seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

The Islandmagee Witch Trial

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islandmagee-witch-trialEight women from Islandmagee, County Antrim, in what is today Northern Ireland, are imprisoned and pilloried on March 31, 1711 for “bewitching” a woman named Mary Dunbar, who has experienced strange fits and visions. The Islandmagee witch trial takes place in 1710–1711 on Islandmagee and is believed to be the last witch trial to take place in Ireland.

In March 1711, in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, eight women are put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft. The women are put in stocks and then jailed for one year. The trial is the result of a claim by Mrs. James Haltridge that 18-year-old Mary Dunbar exhibited signs of demonic possession such as “shouting, swearing, blaspheming, throwing Bibles, going into fits every time a clergyman came near her and vomiting household items such as pins, buttons, nails, glass and wool.” Assisted by local authorities, Dunbar picks out eight women she claims are witches that have attacked her in spectral form.

During the trial, Mary Dunbar is dumb and unable to give evidence. Evidence is given by twenty individuals, of whom four are clergymen of the Presbyterian church. The trial lasts from 6:00 AM until 2:00 PM. For the accused, it is said they are industrious, attend public worship, some having latterly received the sacrament. Judge Upton says, “real witches could not assume or retain the form of religion by frequenting worship. The jury should not find them guilty on the sole testimony of the visionary images of the afflicted person.” Judge Macartney believes they might, from the evidence, bring them in guilty and they do.

According to Andrew Sneddon, history lecturer at University of Ulster, “Mary Dunbar was making up the whole thing.” Sneddon writes that “Mary Dunbar learned the part of a demoniac from accounts about Salem or Scotland, or someone told her about it. Remember, this was a time when people were pouring in from Scotland.”

Records of what happened to Mary Dunbar or those convicted of witchcraft are apparently lost when the Public Records Office in question is burned down in June 1922 during the Battle of Dublin in the Irish Civil War.

A memorial to the eight women convicted is proposed by the author Martina Devlin. However the memorial is objected to by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) councillor Jack McKee who believes the plaque could become a “shrine to paganism” and furthermore states that he is not convinced the women were not guilty and that he believes the proposal to be “anti-god.”

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Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which will be the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am also Chairman of the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission, Secretary of the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board and Past-President of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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