Islandmagee – it isn’t often that a 300-year-old witch trial in a small part of Northern Ireland can be found under current affairs. SHARON CLARKE explains why Islandmagee has hit the headlines and tells us of some of her own experiences of paranormal investigating on the Antrim peninsula.
Religious controversy ensues as Larne Borough Council plan to erect a plaque to commemorate the eight women of Islandmagee, a County Antrim town steeped in bloodshed throughout the centuries, not least the thousands massacred in the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
Councillors believe plaque incites ‘devil worship’
Local councillors believe devil worship will be incited and have moved to stop the memorial to the women who were tried as witches some 300 years ago.
In the early 18th century in the County Antrim parish, the eight accused were among the last women to be tried and jailed as witches In Europe.
The council is to remember their plight with a plaque in the coming weeks. It had initially been proposed by John Matthews, the Alliance councillor.
Mr Matthews said it would show recognition of the injustice and it would be of relevance as the women still had existing family in the area.
Fair enough I hear you say, however, the Islandmagee trial was deemed a gross abuse of the legal system as it was based solely on one woman’s account, with no proper evidence.
Thank goodness we have come out of the dark ages and Paganism and Wicca are completely acceptable nowadays, but some people strongly disagree and believe the plaque is anti-God and in support of the devils work.
Such a voice is the veteran unionist councillor Jack McKee, who stated under no circumstances would he support devil worship.
Let’s leave Mr McKee for now and focus on the story.
Back in 1711, eight females were accused by 18-year-old Mary Dunbar of having cast spells on her.
Mary had symptoms of fitting, swearing, throwing bibles, inappropriate behaviour and allegedly vomiting household objects.
The case and accounts of Mary Dunbar have been investigated by many historians over the years.
Claims Mary Dunbar faked symptons
One researcher from the University of Ulster, Dr Andrew Sneddon claims she faked her symptoms in an attempt to gain notoriety and fame.
However with any historical accounts there is always a twist and one that slips through the net.
In 1710 a Mrs Haltridge had been affected by poltergeists.
She couldn’t sleep, clothes were thrown about and she regularly saw a small boy who didn’t seem quite human.
One night she was heard screaming that she was being attacked by a knife and she was later found dead.
In 1711 Mrs Haltridge’s daughter in law was visited by one Mary Dunbar who was asking a lot of questions.
In no time she was suddenly exclaiming that she too had these experiences and had been cursed by women in the village.
She named eight women who were immediately arrested. They were found guilty and condemned to one year in prison and four times pillorying.
No records of Mary after this were found and this has been attributed to records being destroyed in the Irish civil war.
So was Mary a sensationalist and Mrs Haltridge the true paranormal story here that no one ever uncovered?
Meanwhile seemingly innocent women got caught up in it all and had their lives ruined.
Let’s look at Mary’s so-called possession – It allowed her to misbehave and she became a household name.
It seems suspicious that the women she named were physically and mentally not sound by way of disablement or alcoholics etc. whilst she herself was beautiful, educated and from a respected family.
There was no doubt who would be believed by the authorities.
Islandmagee paranormal investigation
I had the privilege to undertake two paranormal investigations in Islandmagee last year, two private residences in close proximity to each other.
One house was owned by a female the other house a male – let’s call them Jane and John for confidential reasons.
Jane was uneasy in the house, things moved, voices were heard and she had found out a few deaths had occurred in her property, two of them being young infants.
She would be woken by crying and loud thuds and bangs.
John had witnessed an apparition walking across his garden dressed in old style military uniform.
I researched his description and it fitted the uniform of the royal army in the 18th century.
He also smelt smoke in the house and had been grabbed by the ankle in bed. After conducting my interviews, I deemed them both mentally sound and proceeded with the investigations.
It’s very hard to decipher Jane’s house as an Ouija board had been used, so whether it was an old soul or something manifested was hard to determine.
She didn’t want any more intervention as she felt it was disrespectful to whatever might be there.
John felt the same, however he was more curious and our investigation picked up a range of activity that seemed to point to his mother – was she there to protect him from the soldier?
Islandmagee Town steeped in history
It is a very small example of how much history one small town in Ireland holds.
This country is steeped in history, myths, legends and spirits and when we research paranormal activity and undertake investigations it is amazing what we come across.
Unfortunately though, however much we are blessed with this history we are also plagued with narrow minded die hard religious fanatics who deem anything relating to Wicca, Paganism or the paranormal the work of the devil.
Fear is a strange thing though, perhaps they are afraid of what they might find?