Irish witches & Irish witch trials – The first AEWCH episode in a series on magic in Ireland!

3 May

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Since 2019, I’ve lived in Ireland. It’s a country being pulled away from Catholic traditionalism and towards humanistic tech neoliberalism. But the spiritual Celtic landscape has never gone away, either. Here, the supernatural, paranormal, mystical, and occult still hold their strange and potent sway. But where they were once “contained” by religion or traditional belief structures, now they don’t reside in the same place in Irish experience or psyche. Where does magic “go” when it’s displaced? Welcome to my series on the spiritual realm of Ireland, which will be looking at Ireland’s spiritual landscape specifically, and how that gives us a picture of the spirit and modernity in general.

To kick the series off, I invited Irish witchcraft scholar, Andrew Sneddon onto the show. Andrew is the author of Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland, as well as Possessed by the Devil: The Real History of the Islandmagee Witches and Ireland’s Only Mass Witchcraft Trial, and Witchcraft and Whigs: The Life of Bishop Francis Hutchinson (1660-1739) . His new book, Representing Magic in Modern Ireland: Belief, History, and Culture (which is free online if you’re reading these show notes before May 10 2022) covers the Irish witch trials and how they appear in literature and other art. We talk about witches of course, but also cunningfolk and belief, ghosts and the political appropriation of magic.


Two books on the conflation (and consequences) of withchcraft and fairies in Ireland are about Bridget Cleary – a woman burned to death by her husband in 1895 after he suspected her of being a changeling. First is The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke, and second is The Cooper’s Wife Is Missing by Joan Hoff and Marian Yates.

The obvious choice in AEWCH 98 with Thomas Waters on the victims of witchcraft and the witchcraft of victims. Thomas is a scholar of witchcraft in the UK (and thankfully also examines the way beliefs in the UK permeated the places it colonized) and there are plenty of parallels here, especially in how magic “hides” by moving its use into new cultural corners and contours.

Since we’re kicking off the series, it’s best to refer you first to the site of the The National Folklore Collection here in Ireland. It’s a huge site with tons of different directions and magical rabbit holes to go down.

Here’s Andrew’s site and CV at Ulster University, where he teaches. Here’s Andrew talking at the event “The Land Remembers: Place as a Keeper of Story.” And here’s a longer talk from Andrew on the Islandmagee witchcraft trials. Andrew is also a cofounder (with Victoria McCollum) of The Witches of Islandmagee Project which presents the story of the Islandmagee witches and witch trials in multiple formats (game, graphic novel, video, etc).

Until next time, friends,


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