Irish witch trial still casts a spell 300 years later

More than 300 years after the last witchcraft trials in Europe took place in Ireland, a famous trial involving a group of eight women known as the Islandmagee witches, has once more become the subject of hot debate.

Witches burned at the stake

Witches burned at the stake. Image by Lucas / CC BY 2.0

Back in 1711 an 18-year-old, Mary Dunbar, accused the Islandmagee, Larne women of casting spells on her. She claimed this had led to her having fits, throwing bibles, vomiting, swearing and going into trance-like states.

The eight women were found guilty of sorcery, pilloried and locked up in prison for possessing the teenage girl.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that Larne Borough Council is now planning to commemorate the witches’ case by unveiling a plaque.

Coinciding with the launch of a new book about the trial - The House Where It Happened - by well-known novelist Martina Devlin, the commemoration ceremony was proposed by an Alliance councillor, John Matthews.

He said that relations of those women still lived in the area and it had been proposed to him that something should be done to mark what had happened. He felt it was “a minimal thing” to acknowledge what had occurred.

However remembering the controversy has been described as “Anti-God” by another councillor, Jack McKee of the TUV.

There have been attempts to have the women’s conviction overturned posthumously but these failed.

It is understood that a film about the trial is also being planned.


Related content