"The Burning of Bridget Cleary" by Bourke.

Essay by ataf78 September 2005

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Submerge yourself in this interesting and thoroughly investigated true story from late 19th century Ireland. The facts of the case are relatively basic: in 1895, 26-year-old Bridget Cleary vanished from her house in countryside Tipperary. Local gossips asserted that she had been taken by fairies to their fortification of Kylenagranagh, from where she would finally emerge riding a white horse. (Parsons, 317-319) But when her poorly burned body was discovered from a shallow grave a week later, her husband Michael, father, aunt and four cousins were arrested. The subsequent trial made headlines even in the London press.

Bridget Cleary, at 26, was certainly not the average 19th century peasant wife. She was more self-governing that most women of her time, both in her attitude and in her assets (she was a thriving dressmaker), she was more skilled, she was quite good-looking and she spoke her mind. But almost certainly most unflattering, at least in Bridgets day, was the fact that even if she had been married for eight years, she was barren.

In 1895, Bridget Cleary, a youthful woman living in Ballyvadlea, Ireland, fell ill for more than a few days.

During her sickness, her husband Michael Cleary and other close family began to say that she had been taken hostage by the fairies, and that the woman lying in her sickbed was actually a changeling left at the back to take her place. In an effort to reinstate her, she was made to take herbs simmered in milk and was held across the hearth, misery no significant injury. On the twilight of the tenth day of her illness, when she was healthier enough to get decent and out of bed, Michael Cleary exposed his wife with a flaming stick, unintentionally setting her outfits on fire, and then he intentionally...