Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Tipperary Horror

WARNING: What you are about to read is pretty horrific. 

The Tipperary Horror

Irish belief in fairies is still present today, although not to the extent that it used to be.  The Tipperary Horror, or The Burning of Bridget Cleary reveals how prevalent their beliefs were.

26-year-old Bridget Cleary, married Michael Cleary, a cooper who has been described as ''a clever fellow', lived in a labourers cottage with Bridget's father, Patrick Bollard.  They lived in a sparsely populated area, around 15 miles from Clonmel, where Bridget supplemented the family's income by selling eggs and making dresses.  Bridget was quite popular and, according to Judge O'Brien, ''a young married woman, suspecting no harm, guilty of no offence, virtuous and respectable in all her conduct and all her proceedings.'' 

Bridget and Michael's wedding photo (Original)

On Wednesday 13th March, 1985, Dr Crean made a house call to Bridget's home.  The visit had been requested on the 11th but he had been unable to come until the 13th.  Bridget was in bed and, while he noted that she was suffering from nervous excitement and slight bronchitis, the doctor commented that he saw ''nothing in the case likely to cause death.''  He gave Bridget some medicine and left the house, never to see her again.

On the same afternoon, Bridget was visited by Father Ryan, who later said that, "she did not converse with him, except as a priest, and her conversation was quite coherent and intelligible."  He too left with no idea of the torture and persecution that Bridget was suffering at the time.  He spoke with Michael Cleary when he left the house, explaining that he had prepared Bridget for death as she was very sick.  He enquired as to whether the doctor had been drunk before examining the medicine he had prescribed.  While Father Ryan was not a man of medicine, he was educated and well respected.  He told Cleary that he didn't approve of the medicine, stating ''that the doctor was never sober.''  Because of the events that followed, Dr Crean would be discharged from his duties in disgrace.

Nothing more is known about Wednesday 13th, so we come to Thursday 14th, when Father Ryan received a messenger requesting his presence at the Cleary household.  According to later accounts, ''he told the messenger that having administered the last rites of the Church on the previous day, there was no need to see her again so soon! He did not consider her dangerously ill.''  It emerged later that night, that Michael Cleary did not believe the doctor's medicine to be working and that he'd consulted with Denis Ganey, the local fairy-doctor, convinced that his wife had been taken by the fairies, who had left a fairy changeling in her place.

That night, having heard about Bridget's illness, William Simpson and his wife, Minnie, left their house between nine and ten o'clock to visit.  As they neared the house the met Mrs Johanna Burke, Bridget's cousin, and her daughter, Katie.  The Simpsons asked how Bridget was and were told, ''They are giving her herbs, got from Ganey, over the mountain, and nobody will be let in for some time."  These four then waited outside the Cleary household, waiting to be let in.  William Simpson later said that he heard cries coming from the house, along with a voice shouting, ''Take it you b**ch, you old faggot, or we will burn you!''  They were apparently administering a cure prescribed by the fairy doctor.  This cure required the herbs to be boiled in milk given by a cow after calving.  Ganey had said that it should be fed to Bridget ''three times three'' before midnight.  A pint of this concoction had been prepared on the fire and then fed to a reluctant Bridget.  The threats overheard by William Simpson were actually during the second force-feeding of this vile concoction, during which a poker was heated and used on her forehead, with Cleary demanding, ''Eat you witch and begone in the name of God.''

Shortly after hearing this, the door opened and they four outside heard someone shout, ''Away she go!  Away she go!''  Simpson later learned that the door had been opened and the words shouted to permit the fairies to leave.

In these moments the Simpsons and the Burkes managed to get into the house to find four men - John Dunne, an old man, Patrick Kennedy, James Kennedy and William Kennedy, all young men, brothers of Mrs Burke and first cousins of Bridget, ''holding Bridget Cleary down to the bed.  She was on her back, and had a night-dress on her.  Her husband, Michael Cleary, was standing by the bedside.''  Bridget's father and William Ahearne, described as a young man of sixteen, were also present.

Micheal called for a liquid and asked for someone to throw it onto Bridget.  Mary Kennedy, the mother of Mrs Burke, brought the liquid in a saucepan, asking ''What do you want of it, is it to drown her?''  Cleary snatched the saucepan, throwing some of the contents in Bridget's face, drenching her.  This liquid was apparently a mixture of urine and hen's droppings.  Bridget was struggling and crying out, ''Leave me alone!''  Simpson watched on as Michael spooned more of the liquid 'cure' into Bridget's mouth.  She was held down by the men for ten further minutes, with one man holding a hand over her mouth to prevent her from spitting the liquid out.  The men apparently ''kept her body swinging about the whole time, and shouting, 'Away with you!  Come back, Bridget Boland,in the name of God!'  Bridget was screaming, and all the time the others chanted 'Come home Bridget Boland.''' They then proceeded to slap her, trying to drive out the witch with the pain.

From what he saw, Simpson asserted that ''they thought Bridget Cleary was a witch,'' or that she was at least possessed by a witch, whom they ''endeaoured to hunt out of the house by torturing her body.''  Shortly after, Bridget was lifted out of bed and carried to the kitchen fire by John Dunne, Patrick, William and James Kennedy.  Simpson noticed red marks on Bridget's forehead and someone said that they'd had to ''use the red poker on her to make her take the medicine.''  Cleary then asked her, ''Are you Bridget Boland, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God?''  She evidently hadn't answered loudly enough, and John Dunne apparently called out, ''Make down a good fire, we will make her answer.''

Bridget was then held over the fire and Simpson ''could see her body resting on the bars of the grate where the fire was burning.''  She, in her weakened state, did little to resist, although she was conscious and aware of what was happening.  During this time, the Rosary was recited and her husband asked the following question: Are you Bridget Boland, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God?  Bridget told the men ''not to make a herring of her,'' and to ''give her a chance.''  It was around eleven-thirty and the men were getting nervous, saying, ''if the questions aren't answered by midnight, the real Bridget Cleary would be lost forever.''  At this point, Bridget's father, Patrick Boland asked the question again.

Bridget responded, ''I am Dada, I am.  I am Bridget Boland, daughter of Patrick Boland, in the name of God.'' At this point Bridget was still over the fire, her nightdress beginning to singe, and the smell of the scorched cloth filled the room.  Simpson later said, ''They were all speaking and saying, Do you think it is her that is there?  And the answer would be 'Yes,' and they were all delighted.''

Bridget was put back into bed and the women dressed her in a clean chemise.  Bridget was then asked to identify the people that were present which she did successfully.  The Kennedys left at around one o'clock, Dunne and Ahearne left at around two o'clock.  The Simpsons and the Burkes didn't leave until around six o'clock on the morning of the 15th.  There had been thirteen people present on that night and no one outside of this seemed to know or care about what was taking place.

And so we reach Friday 15th March at the time the Simpson couple were leaving the Cleary household.  Mr Simpson later said, ''Cleary then went for the priest, as he wanted to have Mass said in the house to banish the evil spirits.''  Father Ryan stated, ''At seven o'clock on Friday morning I was next summoned.  Michael Cleary asked me to come to his house and celebrate Mass: his wife had had a very bad night!''  As Father Ryan was entitled to a fee for these services, he quickly agreed and went to say Mass where Bridget lay in bed.  Still he seemed to have no idea that something was seriously wrong.  He said, ''She seemed more nervous and excited than on Wednesday... her husband and father were present before Mass began, but I could not say who was there during its celebration... I asked Cleary was he giving his wife the medicine the doctor ordered?  Cleary answered that he had no faith in it.  I told him that it should be administered.  Cleary replied that people may have some remedy of their own that could do more good that doctors' medicine.'' 

William Simpson returned at around midday, as did Thomas Smith, a farmer who stopped by for ten minutes to see how she was feeling.  She was visited by several other people, but Bridget didn't utter a single complaint about her suffering, nor did anyone seem to notice anything odd or unusual about her behaviour.  Johanna Burke was at the Cleary household for most of the day.  Bridget was apparently ''in her right mind, only frightened at everything,'' and who could blame her.

At eight o'clock that evening, Michael sent Johanna and Katie to get Thomas Smith and David Hogan.  Smith later said, ''We all went to Cleary's, and found Michael Cleary, Mary Kennedy, Johanna Meara, Pat Leahy, and Pat Boland in the bedroom.  Michael held a bottle and said to his terrified wife, ''Will you take this now as Tom Smith and David Hogan are here?  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.''  Smith enquired as the what was in the bottle with Cleary responding that it was holy water.  Bridget agreed, taking the liquid after saying, ''In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.''

Following this, the men went and sat by the fire, with the women helping Bridget dress before joining them.  Talk turned to witchcraft and charms.  Smith stayed until midnight, leaving Michael, Patrick Boland, Mary Kennedy, Patrick, James and William Kennedy, Johanna and Katie Burke at the house.  Apparently Bridget and Michael had had an argument earlier on in the day, when Bridget had been given a piece of silver, which Michael believed she had rubbed on her leg.  This was seen as a sign of witchcraft and this argument continued as they sat on the fire, with Michael stating that she was ''making pishrogues.''  Bridget responded, ''I did not rub it on my leg.  I used no pishrogues.'' (Pishrogues meaning black magic.)

Johanna stated that they'd continued ''talking about fairies,'' with Bridget saying to her husband, ''Your mother used to go with the fairies; that is why you think I am going with them.''

This comment seemed to upset Michael, who said, ''Did my mother tell you that?'' Bridget responded, ''She did.  That she gave two nights with them.''  This was a devastating allegation, especially in front of company, casting doubt upon everything about Cleary, his mother and her sanity, along with his fertility and manhood.  The tension grew, while the guests pretended to be oblivious.  Johanna made tea, offering Bridget a cup, but Michael stopped her, instead cutting three small pieces of bread and jam, saying she should eat them before having tea.  He began to feed her the bread, asking after each piece ''Are you Bridget Cleary, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost?''  This was known as the ''ordeal by bread'' and, while Bridget managed to swallow two dry pieces of bread, she  refused to eat the third piece until she had tea.  Michael became furious and snapped, threatening ''If you won't take it, down you go!''  He threw her onto the ground, her head hitting the floor with a resounding crack, put his knee on her chest and, with one hand on her throat, forced the piece of bread and jam into her mouth and down her throat, shouting, ''Swallow it, swallow it.  Is it down?  Swallow it witch.''  He began to tear at her clothing and there was pandemonium as everyone tried to get out of the way.  Most were forced out of the kitchen and into the safety of the bedrooms.

Now let Johanna Burke describe the horrifying details of what occurred next:

Michael Cleary stripped his wife's clothes off, except her chemise, and got a lighted stick out of the fire, and held it near her mouth.  My mother (Mary Kennedy), brothers (Patrick, James and William Kennedy), and myself wanted to leave, but Cleary said he had the key of the door, and the door would not be opened till he got his wife back.

At this point, Patrick Kennedy appeared in the doorway of the back bedroom where he had been asleep until the commotion woke him.  Seeing Bridget's chemise was alight, he said, ''For the love of God, man, don't be letting her burn.''  Cleary responded, ''She's not my wife.  She's a deceiver sent in her place.  She's deceived us all, even the priest today, but she won't any more.  As I began it with her, I shall finish it with her.  You'll see her go up the chimney this night, or else.''  Patrick, as Johanna later testified, wanted to leave and demanded that the door be opened so they could leave, but Cleary blocked his way, drawing a knife from his pocket and threatened to take the life of anyone attempting to leave before his wife returned.  He forced Patrick and anyone that had followed him into the bedrooms, saying ''If any of you come out, I'll roast you down same as her.''

Johanna continued: They were crying in the room and wanting  to get out.  I saw Cleary throw lamp-oil on her.  When she was burning she turned to me and called out, 'Oh, Han, Han!  Make him stop and give us a chance.'  I endeavoured to get out for the peelers.  My brother William went up into the other room and fell in a weakness, and my mother threw Easter water over him.  Bridget Cleary was all this time burning on the hearth and the house was full of smoke and smell.  I had to go up to the room.  I could not stand it.  Cleary then came up into the room where we were and took away a large sack bag.  He said, 'Hold your tongue, Hannah, it is not Bridget I am burning. You will soon see her go up the chimney.'  My brothers, James and William, said, 'Burn her if you like, but give us the key and let us get out.'  While she was burning, Cleary screamed out, 'She is burned now.  God knows I did not mean to do it.'  When I looked down into the other room again, I saw the remains of Bridget Cleary lying on the floor on a sheet.  She was lying on her face and her legs turned upwards, as if they had contracted in burning.  She was dead and burned.

Mary Kennedy, who had opened the door after Bridget stopped screaming, watched Michael move to the far corner of the kitchen to pick up an old sheet and mattress bag.  He tried to roll up Bridget's smouldering remains in the sheet, but one of her legs was sticking up at an awkward angle as it had constricted while she burned.  He brutally kicked it flat with a sickening crack which echoed through the room.  He then stuffed the wrapped remains into the bag.   Cleary then told everyone to remain where they were, warning them not to leave and left the house, locking the door from the outside.

Those remaining were gathered into the front bedroom by Patrick Boland to await Michael's return.  He arrived back around an hour later and asked Patrick Kennedy to help him bury her body.  He refused at first but soon relented ''for fear he would be killed.''  Michael told him, ''I'll run you through if you don't come out.''  When Patrick followed him, Cleary told him, ''I'll be needing your help now Patrick.  She didn't go out through the chimney, so we'll take her out through the door.  I have a hole nearly made and I'll be doing away with you too, if you're not to be helping.'' 

Fearing for his life, Patrick helped lift Bridget's body and they took her outside, with Michael again warning the others not to leave and locking the door behind him.  They took a shovel and spade, then carried the body around a quarter of a mile away from the house, to the corner of a marshy field.  Cleary had dug a shallow grave which was about three feet long, two feet wide and two feet deep.  When they arrived, it was already filling with water.  Michael threw the body into the hole, pressing it down with his foot as they covered her with dirt.  They also threw some branches and leaves onto the grave to conceal the disturbed earth before returning to the house.  Bridget wasn't found for a further six days.

On their return, Cleary gathered everyone and pulled out his knife, saying, ''I'll now take an oath or I'll drive the knife through ye.''  He swore them to silence and confronted Johanna.  ''He told me to say that I went to prepare her a drink, and, when returning, met her at the door, and that she spat at me and went out of the door, and that I could not say where she went to.'' He said that '' he would go down towards Cloneen and pretend he was half mad.''  He then said to Johanna, ''Hannah, it is hard to depend on you; but if you were to be kept in jail till you rot, DON'T TELL!''

Johanna then said, ''I went down on my knees and declared before God and man that, until the day I died, I would never tell, even if she was found.''  So we reach Saturday 16th March, with Michael washing his trousers which were covered in grease-like stains, exclaiming, ''Oh God, Hannah, there is the substance of poor Bridget's body!''  He destroyed on of Bridget's earrings so it couldn't be used as evidence against him.

After this, Cleary allowed them to leave, with only Patrick Boland remaining with Cleary.  Michael, perhaps finally realising what a horrific thing he had just done, said, ''She's burned now and God knows I would never have done it but for Jack Dunne.  It was he told me my wife was a witch.  I would never have forced her into the fire, but for him.''

John Dunne came to visit, only to find Bridget gone.  While he had suggested holding her over the fire, he said ''they did not burn her that night.  They only held her over the fire!''  He was told the story which had been concocted, adding that ''he thought he was gone with the fairies.''  He offered to search for Bridget and Cleary accepted, with the two men setting off for Kylenagranagh and the whole area near it. 

After the search, Cleary caved in, stating, ''She was burned last night!''  Dunne was distraught, shouting, ''You vagabond, why did you do it?''  Cleary responded, ''She was not my wife, she was too fine to be my wife.  She was two inches taller than my wife.''  Dunne was unmoved by Cleary's explanation, telling him, ''Go now and give yourself up to the authorities and to the priest.  You will have no living on earth.''  Cleary asked Dunne to go with him and, on the way, they met Michael Kennedy who went with them.  (Some versions of events tell us that Michael and John Dunne spent three nights waiting at the fairy fort, hoping to see Bridget appear on horseback and that, if he caught her as she rode by, he could cut her ropes and she would be free to return.)

They went to speak with Father Ryan, who later said, ''he saw Cleary kneeling near the altar, very nervous, and asked him into the vestry.''  Cleary wasn't confession but Father Ryan wouldn't let him as ''I did not think him fit to do so!  I coaxed him into the yard.  I began to feel afraid of him.''  Michael Kennedy took Cleary away from the chapel without confession.  Dunne told Father Ryan that ''they had burned her to death last night and buried her; and that he had been asked Cleary all the morning to give her Christian burial.''

Father Ryan, however, only told the police that ''they suspected there was foul play,'' but this small statement was enough to begin the search and subsequent discovery of Bridget Cleary's burned body and later trial.
Simpson said that he saw Cleary on the morning of Sunday 17th March, with Cleary telling him that ''his wife left home at twelve o'clock on Friday night.''  He saw him again between seven and eight o'clock that night when Cleary asked him for a revolved, saying ''that these parties who had convinced him about his wife would not go with him to the fort.''  Simpson said, ''It appeared to me that they had convinced him that his wife had gone with the fairies.  The fort was supposed to be a fairies' habitation.  He said she would be riding on a grey horse.  She told him so.  And he said they should cut the ropes tying her on the saddle, and that she would then stay with him, if he was able to keep her.''  Simpson wouldn't give him the revolver and he saw Cleary on the following Thursday night, going to the fort, knife in hand.

The police, between the 17th and 21st March, were searching for Bridget's body, with the help of Michael Kennedy, who had told the police he hadn't been at the Cleary household when Bridget had 'left'.  When they were unable to find her, Cleary, Boland, Dunne, the five Kennedys, and William Ahearne were arrested and, on the 21st, were brought before the magistrates in an open court at Clonmel.  Denis Ganey, the fairy-doctor who had provided Cleary with the herbs, was also arrested but was later released as there was no case against him.  The others that were under arrest seemed ''unconcerned: they chatted and exchanged pinches of snuff with each other.''  While Bridget's body remained undiscovered at this time, they were remanded in jail with the District-Inspector Wansbrough telling the police ''to make a deliberate search'' for the body again.  On Friday 22nd March, during the search, Sergeant Rogers found ''some broken thorn bushes freshly cut from the hedge in an angle of a field.''  He investigated further and, under a thin layer of clay, only a few inches deep, he discovered Bridget's body which he said had ''a most terrible appearance,'' with her head covered with a sack and one god earring in her left ear.  She was identified by Constable Somers, who had known her for three years, ''by her features - they were perfect.''

The following inquest was held in a vacant house close to where her body was discovered.  No one assisted in giving her a Christian burial and the police were the ones to bury her by the light of a lantern in Cloneen churchyard.

The outhouse where Bridget's body was laid for the inquest (Original)

The prisoners were returned for trial in July after a long investigation into what had occurred.  Despite the damning evidence against them, the prisoners remained cool and calm.  Judge O'Brien commented, ''This case demonstrates a degree of darkness in the mind, not of one person, but of several, a moral darkness, even religious darkness, the disclosure of which had come with surprise on many persons.'' Despite this comment, the sentences were extraordinarily lenient, with the charge of murder being withdrawn, being replaced by manslaughter.  Cleary was found guilty and was sent into penal servitude for twenty years.  Patrick Kennedy was found guilty of wounding and was ''the most guilty of all, except Michael Cleary,'' according to Judge O'Brien, and was sentenced to five years penal servitude.  John Dunne, probably the least guilty, was sentenced to three years penal servitude.  William and James Kennedy received a year and a half imprisonment.  Patrick Boland and Michael Kennedy received six months.  Judge O'Brien said, when it was time to sentence Mary Kennedy, ''I will not pass any sentence on this poor old woman.''

Michael Cleary served 15 years of his sentence and was released on 28th April 1910.  He immediately moved to Liverpool before immigrating to Montreal, Canada to live the rest of his life where no one knew what he'd done.  During his sentence, Cleary maintained that he had not killed his wife and that, to the end, he believed that the fairies had taken her and left in her place a changeling.

To say that there is darkness and unpleasantness in fairy folklore and beliefs, when looking at this case, is probably an understatement.  Perhaps the fairies themselves do not have a dark side.  Instead it is the people who had such strong and absolute beliefs in the lore they had been taught, are themselves the ones with the dark and terrible side, as shown in the case of Bridget Cleary.  Bridget later became known as ''the last witch burned in Ireland.''  After her horrific and terrifying ordeal, may she rest in peace.

Bridget Cleary's grave (Original)

Next time: As this post is so long, I'm going to leave the Royal Changelings until the next post.  If there is anything you would like to read about in the future I would love to hear your suggestions.
Thanks for reading!
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