The Devil at Damerville—And at Ballinagarde—Taverner and Haddock’s ghost—Hunter and the ghostly old woman—A witch rescued by the Devil—Dr. Williams and the haunted house in Dublin—Apparitions seen in the air in co. Tipperary—A clergyman and his wife bewitched to death—Bewitching of Mr. Moor—The fairy-possessed butler—A ghost instigates a prosecution—Supposed witchcraft in co. Cork—The Devil among the Quakers.
From the earliest times the Devil has made his mark, historically and geographically, in Ireland; the nomenclature of many places indicates that they are his exclusive property, while the antiquarian cannot be sufficiently thankful to him for depositing the Rock of Cashel where he did. But here we must deal with a later period of his activity. A quaint tale comes to us from co. Tipperary of a man bargaining with his Majesty for the price of his soul, in which as usual the Devil is worsted by a simple trick, and gets nothing for his trouble. Near Shronell in that county are still to be seen the ruins of Damerville Court, formerly the residence of the Damer family, and from which locality they took the title of Barons Milton of Shronell. The first of the family to settle in Ireland, Joseph Damer, had been formerly in the service of the Parliament, but not deeming it safe to remain in England after the Restoration, came over to this country and, taking advantage of the cheapness of land at that time, purchased large estates. It was evidently of this member of the family that the following tale is told. He possessed great wealth, and ’twas darkly hinted that this had come to him from no lawful source, that in fact he had made a bargain with the Devil to sell his soul to him for a top-boot full of gold. His Satanic Majesty greedily accepted the offer, and on the day appointed for the ratification of the bargain arrived with a sufficiency of bullion from the Bank of Styx—or whatever may be the name of the establishment below! He was ushered into a room, in the middle of which stood the empty top-boot; into this he poured the gold, but to his surprise it remained as empty as before. He hastened away for more gold, with the same result. Repeated journeys to and fro for fresh supplies still left the boot as empty as when he began, until at length in sheer disgust he took his final departure, leaving Damer in possession of the gold, and as well (for a few brief years, at all events) of that spiritual commodity he had valued at so little. In process of time the secret leaked out. The wily Damer had taken the sole off the boot, and had then securely fastened the latter over a hole in the floor. In the storey underneath was a series of large, empty cellars, in which he had stationed men armed with shovels, who were under instructions to remove each succeeding shower of gold, and so make room for more.
Another story comes from Ballinagarde in co. Limerick, the residence of the Croker family, though it is probably later in point of time; in it the Devil appears in a different rôle. Once upon a time Mr. Croker of Ballinagarde was out hunting, but as the country was very difficult few were able to keep up with the hounds. The chase lasted all day, and late in the evening Croker and a handsome dark stranger, mounted on a magnificent black horse, were alone at the death. Croker, delighted at his companion’s prowess, asked him home, and the usual festivities were kept up fast and furious till far into the night. The stranger was shown to a bedroom, and as the servant was pulling off his boots he saw that he had a cloven hoof. In the morning he acquainted his master with the fact, and both went to see the stranger. The latter had disappeared, and so had his horse, but the bedroom carpet was seared by a red-hot hoof, while four hoof-marks were imprinted on the floor of the horse’s stall. What incident gave rise to the story we cannot tell, but there was a saying among the peasantry that such-and-such a thing occurred “as sure as the Devil was in Ballinagarde”; while he is said to have appeared there again recently.
A most remarkable instance of legal proceedings being instituted at the instigation of a ghost comes from the co. Down in the year 1662. About Michaelmas one Francis Taverner, servant to Lord Chichester, was riding home on horseback late one night from Hillborough, and on nearing Drumbridge his horse suddenly stood still, and he, not suspecting anything out of the common, but merely supposing him to have the staggers, got down to bleed him in the mouth, and then remounted. As he was proceeding two horsemen seemed to pass him, though he heard no sound of horses’ hoofs. Presently there appeared a third at his elbow, apparently clad in a long white coat, having the appearance of one James Haddock, an inhabitant of Malone who had died about five years previously. When the startled Taverner asked him in God’s name who he was, he told him that he was James Haddock, and recalled himself to his mind by relating a trifling incident that had occurred in Taverner’s father’s house a short while before Haddock’s death. Taverner asked him why he spoke with him; he told him, because he was a man of more resolution than other men, and requested him to ride along with him in order that he might acquaint him with the business he desired him to perform. Taverner refused, and, as they were at a cross-road, went his own way. Immediately after parting with the spectre there arose a mighty wind, “and withal he heard very hideous Screeches and Noises, to his great amazement. At last he heard the cocks crow, to his great comfort; he alighted off his horse, and falling to prayer desired God’s assistance, and so got safe home.”
The following night the ghost appeared again to him as he sat by the fire, and thereupon declared to him the reason for its appearance, and the errand upon which it wished to send him. It bade him go to Eleanor Walsh, its widow, who was now married to one Davis, and say to her that it was the will of her late husband that their son David should be righted in the matter of a lease which the father had bequeathed to him, but of which the step-father had unjustly deprived him. Taverner refused to do so, partly because he did not desire to gain the ill-will of his neighbours, and partly because he feared being taken for one demented; but the ghost so thoroughly frightened him by appearing to him every night for a month, that in the end he promised to fulfil its wishes. He went to Malone, found a woman named Eleanor Walsh, who proved to be the wrong person, but who told him she had a namesake living hard by, upon which Taverner took no further trouble in the matter, and returned without delivering his message.
The same night he was awakened by something pressing upon him, and saw again the ghost of Haddock in a white coat, which asked him if he had delivered the message, to which Taverner mendaciously replied that he had been to Malone and had seen Eleanor Walsh. Upon which the ghost looked with a more friendly air upon him, bidding him not to be afraid, and then vanished in a flash of brightness. But having learnt the truth of the matter in some mysterious way, it again appeared, this time in a great fury, and threatened to tear him to pieces if he did not do as it desired. Utterly unnerved by these unearthly visits, Taverner left his house in the mountains and went into the town of Belfast, where he sat up all night in the house of a shoemaker named Peirce, where were also two or three of Lord Chichester’s servants. “About midnight, as they were all by the fireside, they beheld Taverner’s countenance change and a trembling to fall upon him; who presently espied the Apparition in a Room opposite him, and took up the Candle and went to it, and resolutely ask’d it in the name of God wherefore it haunted him? It replied, Because he had not delivered the message; and withal repeated the threat of tearing him in pieces if he did not do so speedily: and so, changing itself into many prodigious Shapes, it vanished in white like a Ghost.”
In a very dejected frame of mind Taverner related the incident to some of Lord Chichester’s family, and the chaplain, Mr. James South, advised him to go and deliver the message to the widow, which he accordingly did, and thereupon experienced great quietness of mind. Two nights later the apparition again appeared, and on learning what had been done, charged him to bear the same message to the executors. Taverner not unnaturally asked if Davis, the step-father, would attempt to do him any harm, to which the spirit gave a very doubtful response, but at length reassured him by threatening Davis if he should attempt anything to his injury, and then vanished away in white.
The following day Taverner was summoned before the Court of the celebrated Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down, who carefully examined him about the matter, and advised him the next time the spirit appeared to ask it the following questions: Whence are you? Are you a good or a bad spirit? Where is your abode? What station do you hold? How are you regimented in the other world? What is the reason that you appear for the relief of your son in so small a matter, when so many widows and orphans are oppressed, and none from thence of their relations appear as you do to right them?
That night Taverner went to Lord Conway’s house. Feeling the coming presence of the apparition, and being unwilling to create any disturbance within doors, he and his brother went out into the courtyard, where they saw the spirit coming over the wall. He told it what he had done, and it promised not to trouble him any more, but threatened the executors if they did not see the boy righted. “Here his brother put him in mind to ask the Spirit what the Bishop bid him, which he did presently. But it gave him no answer, but crawled on its hands and feet over the wall again, and so vanished in white with a most melodious harmony.” The boy’s friends then brought an action (apparently in the Bishop’s Court) against the executors and trustees; one of the latter, John Costlet, who was also the boy’s uncle, tried the effect of bluff, but the threat of what the apparition could and might do to him scared him into a promise of justice. About five years later, when the story was forgotten, Costlet began to threaten the boy with an action, but, coming home drunk one night, he fell off his horse and was killed. In the above there is no mention of the fate of Davis.
Whatever explanation we may choose to give of the supernatural element in the above, there seems to be no doubt that such an incident occurred, and that the story is, in the main, true to fact, as it was taken by Glanvill from a letter of Mr. Thomas Alcock’s, the secretary to Bishop Taylor’s Court, who must therefore have heard the entire story from Taverner’s own lips. The incident is vividly remembered in local tradition, from which many picturesque details are added, especially with reference to the trial, the subsequent righting of young David Haddock, and the ultimate punishment of Davis, on which points Glanvill is rather unsatisfactory. According to this source, Taverner (or Tavney, as the name is locally pronounced) felt something get up behind him as he was riding home, and from the eerie feeling that came over him, as well as from the mouldy smell of the grave that assailed his nostrils, he perceived that his companion was not of this world. Finally the ghost urged Taverner to bring the case into Court, and it came up for trial at Carrickfergus. The Counsel for the opposite side browbeat Taverner for inventing such an absurd and malicious story about his neighbour Davis, and ended by tauntingly desiring him to call his witness. The usher of the Court, with a sceptical sneer, called upon James Haddock, and at the third repetition of the name a clap of thunder shook the Court; a hand was seen on the witness-table, and a voice was heard saying, “Is this enough?” Which very properly convinced the jury. Davis slunk away, and on his homeward road fell from his horse and broke his neck. Instead of propounding Bishop Taylor’s shorter catechism, Taverner merely asked the ghost, “Are you happy in your present state?” “If,” it replied in a voice of anger, “you were not the man you are, I would tear you in pieces for asking such a question”; and then went off in a flash of fire!!—which, we fear, afforded but too satisfactory an answer to his question.
In the following year, 1663, a quaintly humorous story of a most persistent and troublesome ghostly visitant comes from the same part of the world, though in this particular instance its efforts to right the wrong did not produce a lawsuit: the narrator was Mr. Alcock, who appears in the preceding story. One David Hunter, who was neat-herd to the Bishop of Down (Jeremy Taylor) at his house near Portmore, saw one night, as he was carrying a log of wood into the dairy, an old woman whom he did not recognise, but apparently some subtle intuition told him that she was not of mortal mould, for incontinent he flung away the log, and ran terrified into his house. She appeared again to him the next night, and from that on nearly every night for the next nine months. “Whenever she came he must go with her through the Woods at a good round rate; and the poor fellow look’d as if he was bewitch’d and travell’d off his legs.” Even if he were in bed he had to rise and follow her wherever she went, and because his wife could not restrain him she would rise and follow him till daybreak, although no apparition was visible to her. The only member of the family that took the matter philosophically was Hunter’s little dog, and he became so accustomed to the ghost that he would inevitably bring up the rear of the strange procession—if it be true that the lower classes dispensed with the use of night-garments when in bed, the sight must truly have been a most remarkable one.
All this time the ghost afforded no indication as to the nature and object of her frequent appearances. “But one day the said David going over a Hedge into the Highway, she came just against him, and he cry’d out, ‘Lord bless me, I would I were dead; shall I never be delivered from this misery?’ At which, ‘And the Lord bless me too,’ says she. ‘It was very happy you spoke first, for till then I had no power to speak, though I have followed you so long. My name,’ says she, ‘is Margaret ——. I lived here before the War, and had one son by my Husband; when he died I married a soldier, by whom I had several children which the former Son maintained, else we must all have starved. He lives beyond the Ban-water; pray go to him and bid him dig under such a hearth, and there he shall find 28s. Let him pay what I owe in such a place, and the rest to the charge unpay’d at my Funeral, and go to my Son that lives here, which I had by my latter Husband, and tell him that he lives a very wicked and dissolute life, and is very unnatural and ungrateful to his Brother that nurtured him, and if he does not mend his life God will destroy him.’”
David Hunter told her he never knew her. “No,” says she, “I died seven years before you came into this Country”; but she promised that, if he would carry her message, she would never hurt him. But he deferred doing what the apparition bade him, with the result that she appeared the night after, as he lay in bed, and struck him on the shoulder very hard; at which he cried out, and reminded her that she had promised to do him no hurt. She replied that was if he did her message; if not, she would kill him. He told her he could not go now, because the waters were out. She said that she was content that he should wait until they were abated; but charged him afterwards not to fail her. Ultimately he did her errand, and afterwards she appeared and thanked him. “For now,” said she, “I shall be at rest, and therefore I pray you lift me up from the ground, and I will trouble you no more.” So Hunter lifted her up, and declared afterwards that she felt just like a bag of feathers in his arms; so she vanished, and he heard most delicate music as she went off over his head.
An important witch-case occurred in Scotland in 1678, the account of which is of interest to us as it incidentally makes mention of the fact that one of the guilty persons had been previously tried and condemned in Ireland for the crime of witchcraft. Four women and one man were strangled and burnt at Paisley for having attempted to kill by magic Sir George Maxwell of Pollock. They had formed a wax image of him, into which the Devil himself had stuck the necessary pins; it was then turned on a spit before the fire, the entire band repeating in unison the name of him whose death they desired to compass. Amongst the women was “one Bessie Weir, who was hanged up the last of the four (one that had been takenbefore in Ireland and was condemned to the fyre for malifice before; and when the hangman there was about to cast her over the gallows, the devill takes her away from them out of their sight; her dittay [indictment] was sent over here to Scotland), who at this tyme, when she was cast off the gallows, there appears a raven, and approaches the hangman within an ell of him, and flyes away again. All the people observed it, and cried out at the sight of it.”
A clergyman, the Rev. Daniel Williams (evidently the man who was pastor of Wood Street, Dublin, and subsequently founded Dr. Williams’s Library in London), relates the manner in which he freed a girl from strange and unpleasant noises which disturbed her; the incident might have developed into something analogous to the Drummer of Tedworth in England, but on the whole works out rather tamely. He tells us that about the year 1678 the niece of Alderman Arundel of Dublin was troubled by noises in her uncle’s house, “as by violent Sthroaks on the Wainscots and Chests, in what Chambers she frequented.” In the hope that they would cease she removed to a house near Smithfield, but the disturbances pursued her thither, and were no longer heard in her former dwelling. She thereupon betook herself to a little house in Patrick Street, near the gate, but to no purpose. The noises lasted in all for about three months, and were generally at their worst about two o’clock in the morning. Certain ministers spent several nights in prayer with her, heard the strange sounds, but did not succeed in causing their cessation. Finally the narrator, Williams, was called in, and came upon a night agreed to the house, where several persons had assembled. He says: “I preached from Hebrews ii. 18, and contrived to be at Prayer at that Time when the Noise used to be greatest. When I was at Prayer the Woman, kneeling by me, catched violently at my Arm, and afterwards told us that she saw a terrible Sight—but it pleased God there was no noise at all. And from that Time God graciously freed her from all that Disturbance.”
Many strange stories of apparitions seen in the air come from all parts of the world, and are recorded by writers both ancient and modern, but there are certainly few of them that can equal the account of that weird series of incidents that was seen in the sky by a goodly crowd of ladies and gentlemen in co. Tipperary on 2nd March 1678. “At Poinstown in the county of Tepperary were seen divers strange and prodigious apparitions. On Sunday in the evening several gentlemen and others, after named, walked forth in the fields, and the Sun going down, and appearing somewhat bigger than usual, they discoursed about it, directing their eyes towards the place where the Sun set; when one of the company observed in the air, near the place where the Sun went down, an Arm of a blackish blue colour, with a ruddy complection’d Hand at one end, and at the other end a cross piece with a ring fasten’d to the middle of it, like one end of an anchor, which stood still for a while, and then made northwards, and so disappeared. Next, there appeared at a great distance in the air, from the same part of the sky, something like a Ship coming towards them; and it came so near that they could distinctly perceive the masts, sails, tacklings, and men; she then seem’d to tack about, and sail’d with the stern foremost, northwards, upon a dark smooth sea, which stretched itself from south-west to north-west. Having seem’d thus to sail some few minutes she sunk by degrees into the sea, her stern first; and as she sunk they perceived her men plainly running up the tacklings in the forepart of the Ship, as it were to save themselves from drowning. Then appeared a Fort, with somewhat like a Castle on the top of it; out of the sides of which, by reason of some clouds of smoak and a flash of fire suddenly issuing out, they concluded some shot to be made. The Fort then was immediately divided in two parts, which were in an instant transformed into two exact Ships, like the other they had seen, with their heads towards each other. That towards the south seem’d to chase the other with its stem [stern?] foremost, northwards, till it sunk with its stem first, as the first Ship had done; the other Ship sail’d some time after, and then sunk with its head first. It was observ’d that men were running upon the decks of these two Ships, but they did not see them climb up, as in the last Ship, excepting one man, whom they saw distinctly to get up with much haste upon the very top of the Bowsprit of the second Ship as they were sinking. They supposed the two last Ships were engaged, and fighting, for they saw the likeness of bullets rouling upon the sea, while they were both visible. Then there appear’d a Chariot, drawn with two horses, which turn’d as the Ships had done, northward, and immediately after it came a strange frightful creature, which they concluded to be some kind of serpent, having a head like a snake, and a knotted bunch or bulk at the other end, something resembling a snail’s house. This monster came swiftly behind the chariot and gave it a sudden violent blow, then out of the chariot leaped a Bull and a Dog, which follow’d him [the bull], and seem’d to bait him. These also went northwards, as the former had done, the Bull first, holding his head downwards, then the Dog, and then the Chariot, till all sunk down one after another about the same place, and just in the same manner as the former. These meteors being vanished, there were several appearances like ships and other things. The whole time of the vision lasted near an hour, and it was a very clear and calm evening, no cloud seen, no mist, nor any wind stirring. All the phenomena came out of the West or Southwest, and all moved Northwards; they all sunk out of sight much about the same place. Of the whole company there was not any one but saw all these things, as above-written, whose names follow:
Mr. Allye, a minister, living near the place.
Lieutenant Dunsterville, and his son.
Mr. Grace, his son-in-law.
Mr. Dwine, his brother.
Mr. Christopher Hewelson.
Mr. Richard Foster.
Mr. Adam Hewelson.
Mr. Bates, a schoolmaster.
Her maiden daughter.
Mr. Dwine’s daughter.
Mrs. Grace, her daughter.
The first of the sixteen persons who subscribed to the truth of the above was the Rev. Peter Alley, who had been appointed curate of Killenaule Union (Dio. Cashel) in 1672, but was promoted to livings in the same diocese in the autumn of the year the apparitions appeared. There is a townland named Poyntstown in the parish of Buolick and barony of Slievardagh, and another of the same name in the adjoining parish of Fennor. It must have been at one or other of these places that the sights were witnessed, as both parishes are only a few miles distant from Killenaule. Somewhat similar tales, although not so full of marvellous detail, are reported at different periods from the west of Ireland. Such indeed seem to have been the origin of the belief in that mysterious island O’Brasil, lying far out in the western ocean. About the year 1665, a Quaker pretended that he had a revelation from Heaven that he was the man ordained to discover it, and accordingly fitted out a ship for the purpose. In 1674, Captain John Nisbet, formerly of co. Fermanagh, actually landed there! At this period it was located off Ulster.
Between the clergy and the witches a continuous state of warfare existed; the former, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, ever assumed the offensive, and were most diligent in their attempts to eradicate such a damnable heresy from the world—indeed with regret it must be confessed that their activity in this respect was frequently the means of stirring up the quiescent Secular Arm, thereby setting on foot bloody persecutions, in the course of which many innocent creatures were tortured and put to a cruel death. Consequently, human nature being what it is, it is not a matter of surprise to learn that witches occasionally appear as the aggressors, and cause the clergy as much uneasiness of mind and body as they possibly could. In or about the year 1670 an Irish clergyman, the Rev. James Shaw, Presbyterian minister of Carnmoney, “was much troubled with witches, one of them appearing in his chamber and showing her face behind his cloke hanging on the clock-pin, and then stepping to the door, disappeared. He was troubled with cats coming into his chamber and bed; he sickens and dyes; his wyfe being dead before him, and, as was supposed, witched.” Some equally unpleasant experiences befel his servant. “Before his death his man going out to the stable one night, sees as if it had been a great heap of hay rolling towards him, and then appeared in the shape and likeness of a bair [bear]. He charges it to appear in human shape, which it did. Then he asked, for what cause it troubled him? It bid him come to such a place and it should tell him, which he ingaged to do, yet ere he did it, acquainted his master with it; his master forbids him to keep sic a tryst; he obeyed his master, and went not. That night he should have kept, there is a stone cast at him from the roof of the house, and only touches him, but does not hurt him; whereupon he conceives that had been done to him by the devill, because he kept not tryst; wherefore he resolutely goes forth that night to the place appointed, being a rash bold fellow, and the divill appears in human shape, with his heid running down with blood. He asks him again, why he troubles him? The devill replyes, that he was the spirit of a murdered man who lay under his bed, and buried in the ground, and who was murdered by such a man living in sic a place twenty years ago. The man comes home, searches the place, but finds nothing of bones or anything lyke a grave, and causes send to such a place to search for such a man, but no such a one could be found, and shortly after this man dyes.” To which story Mr. Robert Law sagely adds the warning: “It’s not good to come in communing terms with Satan, there is a snare in the end of it, but to resyst him by prayer and faith and to turn a deaf ear to his temptations.”
Whatever explanation we may choose to give of the matter, there is no doubt but at the time the influence of witchcraft was firmly believed in, and the deaths of Mr. Shaw and his wife attributed to supernatural and diabolical sources. The Rev. Patrick Adair, a distinguished contemporary and co-religionist of Mr. Shaw, alludes to the incident as follows in his True Narrative: “There had been great ground of jealousy that she [Mrs. Shaw] in her child-bed had been wronged by sorcery of some witches in the parish. After her death, a considerable time, some spirit or spirits troubled the house by casting stones down at the chimney, appearing to the servants, and especially having got one of them, a young man, to keep appointed times and places, wherein it appeared in divers shapes, and spake audibly to him. The people of the parish watched the house while Mr. Shaw at this time lay sick in his bed, and indeed he did not wholly recover, but within a while died, it was thought not without the art of sorcery.”
Classon Porter in his pamphlet gives an interesting account of the affair, especially of the trend of events between the deaths of the husband and wife respectively; according to this source the servant-boy was an accomplice of the Evil One, not a foolish victim. Mrs. Shaw was dead, and Mr. Shaw lay ill, and so was unable to go to the next monthly meeting of his brethren in the ministry to consult them about these strange occurrences. However, he sent his servant, who was supposed to be implicated in these transactions, with a request that his brethren would examine him about the matter, and deal with him as they thought best. The boy was accordingly questioned on the subject, and having confessed that he had conversed and conferred with the evil spirit, and even assisted it in its diabolical operations, he was commanded for the future to have no dealings of any kind with that spirit. The boy promised obedience, and was dismissed. But the affair made a great commotion in the parish, so great that the brethren not only ordered the Communion (which was then approaching) to be delayed in Carnmoney “until the confusion should fall a little,” but appointed two of their number to hold a special fast in the congregation of Carnmoney, “in consideration of the trouble which had come upon the minister’s house by a spirit that appeared to some of the family, and the distemper of the minister’s own body, with other confusions that had followed this movement in the parish.” The ministers appointed to this duty were, Kennedy of Templepatrick, and Patton of Ballyclare, who reported to the next meeting that they had kept the fast at Carnmoney, but with what result is not stated. Mr. Shaw died about two months later.
Most wonderful and unpleasant were the bodily contortions that an Irish gentleman suffered, as the result of not having employed a woman who to the useful trade of sage-femme added the mischievous one of witch—it is quite conceivable that a country midwife, with some little knowledge of medicine and the use of simples, would be classed in popular opinion amongst those who had power above the average. “In Ireland there was one Thomas Moor, who had his wife brought to bed of a child, and not having made use of her former midwife, who was malæ famæ, she was witched by her so that she dies. The poor man resenting it, she was heard to say that that was nothing to that which should follow. She witches him also, so that a certain tyme of the day, towards night, the Devil did always trouble him, once every day for the space of 10 or 12 yeirs, by possessing his body, and causing it to swell highly, and tearing him so that he foamed, and his face turned about to his neck, having a most fearfull disfigured visage. At which tyme he was held by strong men, out of whose grips when he gott, he would have rushed his head against the wall in hazard of braining himself, and would have leaped up and down fearfully, tumbling now and then on the ground, and cryed out fearfully with a wyld skirle and noise, and this he did ordinarily for the space of ane hour; when the fitt was over he was settled as before; and without the fitt he was in his right mynd, and did know when it came on him, and gave notice of it, so that those appoynted for keeping of him prepared for it. He was, by appointment of the ministers, sent from parish to parish for the ease of his keepers. At length, people being wearied with waiting on him, they devysed a way for ease, which was to put him in a great chyer [chair] fitted for receiving of his body, and so ordered it that it clasped round about so that he could not get out, and then by a pillue [pulley] drew him up off the ground; and when the fitt came on (of whilk he still gave warning) put him in it and drew him up, so that his swinging to and froo did not hurt him, but was keept till the fitt went over save fra danger, and then lett down till that tyme of the next day, when the fitt recurred. Many came to see him in his fitts, but the sight was so astonishing that few desired to come again. He was a man of a good report, yet we may see givin up to Satan’s molestations by the wise and soveraigne God. Complains were givin in against her [the midwife] for her malefices to the magistrat there, but in England and Ireland they used not to judge and condemn witches upon presumptions, but are very sparing as to that. He was alive in the year 1679.” The concluding words of the story would lead us to infer that trials for witchcraft had taken place in Ireland, of which Law had heard, and from the report of which he formed his opinion relative to the certain amount of common-sense displayed by the magistrates in that country, in contradistinction to Scotland, where the very slightest evidence sufficed to bring persons to torture and death.
In the following tale the ghostly portion is rather dwarfed by the strong fairy element which appears in it, and, as we have already shown, many witchcraft cases in Scotland were closely interwoven with the older belief in the “good people”; Lord Orrery, when giving the account to Baxter, considered it to be “the effect of Witchcraft or Devils.” The reader is free to take what view he likes of the matter! The Lord Orrery mentioned therein is probably Roger, the second Earl, whom Lodge in his Peerage describes as being “of a serious and contemplative disposition, which led him to seek retirement.” If this identification be correct the following event must have occurred between 1679 and 1682, during which years the Earl held the title.
The butler of a gentleman living near the Earl was sent to buy a pack of cards. As he was crossing a field he was surprised to see a company of people sitting down at a table loaded with all manner of good things, of which they invited him to partake, and no doubt he would have accepted had not someone whispered in his ear, “Do nothing this company invites you to,” upon which he refused. After this they first fell to dancing, and playing on musical instruments, then to work, in both of which occupations they desired the butler to join, but to no purpose.
The night following the friendly spirit came to his bedside and warned him not to stir out of doors the next day, for if he did so the mysterious company would obtain possession of him. He remained indoors the greater part of that day, but towards evening he crossed the threshold, and hardly had he done so when a rope was cast about his waist, and he was forcibly dragged away with great swiftness. A horseman coming towards him espied both the man and the two ends of the rope, but could see nothing pulling. By catching hold of one end he succeeded in stopping the man’s headlong course, though as a punishment for so doing he received a smart blow on his arm from the other.
This came to the ears of the Earl of Orrery, who requested the butler’s master to send him to his house, which the latter did. There were then staying with the Earl several persons of quality, two Bishops, and the celebrated Healer, Valentine Greatrakes. Here the malice of the spirits or fairies manifested itself in a different manner. The unfortunate man was suddenly perceived to rise from the ground, and the united efforts of Greatrakes and another were unable to check his upward motion—in fact all that the spectators could do was to keep running under him to protect him from being hurt if the invisible power should suddenly relax its hold. At length he fell, but was caught by them before he reached the ground, and so received no harm.
That night the spectre, which had twice proved so friendly, appeared at his bedside with a wooden platter full of some grey liquid, which it bade him drink, as he had brought it to him to cure him of two sorts of fits he was subject to. He refused to drink it, and it would appear from another part of the narration that his refusal was based on the advice of the two Bishops, whom he had consulted in the matter. At this the spirit was very angry, but told him he had a kindness for him, and that if he drank the juice of plantain-roots he would be cured of one sort of fit, but that he should suffer the other one till his death. On asking his visitant who he was, he replied that he was the ghost of a man who had been dead seven years, and who in the days of his flesh had led a loose life, and was therefore condemned to be borne about in a restless condition with the strange company until the Day of Judgment. He added that “if the butler had acknowledged God in all His ways he had not suffered such things by their means,” and reminded him that he had not said his prayers the day before he met the company in the field; and thereupon vanished. Had this story rested alone on the evidence of the butler the “two sorts of fits” would have been more than sufficient to account for it, but what are we to say to the fact that all the main points of the narrative were borne out by the Earl, while Mr. Greatrakes (according to Dr. More, the author of Collections of Philosophical Writings) declared that he was actually an eye-witness of the man’s being carried in the air above their heads.
At the instigation of a ghost a lawsuit took place at Downpatrick in 1685. The account of this was given to Baxter by Thomas Emlin, “a worthy preacher in Dublin,” as well as by Claudius Gilbert, one of the principal parties therein concerned: the latter’s son and namesake proved a liberal benefactor to the Library of Trinity College—some of his books have been consulted for the present work. It appears that for some time past there had been a dispute about the tithes of Drumbeg, a little parish about four miles outside Belfast, between Mr. Gilbert, who was vicar of that town, and the Archdeacon of Down, Lemuel Matthews, whom Cotton in his Fasti describes as “a man of considerable talents and legal knowledge, but of a violent overbearing temper, and a litigous disposition.” The parishioners of Drumbeg favoured Gilbert, and generally paid the tithes to him as being the incumbent in possession; but the Archdeacon claimed to be the lawful recipient, in support of which claim he produced a warrant. In the execution of this by his servants at the house of Charles Lostin, one of the parishioners, they offered some violence to his wife Margaret, who refused them entrance, and who died about a month later (1st Nov. 1685) of the injuries she had received at their hands. Being a woman in a bad state of health little notice was taken of her death, until about a month after she appeared to one Thomas Donelson, who had been a spectator of the violence done her, and “affrighted him into a Prosecution of Robert Eccleson, the Criminal. She appeared divers times, but chiefly upon one Lord’s Day-Evening, when she fetch’d him with a strange force out of his House into the Yard and Fields adjacent. Before her last coming (for she did so three times that Day) several Neighbours were called in, to whom he gave notice that she was again coming; and beckon’d him to come out; upon which they went to shut the Door, but he forbad it, saying that she looked with a terrible Aspect upon him, when they offered it. But his Friends laid hold on him and embraced him, that he might not go out again; notwithstanding which (a plain evidence of some invisible Power), he was drawn out of their Hands in a surprizing manner, and carried about into the Field and Yard, as before, she charging him to prosecute Justice: which Voice, as also Donelson’s reply, the people heard, though they saw no shape. There are many Witnesses of this yet alive, particularly Sarah (Losnam), the Wife of Charles Lostin, Son to the deceased Woman, and one William Holyday and his Wife.” This last appearance took place in Holyday’s house; there were also present several young persons, as well as Charles and Helen Lostin, children of the deceased, most of whom appeared as witnesses at the trial.
Upon this Donelson deposed all he knew of the matter to Mr. Randal Brice, a neighbouring Justice of the Peace; the latter brought the affair before the notice of Sir William Franklin in Belfast Castle. The depositions were subsequently carried to Dublin, and the case was tried at Downpatrick Assizes by Judge John Lindon in 1685. On behalf of the plaintiff, Charles Lostin, Counseller James Macartney acted—if he be the Judge who subsequently makes his appearance in a most important witch-trial at Carrickfergus, he certainly was as excellent an advocate as any plaintiff in a case of witchcraft could possibly desire, as he was strongly prejudiced in favour of the truth of all such matters. “The several Witnesses were heard and sworn, and their Examinations were entred in the Record of that Assizes, to the Amazement and Satisfaction of all that Country and of the Judges, whom I have heard speak of it at that time with much Wonder; insomuch that the said Eccleson hardly escaped with his life, but was Burnt in the Hand.”
A case of supposed witchcraft occurred in Cork in 1685-6, the account of which is contained in a letter from Christopher Crofts to Sir John Perceval (the third Baronet, and father of the first Earl of Egmont) written on the fifteenth of March in that year. Though the narrator professes his disbelief in such superstitions, yet there seems to have been an unconscious feeling in his mind that his strict administration of the law was the means of bringing the affliction on his child. He says: “My poor boy Jack to all appearances lay dying; he had a convulsion for eight or nine hours. His mother and several others are of opinion he is bewitched, and by the old woman, the mother of Nell Welsh, who is reputed a bad woman; and the child was playing by her that day she was upon her examination, and was taken ill presently after she was committed to Bridewell. But I have not faith to believe it was anything but the hand of God. I have committed the girl to Bridewell, where she shall stay some time.”
At one period in their history that peculiar people, known amongst themselves as the Society of Friends, and by their opponents as Quakers, appear to have been most troublesome, and to have caused a good deal of annoyance to other religious bodies. Not unnaturally their enemies credited any wild tales which were related about them to their detriment, especially when they had reference to their doctrine of the influence of the Spirit. Dr. More, in his continuation to Glanvill’s book, has in the sixth Relation an account of a man, near Cambridge in England, who was possessed by an evil spirit which led him to do the most extraordinary things in its attempt to convert him to Quakerism. In the Life of Mr. Alexander Peden, late Minister of the Gospel at New Glenluce in Galloway, who died in 1686, there is an account of a Quakers’ meeting in this country at which the Devil appeared in most blasphemous parody of the Holy Ghost. As Mr. Peden was travelling one time by himself in Ireland “the night came on, and a dark mist, which obliged him to go into a house belonging to a Quaker. Mr. Peden said, ‘I must beg the favour of the roof of your house all night.’ The Quaker said, ‘Thou art a stranger, thou art very welcome and shalt be kindly entertained, but I cannot wait upon thee, for I am going to the meeting.’ Mr. Peden said, ‘I will go along with you.’ The Quaker said, ‘Thou may, if thou please, but thou must not trouble us.’ He said, ‘I will be civil.’ When they came to the meeting, as their ordinary is, they sat for some time silent, some with their faces to the wall, and others covered. There being a void in the loft above them there came down the appearance of a raven, and sat upon one man’s head, who started up immediately, and spoke with such vehemence that the froth flew from his mouth; it went to a second, and he did the same; and to a third, who did as the former two. Mr. Peden sitting near to his landlord said, ‘Do you not see that? Ye will not deny it afterwards?’ When they dismissed, going home Mr. Peden said to him, ‘I always thought there was devilry among you, but never thought that he did appear visibly among you till now that I have seen it.’ The poor man fell a-weeping, and said, ‘I perceive that God hath sent you to my house, and put it into your heart to go along with me, and permitted the Devil to appear visibly among us this night. I never saw the like before. Let me have the help of your prayers.’ After this he became a singular Christian.”
Mr. Peden was also somewhat of a prophet, and his speciality appears to have been the prognostication of unpleasant events, at all events to persons in Ireland. Two instances will suffice. When in a gentleman’s house in co. Antrim he foretold that a maid-servant was enceinte, that she would murder the child, and would be punished. “Which accordingly came to pass, and she was burnt at Craig Fergus.” On another occasion two messengers were sent to inform the Lord-Lieutenant that the Presbyterian ministers in Ireland should affirm that they had nothing to do with the rebellion at Bothwell Bridge. Mr. Peden said they were on the Devil’s errand, but God would arrest them by the gate. Accordingly one was stricken with sickness, while the other fell from his horse and broke his leg.