Tales of famous witch trials have been passed down through generations. Here are the top five most famous burned witches of Ireland.
Accusations of witchcraft were often brought against women who were thought to be carrying out the Devil’s work, or women who simply refused to conform to society’s expectations of them.
From the troll-whisperers of Scandinavia to the tsukimono-suji or fox-witch families of Japan, an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 executions were carried out worldwide between the 15th– and 19th-centuries.
While tales of witch-hunts have prevailed in European folklore, stories of witch trials in Ireland have been relatively few – especially considering its abundance of folklore and mythological traditions.
However, there are a few high-profile cases of witch trials in Ireland, and we are here to tell you all about them. So, here are the top five most famous burned witches of Ireland.
5. Alice Kyteler – fate unknown
Alice Kyteler was a successful 13th-century innkeeper and moneylender from Kilkenny. Kyteler was also the first person to be accused of witchcraft in Ireland. Accusations came as Alice outlived four husbands, accumulating a large fortune in the process.
In 1302, Alice and her second husband, Adam le Blund, were accused of killing her first husband, William Outlawe, but they were able to shake off the accusations.
However, by the death of her fourth husband, Sir John le Poer, rumours were circulating that she was carrying out Satanic rituals. Her own children even accused her of sorcery.
At this, the witch-hunt for Kyteler began, but she was able to call on her powerful connections that would enable her to flee to England, where she would then disappear completely from public view.
4. Petronilla de Midia – the first witch burned in Ireland
Petronilla de Midia was the first of the famous burned witches in Ireland, and she was accused of witchcraft due to her association with Alice Kyteler.
Charges brought against the two women included the ability to fly and making a brew in the decapitated head of a robber that included the intestines and internal organs of cockerels, worms, and hairs of a dead boy.
Petronilla confessed and was flogged “through six parishes” before being burned at the stake in Kilkenny.
3. Islandmagee Witches – eight women accused of witchcraft
The tale of the Islandmagee Witches is one of the most well-known witch trials in Irish history.
In 1711, eight women were found guilty of witchcraft and demonic possession at a trial in Carrickfergus.
Known as Ireland’s Salem, the story begins with the arrival of a young girl, Mary Dunbar, in Belfast. Not long after her arrival, she began vomiting nails, having fits, and throwing Bibles.
She claimed to have seen eight women from the local community appear before her during one of her fits, and these eight women were subsequently found guilty of bewitching the young girl.
However, their fates are unknown as their sentences and punishments were not recorded.
2. Florence Newton – the witch of Youghal
Florence Newton, or the witch of Youghal, was accused of witchcraft for calling to the house of Cork nobleman John Pyne during Christmas 1660 to ask for a piece of beef.
The maid of the house, Mary Langdon, sometimes referred to as Mary Longdon, refused her, to which Newton replied, “Thou hadst as good given it me.”
Not long later, Langdon became extremely ill, and witnesses stated she began vomiting needles, pins, wool, and straw, all of which got worse when Florence Newton was brought to her.
Newton’s reply to Langdon at the door on Christmas Day was then taken to be a curse, and she was subsequently accused of causing the death of a prison guard, being seen floating to the ceiling, as well as raining stones from her body.
She was then subjected to a number of brutal tests to discover if she was, in fact, a witch, at which she would be sentenced to death. However, as the court papers of her trial were subsequently lost, her fate is unknown.
1. Bridget Cleary – Ireland’s ‘last witch’
Number one on our list of famous burned witches of Ireland is Bridget Cleary, Ireland’s last witch.
Cleary was an independent-minded young woman from County Tipperary. She disappeared from her home in 1895 at the age of 26.
At first, claims were brought that the fairies had taken Cleary. However, when her charred remains were discovered, her husband, father, aunt, and four cousins were accused of murdering her.
Cleary was a beautiful girl and a talented, self-employed dressmaker. She was one of the first women in the town to own a Singer sewing machine.
However, she became ill with pneumonia in 1895, which dramatically changed her appearance. So much so that her family were convinced she had been swapped for a ‘changeling‘.
It turned out that in an attempt to determine whether this woman was his wife, Cleary’s husband, Michael Cleary, held her over the fire, where she burned to death.
Other notable mentions
Agnes Sampson: Agnes Sampson was a Scottish healer and purported witch. She was known to practice sorcery with Irish witches.
Biddy Early: Biddy Early is renowned as a kind of “white witch” or folk healer. In Irish mythology or witchy history, she was beloved by many for her charming personality.
Darkey Kelly: The story goes that a madame called Darkey Kelly, pregnant and spurned by her lover, was burned at the stake for possible witchcraft. She was allegedly Ireland’s first serial killer.
FAQs about the burned witches of Ireland
Were there witch trials in Ireland?
One of the most famous witch trials in Ireland was the Islandmagee witch trials. Eight women were on trial in relation to witchcraft at the start of the 17th century. They were all found guilty.
Who was the last burned witch in Ireland?
Bridget Clearly is popularly known as the last burned witch in Ireland.
Where did witches originate?
The term originates in early modern Europe. Accused witches were usually women who were believed to have attacked their own community or to have made sinister things happen.