Bridget Cleary was killed by her husband who believed she was a witch or possessed by a fairy changeling.
The story of the torture and murder of Bridget Cleary in Tipperary in 1895 by her husband, who believed her to be a witch or possessed by a fairy changeling, is the subject of Joe Ambrose’s novel 'Loves Dark Light'. It is also the inspiration behind the concept album ‘Tryal’ by The Host, a band featuring members of Horslips, Eamon Carr, Johnny Fean and Charles O’Connor.
Joe Ambrose describes 26 year old Bridget Cleary as a typical peasant housewife from the Victorian era. Following a brief absence from her home, Bridget fell ill with a cold. Her cousin Patrick Dunne decreed she had been snatched by a fairy and a changeling left in her place.
Bridget’s husband Michael Cleary decided to exorcise the changeling from his wife, and, assisted by Bridget’s father and cousins, he burned her to death. Following a high profile trial, Michael Cleary served 20 years for manslaughter rather than murder as
He didn’t think he had killed his wife, he thought he’d got rid of a fairy.
Eamon Carr is interested in psychic phenomena and has read widely on the subject. The folklore account of the Bridget Clearly story is widely known. In doing his research Eamon Carr discovered it was an incredibly gruesome story, rather than a fun fairy tale.
Bridget Cleary's death is often referred to as the last witch burning in Europe but Eamon Carr disputes this. Joe Ambrose believes the story of Bridget Cleary remains relevant. Many people perceived as outsiders in Ireland are still persecuted and treated with suspicion. He also believes the case also highlights a level violence in Irish society.
People in Ireland continue to believe in piseogs or superstitions, and throughout the country there are stories of fairy changelings living happily within communities.
This episode of ‘The Late Late Show’ was broadcast on 17 December 1983. The presenter is Gay Byrne.