Witch Trial At Carrickfergus

 

The story about a "presence" in Coolmooney House, Glen of Imaal, sent a friend to a story of witchcraft (a different matter, of course), in another part of Ireland. It is recorded in volume 10 of the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland. Islandmagee, Co Antrim is a peninsula of about eight miles by one and three quarters broad. It is peopled, even today, to a great extent by people of Scottish descent. On March 31st, 1711, eight women from Islandmagee and nearby were tried at Carrickfergus in the same county for witchcraft, tormenting a servant girl Mary Dunbar at the house of one James Hattridge of Islandmagee. The odd object to give rise to a serious run of incidents was, of all things, an apron, missing for several days, then found tied with "five strange knots". The day after the finding, Mary Dunbar was seized with pain and fits and ravings. When recovered, she said she had been tormented by several women whose dress and appearance she described accurately, according to this account. Not long after, there were more fits and she described five other women. As these women were brought to the house there were more fits and a sulphurous smell was felt in the rooms. Various objects were thrown around and sheets were made up into the form of a corpse. The girl, it was stated, vomited feathers, cotton, yarn and turf mould; also pins and buttons. And three strong men were needed to hold her.

During the trial, the sufferer was dumb, unable to give evidence. The Survey Report states: "20 evidences, of whom 4 were clergymen of the Presbyterian church" were examined. The trial lasted from 6 am until 2 pm. For the accused, it was said they were industrious, attended public worship, some having latterly received the sacrament. Judge Upton said: "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 thought they might, from the evidence bring them in guilty. They did.

The accused were sentenced to stand four times in the pillory and to be imprisoned for 12 months. "Tradition" says the Ordnance Memoir "has it that they were mercilessly pelted while in the pillory and one had an eye beaten out". The authors, writing in the 1830s refer to a tract from an old MSS published in 1828 by Mr S. Miskimin of Carrickfergus. Y