Essay on the Burning of Bridget Cleary

1503 WordsApr 25, 20127 Pages
Bridget Cleary or more popularly described as "the last witch burned in Ireland", though not actually accused of witchcraft, was murdered and burned by her husband in 1895, whose motive was his belief that she had been abducted by fairies and in her place the fairies had left only a changeling; he claimed to have killed the changeling and not his actual wife. Bridget was burned - immolated which either caused her death or was done post mortum which prompted extensive press coverage during a time when Ireland's quest for self-government was being hotly debated. During this time it is clear that many changes were occurring in Ireland, a land that was once dominated by tradition was now becoming a modernized country. Where then does…show more content…
However, to say that tradition was the sole cause of her murder is not quite accurate as there is a line that divides tradition from superstition, that line being knowledge. Unlike tradition, where there is a clear understanding of a specific belief and its' lack of validity, superstition contains a clear lack of knowledge altogether or perhaps even a dismissal of evidence against an idea, belief or practice that is irrational; most often based on the supernatural. What Michael Cleary did to his wife can be seen as a result of superstition brought on by tradition; the idea that his wife went off with the fairies and that a changeling was in place of her would only be derived from oral tradition of the community and his family. However, it is the lack of knowledge, being the superstitions, in regards to these traditions that lends itself to acting upon them in an irrational manner. At one point Bridget asks her husband as he is questioning her, if he thinks that she went away with the fairies because his Mother did; indicating a history of superstitions regarding fairies. He then goes on to commit the horrendous act, and though one wants to attribute the cause of murder to superstitious acts based on the oral tradition of fairy legends, " superstition just labels it, it does not explain it." (Bourke, 153.) The understanding of fairy folklore is necessary when looking at the motive of Michael Cleary. Fairy legends run abundantly throughout Irish Oral tradition

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