell
   Who does pretend to conjure witches.
Auld Barbara Goats, or Lucky Bell,
   Ye'll no lang to come through her clutches,
A waeful trick this wife did play
   On simple Sawney, our poor tailor.
She's mittimiss'd the other day
   To lie in limbo with the jailor.
This simple Sawney had a cow,
   Was aye as sleekit as an otter;
It happened for a month or two
   Aye when they churn'd they got nae butter,
Rown-tree tied in the cow's tail,
   And vervain glean'd about the ditches;
These freets and charms did not prevail,
   They could not banish the auld witches.
The neighbour wives a' gathered in
   In number near about a dozen;
Elspie Dough, and Mary Linn,
   An' Kate M'Cart, the tailor's cousin. p. 229
Aye they churn'd and aye they swat,
   Their aprons loos'd, and coost their mutches
But yet nae butter they could get,
   They blessed the cow but curst the witches.
Had Sawney summoned all his wits
   And sent awa for Huie Mertin,
He could have gall'd the witches' guts,
   An' cur't the kye to Nannie Barton. 1
But he may shew the farmer's wab,
   An' lang wade through Carnmoney gutters;
Alas! it was a sore mis-jab
   When he employ'd auld Mary Butters.
The sorcerest open'd the scene
   With magic words of her invention,
To make the foolish people keen
   Who did not know her base intention,
She drew a circle round the churn,
   And washed the staff in south-run water, 2
And swore the witches she would burn,
   But she would have the tailor's butter.
When sable Night her curtain spread
   Then she got on a flaming fire;
The tailor stood at the cow's head
   With his turn'd waistcoats 3 in the byre.
p. 230
The chimney covered with a scraw
   An' every crevice where it smoak'd,
But long before the cock did craw
   The people in the house were choak'd.
The muckle pot hung on all night,
   As Mary Butters had been brewing
In hopes to fetch some witch or wight,
   Whas entrails by her art were stewing.
In this her magic a' did fail;
   Nae witch nor wizard was detected.
Now Mary Butters lies in jail
   For the base part that she has acted.
The tailor lost his son and wife,
   For Mary Butters did them smother;
But as he hates a single life
   In four weeks' time he got another.
He is a crouse auld canty chiel,
   An' cares nae what the witches mutter
He'll never mair employ the Deil,
   Nor his auld agent Mary Butters.
At day the tailor left his post
   Though he had seen no apparition,
Nae wizard grim, nae witch, nor ghost,
   Though still he had a stray suspicion
That some auld wizard wrinkled wife
   Had cast her cantrips o'er poor brawney
Cause she and he did live in strife,
   An' whar's the man can blame poor Sawney.
Wae sucks for our young lasses now,
   For who can read their mystic matters,
Or tell if their sweethearts be true,
   The folks a' run to Mary Butters.
To tell what thief a horse did steal,
   In this she was a mere pretender,
An' has nae art to raise the Deil p. 231
   Like that auld wife, the Witch of Endor.
If Mary Butters be a witch
   Why but the people all should know it,
An' if she can the muses touch
   I'm sure she'll soon descry the poet.
Her ain familiar aff she'll sen'
   Or paughlet wi' a tu' commission
To pour her vengeance on the man
   That tantalizes her condition."
There also exists a shorter version of the ballad, which seems to be a rather
clumsy adaptation of what we have given above; in it the witch is incorrectly
termed Butlers. That the heroine did not evolve the procedure she had adopted
out of her own fervent imagination, but that she followed a method generally
recognised and practised in the country-side is shown by a case that occurred at
Newtownards in January 1871. 1 A farm-hand had brought an action against his
employer for wages alleged to be due to him. It transpired in the course of the
evidence that on one occasion he had been set to banish witches that were
troubling the cows. His method of working illustrates the Carnmoney case. All left
the house except the plaintiff, who locked himself
p. 232
in, closed the windows, stopped all keyholes and apertures, and put sods on top
of the chimneys. He then placed a large pot of sweet milk on the fire, into which
he threw three rows of pins that had never been used, and three packages of
needles; all were allowed to boil together for half an hour, and, as there was no
outlet for the smoke, the plaintiff narrowly escaped being suffocated.
It is strange to find use made in Ireland of that potent magical instrument, the
Hand of Glory, and that too in the nineteenth century. On the night of the 3rd of
January 1831, some Irish thieves attempted to commit a robbery on the estate of
Mr. Naper, of Loughcrew, co. Meath. They entered the house, armed with a dead
man's hand with a lighted candle in it, believing in the superstitious notion that if
such a hand be procured, and a candle placed within its grasp, the latter cannot
be seen by anyone except him by whom it is used; also that if the candle and
hand be introduced into a house it will prevent those who may be asleep from
awaking. The inhabitants, however, were alarmed, and
p. 233
the robbers fled, leaving the hand behind them. 1 No doubt the absolute failure of
this gruesome dark lantern on this occasion was due to the fact that neither
candle nor candlestick had been properly prepared! The orthodox recipe for its
preparation and consequent effectual working may be found in full in Mr. Baring
Gould's essay on Schamir in his Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.
The following tale comes from an article in the Dublin University Magazine, vol.
lxiv.; it has rather a Cross-Channel appearance, but may have been picked up
locally in Ireland. A man named Shamus Rua (Red James) was awakened one
night by a noise in the kitchen. He stole down, and found his old housekeeper,
Madge, with half a dozen of her kidney, sitting by the fire drinking his whisky.
When the bottle was finished one of them cried, "It's time to be off," and at the
same moment she put on a peculiar red cap, and added
"By yarrow and rue,
And my red cap, too,
Hie over to England!"
p. 234
And seizing a twig she soared up the chimney, whither she was followed by all
save Madge. As the latter was making her preparations Shamus rushed into the
kitchen, snatched the cap from her, and placing himself astride of her twig
uttered the magic formula. He speedily found himself high in the air over the Irish
Sea, and swooping through the empyrean at a rate unequalled by the fastest
aeroplane. They rapidly neared the Welsh coast, and espied a castle afar off,
towards the door of which they rushed with frightful velocity; Shamus closed his
eyes and awaited the shock, but found to his delight that he had slipped through
the keyhole without hurt. The party made their way to the cellar, where they
caroused heartily, but the wine proved too heady, and somehow Shamus was
captured and dragged before the lord of the castle, who sentenced him to be
hanged. On his way to the gallows an old woman in the crowd called out in Irish
"Ah, Shamus alanna! Is it going to die you are in a strange place without your
little red cap?" He craved, and obtained, permission to put it on. On reaching the
p. 235
place of execution he was allowed to address the spectators, and did so in the
usual ready-made speech, beginning,
"Good people all, a warning take by me."
But when he reached the last line,
"My parents reared me tenderly"
instead of stopping be unexpectedly added,
"By yarrow and rue," &c.,
with the result that he shot up through the air, to the great dismay of all
Our readers will at once recall Grandpapa's Tale of the Witches' Frolic in the
Ingoldsby Legends. Similar tales appear in Scotland, for which see Sharpe, pp.
56, 207; the same writer (p. 2 12) makes mention of a red cap being worn by a
After the opening years of the eighteenth century, when once it had ceased to
attract the unwelcome attentions of judge, jury, and executioner, witchcraft
degenerated rapidly. It is said by some writers that a belief in the old-fashioned
witch of history may still be found in the remoter parts of rural England; the same
can hardly be said of
p. 235
Ireland, this being due to the fact that witchcraft was never, at its best (or worst)
period, very prevalent in this country. But its place is taken by an ineradicable
belief in pishogues, or in the semi-magical powers of the bone-setter, or the
stopping of bleeding wounds by an incantation, or the healing of diseases in
human beings or animals by processes unknown to the medical profession, or in
many other quaint tenets which lie on the borderland between folklore and
witchcraft, and at best only represent the complete degeneracy and decay of the
latter. Yet these practices sometimes come, for one reason or another, within the
wide reach of the arm of the law, though it is perhaps unnecessary to state that
they are not treated as infringements of the Elizabethan Statute. For example,
some years ago a case was tried at New Pallas in co. Limerick, where a woman
believed that another desired to steal her butter by pishogues, flew in a passion,
assaulted her and threw her down, breaking her arm in the fall. 1 That appalling
tragedy, the "witch-burning"
p. 237
case that occurred near Clonmel in 1895, is altogether misnamed. The woman
was burnt, not because she was a witch, but in the belief that the real wife had
been taken away and a fairy changeling substituted in her place; when the latter
was subjected to the fire it would disappear, and the wife would be restored.
Thus the underlying motive was kindness, but oh, how terribly mistaken! Lefanu
in his Seventy Years of Irish Life relates a similar incident, but one which
fortunately ended humorously rather than tragically: while Crofton Croker
mentions instances of wives being taken by the fairies, and restored to their
husbands after the lapse of years.
Even as late as the summer of 1911 the word "witch" was heard in an Irish law-
court, when an unhappy poor woman was tried for killing another, an old-age
pensioner, in a fit of insanity. 1 One of the witnesses deposed that he met the
accused on the road on the morning of the murder. She had a statue in her hand,
and repeated three times: "I have the old witch killed I got power from
p. 238
the Blessed Virgin to kill her. She came to me at 3 o'clock yesterday, and told me
to kill her, or I would be plagued with rats and mice." She made much the same
statement to another witness, and added: "We will be all happy now. I have the
devils hunted away. They went across the hill at 3 o'clock yesterday." The
evidence having concluded, the accused made a statement which was reduced
to writing: "On the day of the thunder and lightning and big rain there did a rat
come into my house, and since then I was annoyed and upset in my mind. . . A
lady came to me when I was lying in bed at night, she was dressed in white, with
a wreath on her head, and said that I was in danger. I thought that she was
referring to the rat coming into the house. . . . The lady who appeared to me said,
If you receive this old woman's pension-book without taking off her clothes and
cleaning them, and putting out her bed and cleaning up the house, you will
receive dirt for ever, and rats and mice."
Imagine the above occurring in 1611 instead of 1911! The ravings of the poor
p. 239
demented creature would be accepted as gospel-truth; the rat would be the
familiar sent by the witch to torment her, the witnesses would have many more
facts to add to their evidence, the credulous people would rejoice that the
country-side had been freed from such a malignant witch (though they might
regret that she had been given her congé so easily), while the annals of Irish
witchcraft would be the richer by nearly as extraordinary a case as that of
Florence Newton, and one which would have lost nothing in the telling or the
printing. Shorn of their pomp and circumstance, no doubt many witch-stories
would be found to be very similar in origin to the above.
As is only to be expected in a country where the majority of the inhabitants are
engaged in agricultural pursuits, most of the tales of strange doings are in
connection with cattle. At Dungannon Quarter Sessions in June 1890, before Sir
Francis Brady, one farmer sued another for breach of warranty in a cow. 1 It was
p. 240
that the animal was "blinked," or in other words was under the influence of the
"evil eye," or had a pishogue put upon it. The defendant had agreed to send for
the curative charm to a wise woman in the mountains. The modus operandi was
then proceeded with. Three locks of hair were pulled from the cow's forehead,
three from her back, three from her tail, and one from under her nostrils. The
directions continued as follows: The operators were to write the names of eight
persons in the neighbourhood whom they might suspect of having done the harm
(each name three times), and the one of these eight who was considered to be
the most likely to have "blinked" the cow was to be pointed out. When this had
been done there was to be a bundle of thatch pulled from the roof of the
suspected person. The owner of the cow was then to cut a sod, and take a coal
out of the fire on a shovel on which to burn the hair, the thatch, and the paper on
which the names had been written. The sod was then to be put to the cow's
mouth, and if she licked it she would live.
p. 241
His Honour to defendant: "And did she lick it?"
Defendant: "Ave, lick it; she would have ate it." (Roars of laughter.) It then
transpired that the burning of the thatch had been omitted, and this necessitated
another journey to the wise woman.
We may also expect to find traces of strange doings with respect to the produce
of cows, viz. milk and butter. Various tales are related to the following effect. A
herdsman having wounded a hare, which he has discovered sucking one of the
cows under his charge, tracks it to a solitary cabin, where he finds an old woman,
smeared with blood and gasping for breath, extended almost lifeless on the floor.
Similar stories are to be found in England, and helped to make up the witch-
element there, though it may be noted that as early as the twelfth century we are
informed by Giraldus Cambrensis that certain old hags in Ireland had the power
of turning themselves into hares and in that shape sucking cows. The
preservation of hares for coursing, which is being taken up in parts of this
country, will probably deal the death-blow to this
p. 242
particular superstition. With regard to the stealing of butter many tales are told, of
which the following may be taken as an illustration. A priest was walking in his
field early one summer's morning when he came upon an old woman gathering
the dew from the long grass, and saying, "Come all to me!" The priest absent-
mindedly muttered, "And half to me!" Next morning he discovered in his dairy
three times as much butter as he ought to have, while his neighbours complained
that they had none at all. On searching the old beldame's house three large tubs
of freshly-churned butter were discovered, which, as her entire flocks and herds
consisted of a solitary he-goat, left little doubt of her evildoing! 1
The witch of history is now a thing of the past. No longer does she career on a
broomstick to the nocturnal Sabbath, no longer does she sell her soul to the Devil
and receive from him in return many signal tokens of his favour, amongst which
was generally the gift of a familiar spirit to do her behests. No longer does the
p. 243
sentence, no longer does the savage rabble howl execrations at the old witch
come to her doom. The witch of history is gone, and can never be rehabilitated--
would, that superstition had died with her. For in Ireland, as probably in every
part of the civilised world, many things are believed in and practised which seem
repugnant to religion and common-sense. Scattered throughout the length and
breadth of the land there are to be found persons whom the country-folk credit
with the power of performing various extraordinary actions. From what source
they derive this power is not at all clear--probably neither they themselves nor
their devotees have ever set themselves the task of unravelling that
psychological problem. Such persons would be extremely insulted if they were
termed wizards or witches, and indeed they only represent white witchcraft in a
degenerate and colourless stage. Their entire time is not occupied with such
work, nor, in the majority of cases, do they take payment for their services; they
are ready to practise their art when occasion arises, but apart from such
moments they pursue
p. 244
the ordinary avocations of rural life. The gift has come to them either as an
accident of birth, or else the especial recipe or charm has descended from father
to son, or has been bequeathed to them by the former owner; as a rule such is
used for the benefit of their friends.
An acquaintance told the writer some marvellous tales of a man who had the
power of stopping bleeding, though the ailing person might be many miles off at
the time; he promised to leave the full modus operandi to the writer's informant,
but the latter was unable to go and see him during his last moments, and so lost
the charm, and. as well deprived the writer of the pleasure of satisfying himself
as to the efficacy of its working--for in the interests of Science he was fully
prepared to cut his finger (slightly) and let the blood flow!
The same informant told the writer of a most respectable woman who had the
power of healing sores. Her method is as follows. She thrusts two sally-twigs in
the fire until they become red-hot. She then takes one, and makes circles, round
the sore (without touching the
p. 245
flesh), all the while repeating a charm, of which the informant, who underwent the
process, could not catch the words. When the twig becomes cool, she thrusts it
back into the fire, takes out the other, and does as above. The whole process is
repeated about ten or twelve times, but not more than two twigs are made use of.
She also puts her patients on a certain diet, and this, together with the general air
of mystery, no doubt helps to produce the desired results.
Instances also occur in Ireland of persons employing unhallowed means for the
purpose of bringing sickness and even death on some one who has fallen foul of
them, or else they act on behalf of those whose willingness is circumscribed by
their powerlessness. From the Aran Islands a story comes of the power of an old
woman to transfer disease from the afflicted individual to another, with the result
that the first recovered, while the newly-stricken person died; the passage reads
more like the doings of savages in Polynesia or Central Africa than of Christians
in Ireland. In 1892 a man stated that a friend of his
p. 246
was sick of an incurable disease, and having been given over by the doctor,
sought, after a struggle with his conscience, the services of a cailleach who had
the power to transfer mortal sickness from the patient to some healthy object who
would sicken and die as an unconscious substitute. When fully empowered by
her patient, whose honest intention to profit by the unholy remedy was
indispensable to its successful working, the cailleach would go out into some field
close by a public road, and setting herself on her knees she would pluck an herb
from the ground, looking out on the road as she did so. The first passer-by her
baleful glance lighted upon would take the sick man's disease and die of it in
twenty-four hours, the patient mending as the victim sickened and died. 1
A most extraordinary account of the Black Art, as instanced in the custom known
as "burying the sheaf" comes from co. Louth. The narrator states that details are
difficult to obtain, at which we are not surprised, but from what
p. 247
he has published the custom appears to be not only exceedingly malignant, but
horribly blasphemous. The person working the charm first goes to the chapel,
and says certain words with his (or her) back to the altar; then he takes a sheaf
of wheat, which he fashions like the human body, sticking pins in the joints of the
stems, and (according to one account) shaping a heart of plaited straw. This
sheaf he buries, in the name of the Devil, near the house of his enemy, who he
believes will gradually pine away as the sheaf decays, dying when it finally
decomposes. If the operator of the charm wishes his enemy to die quickly he
buries the sheaf in wet ground where it will soon decay; but if on the other hand
he desires his victim to linger in pain he chooses a dry spot where decomposition
will be slow. Our informant states that a case in which one woman tried to kill
another by this means was brought to light in the police court at Ardee a couple
of years before he wrote the above account (i.e. before 1895). 1
Though the Statutes against witchcraft
p. 248
in England and Scotland were repealed (the latter very much against the will of
the clergy), it is said that that passed by the Irish Parliament was not similarly
treated, and consequently is, theoretically, still in force. Be that as it may, it will
probably be news to our readers to learn that witchcraft is still officially
recognised in Ireland as an offence against the law. In the Commission of the
Peace the newly-appointed magistrate is empowered to take cognisance of,
amongst other crimes, "Witchcraft, Inchantment, Sorcery, Magic Arts," a curious
relic of bygone times to find in the twentieth century, though it is more than
unlikely that any Bench in Ireland will ever have to adjudicate in such a case.
In the foregoing pages we have endeavoured to trace the progress of witchcraft
in Ireland from its first appearance to the present day, and as well have
introduced some subjects which bear indirectly on the question. From the all too
few examples to be obtained we have noted its gradual rise to the zenith (which
is represented by the period 1661-1690), and from thence its downward progress
to the
p. 250
strange beliefs of the day, which in some respects are the degenerate
descendants of the witch craft-conception, in others represent ideas older than
civilization. We may pay the tribute of a tearful smile to the ashes of witchcraft,
and express our opinion of the present-day beliefs of the simple country-folk by a
pitying smile, feeling an the time how much more enlightened we are than those
who believed, or still believe, in such absurdities! But the mind of man is built in
water-tight compartments. What better embodies the spirit of the young twentieth
century than a powerful motor car, fully equipped with the most up-to-date
appliances for increasing speed or lessening vibration; in its tuneful hum as it
travels at forty-five miles an hour without an effort, we hear the triumph-song of
mind over matter. The owner certainly does not believe in witchcraft or pishogues
(or perhaps in anything save himself!), yet he fastens on the radiator a "Teddy
Bear" or some such thing by way of a mascot. Ask him why he does it--he cannot
tell, except that others do the same, while all the time at the back of his mind
p. 250
exists almost unconsciously the belief that such a thing will help to keep him from
the troubles and annoyances that beset the path of the motorist. The connection
between cause and effect is unknown to him; he cannot tell you why a Teddy
Bear will keep the engine from overheating or prevent punctures--and in this
respect he is for the moment on exactly the same intellectual level as., let us say,
his brother-man of New Zealand, who carries a baked yam with him at night to
scare away ghosts.
The truth of the matter is that we all have a vein of superstition in us, which
makes its appearance at some period in our lives under one form or another. A.
will laugh to scorn B.'s belief in witches or ghosts, while he himself would not
undertake a piece of business on a Friday for all the wealth of Croesus; while C.,
who laughs at both, will offer his hand to the palmist in full assurance of faith.
Each of us dwells in his own particular glass house, and so cannot afford to hurl
missiles at his neighbours; milk-magic or motor-mascots, pishogues or palmistry,
the method of
p. 251
manifestation is of little account in comparison with the underlying superstition.
The latter is an unfortunate trait that has been handed down to us from the
infancy of the race; we have managed to get rid of such physical features as tails
or third eyes, whose day of usefulness has passed; we no longer masticate our
meat raw, or chip the rugged flint into the semblance of a knife, but we still
acknowledge our descent by giving expression to the strange beliefs that lie in
some remote lumber-room at the back of the brain.
But it may be objected that belief in witches, ghosts, fairies, charms, evil-eye, &c.
&c., need not be put down as unreasoning superstition, pure and simple, that in
fact the trend of modern thought is to show us that there are more things in
heaven and earth than were formerly dreamt of. We grant that man is a very
complex machine, a microcosm peopled with possibilities of which we can
understand but little. We know that mind acts on mind to an extraordinary
degree, and that the imagination can affect the body to an extent not yet fully
realised, and indeed has often
p. 252
carried men far beyond the bounds of common-sense; and so we consider that
many of the elements of the above beliefs can in a general way be explained
along these lines. Nevertheless that does not do away with the element of
superstition and, we may add, oftentimes of deliberately-planned evil that
underlies. There is no need to resurrect the old dilemma, whether God or the
Devil was the principal agent concerned; we have no desire to preach to our
readers, but we feel that every thinking man will be fully prepared to admit that
such beliefs and practices are inimical to the development of true spiritual life, in
that they tend to obscure the ever-present Deity and bring into prominence
primitive feelings and emotions which are better left to fall into a state of atrophy.
In addition they cripple the growth of national life, as they make the individual the
fearful slave of the unknown, and consequently prevent the development of an
independent spirit in him without which a nation is only such in name. The dead
past utters warnings to the heirs of all the ages. It tells us already we have
p. 253
entered into a glorious heritage, which may perhaps be as nothing in respect of
what will ultimately fall to the lot of the human race, and it bids us give our
upward-soaring spirits freedom, and not fetter them with the gross beliefs of yore
that should long ere this have been relegated to limbo.
229:1 In the shorter version of the poem this line runs--
"He cured the kye for Nanny Barton,"
which makes better sense. Huie Mertin was evidently a rival of Mary Butters.
229:2 South-running water possessed great healing qualities. See Dalyell,
Darker Superstitions of Scotland, and C. K. Sharpe, op. cit. p. 94.
229:3 When a child the writer often heard that if a man were led astray at night
by Jacky-the-Lantern (or John Barleycorn, or any other potent sprite!), the best
way to get home safely was to turn one's coat inside out and wear it in that
231:1 Notes and Queries, 4th series, vol. vii.
233:1 Henderson, Folklore of Northern Counties of England, (Folklore Society).
235:1 Journal of Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, xxii. (consec. ser.), p.
237:1 Irish Times for 14th June; Independent for 1st July.
239:1 Journal of Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, xxi. (consec. ser.), pp.
242:1 Folklore.
246:1 Journal of Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, xxv. (consec. ser.) p. 84.
247:1 Folklore, vi. 302


Post a Comment