seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Islandmagee Witch Trial

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.”


Leave a comment

Accused Witch Ann Glover is Hanged in Boston

ann-gloverGoodwife “Goody” Ann Glover is hanged by the Puritans in Boston on November 16, 1688. She is the last person to be hanged in Boston as a witch, although the Salem witch trials in nearby Salem, Massachusetts, occur primarily in 1692.

Glover is born in Ireland as a Roman Catholic although her birth date and much of her background information is unknown. During Oliver Cromwell‘s invasion of Ireland where he rounds up thousands of Irish and Scots, Glover and her husband are transported as indentured servants to Barbados to work on the sugar plantations. Her husband is executed in Barbados for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. Historians do not know the context but, at his death, he says that his wife is a witch.

By 1680, Glover and her daughter are living in Boston where they work as housekeepers for John Goodwin. In the summer of 1688, 13-year-old Martha Goodwin accuses Glover’s daughter of stealing laundry. This causes Glover to have a fierce argument with Martha and the Goodwin children which then supposedly causes them to become ill and start acting strange. The doctor that is called suggests it is caused by witchcraft because he could not diagnose or heal the children.

Glover is arrested and tried for witchcraft. It is unclear whether she can not speak English or just refuses to speak it. It is more likely that she simply does not know English. Instead she speaks her native language, Irish, and Latin. Reverend Cotton Mather writes that Glover is “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry.” At her trial it is demanded of her to say the Lord’s Prayer. She recites it in Irish and broken Latin, but since she has never learned it in English, she can not recite it in English. There is a belief that if someone can not recite the Lord’s Prayer then they are a witch. Her house is searched and “small images” or doll-like figures are found. When Mather is interrogating her she supposedly says that she prays to a host of spirits and Mather takes this to mean that these spirits are demons. Two Puritan men who supposedly speak Irish say that she confessed to using them for witchcraft. The identity of these men and whether they actually speak Irish is unknown. Many of the accusations against Glover use spectral evidence, which can not be proven. Cotton Mather visits Glover in prison where he says she supposedly engages in nighttime trysts with the devil and other evil spirits. It is considered that Glover might not be of sound mind and could possibly be mentally ill. Five of six physicians examine her and find her to be competent so she is then pronounced guilty and put to death by hanging.

On November 16, 1688, Glover is hanged in Boston amid mocking shouts from the crowd. When she is taken out to be hanged she says that her death will not relieve the children of their malady. There are several testaments of what her final words are. According to some, she says that the children will keep suffering because there are other witches besides her who have been involved with bewitching the children and when asked to name the other witches, she refuses. Another account says that Glover says that killing her will be useless because it is someone else that has bewitched the children. Either way, Ann Glover does believe in witches. A Boston merchant who knows her, Robert Calef, says that “Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic.”

Three hundred years later in 1988, the Boston City Council proclaims November 16 as Goody Glover Day. She is the only victim of the witchcraft hysteria in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to receive such a tribute. Although Ann Glover’s accusations and death take place before the commonly known Salem Witch Trials, she is the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts and becomes the basis for many of the cases in the 1692 Salem witch trials.