The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies
The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies

The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies

Natasha sheldon - October 1, 2018

The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies
The Bedroom of Bridget and Michael Cleary. National Archives of Ireland.

“That is Not Bridget Boland”

Bridget not only lived on a fairy rath, but she also had cause to roam other parts of the countryside associated with the fairies. Since her marriage, Bridget supplemented her dressmaking income with the sales of eggs from hens, the money from which she collected monthly. Part of her egg round took her onto Kylenagranagh Hill, another local fairy fort. The hill was the home of one of her customers, Jack Dunne, who was a Shanachie – a custodian of the ancient lore.

March 1895 was bitterly cold- and Bridget caught a chill that confined her to the cottage for several days afterward. However, for some reason, the usually healthy woman did not throw off the illness but instead became steadily worse. Various friends and neighbors called round to see how she was. However, when Jack Dunne came to visit, he took one look at the wane and disheveled figure in the bed and declared “that is not Bridget Boland.”Michael Cleary, Bridget’s husband, overheard. From then onwards, he became convinced that the woman in the bed was not his wife – but a changeling.

Ignoring the medicine and diagnosis of the local doctor, Cleary tuned to Jack Dunne who recommended he visited Denis Ganey, a local ‘Fairy Doctor.’ Ganey did not visit Bridget himself. However, he did give Michael Cleary a herbal mix with ‘the nine cures in it’ to be administered to the patient, mixed in new milk. This cure was a standard one in cases of changelings and designed to restore the real individual. As many contained foxglove, the concoctions were more likely to finish the patient off. However, other methods could be used to identify and exorcise a changeling including harsh, persistent questioning and the threat of fire. All of these methods were used on Bridget Cleary on March 14, 1895.

The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies
“The kitchen of the Cleary’s cottage. ” National Archives of Ireland.

Just before ten that night, William Simpson, a local landowners caretaker, and his wife Minnie went to visit Bridget. When Michael Cleary finally allowed them into the cottage, a fearful scene greeted them. Jack Dunne and her cousins Patrick, James, and William were holding a weak and distressed Bridget Cleary on the bed. Bridget’s aunt, Mary Kennedy waited nervously by the door while Michael Cleary forced his wife to take the herb-laced milk. Bridget was screaming and complaining it was too bitter. However, Cleary held Bridget’s mouth shut to force her to swallow, intermittently demanding if she was Bridget Cleary or Bridget Boland, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God.’

The Simpsons noted that there was a large burn mark on Bridget’s forehead caused by a poker that had been used to threaten her earlier. The harsh questioning continued, and Bridget was drenched three times with “a noxious fluid” that was probably urine. After the third dose of herbs, the men lifted her out of bed and shook her back and forth before Jack Dunne ordered them to “make a good fire and we will make her answer.” Bridget was then carried to the grate and held over the flames while her father asked her: are you the daughter of Patrick Boland, the wife of Michael Cleary” “I an Dada” Bridget said, in a voice made loud with terror.

The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies
“The approximate location of Bridget Cleary’s shallow burial”. National Archives of Ireland

Bridgie is Burned.”

After the rites of March 14, Bridget was put back to bed. However, according to Michael Cleary, during the night of March 15, she disappeared. The police became suspicious, and a search began for the missing woman. Over the coming days, informants came forward with tales of ill-treatment. Warrants were prepared for the arrest of Michael Cleary, Patrick Boland, Mary Kennedy, and her sons, John Dunne and Denis Ganey- even before Bridget’s body was found. Finally, in June 1895, a court in Tipperary discovered what had happened to Bridget Cleary.

On March 15, the Clearys again had visitors. One was Joanna Burke, who came to see how her cousin was. However, Joanna and Michael Cleary began to argue. So Cleary forced Bridget out of bed, ordered her to dress and sent her to the kitchen to settle matters. All was not well between the couple. When Bridget was asked how she was, she replied she was only ‘middling’ as her husband was trying to make ‘a fairy of her’. Cleary then told her to ‘hold her tongue.’ He became more and more agitated and began to ask Bridget again if she was his wife. Then he hit her.

Cleary then lost control. He tore off Bridget’s clothes, only leaving her in her chemise. As he brandished a brand from the fire in his wife’s face, his guests tried to flee. Instead of letting them go, Cleary threatened them and locked the door. Frightened, the company sought refuge in the bedroom. There they heard Bridget scream ‘give me a chance’ before her head struck the floor. There was then another scream. William Kennedy gathered enough courage to investigate. He quickly returned. ‘Bridgie is burned,’ he said. Whether by accident or design, Cleary had set his wife’s chemise alight. He then poured paraffin over Bridget’s body, sat in a chair and watched her burn.

The Charred Remains of Bridget Cleary Were Found in A Bog and Opened Up a Chilling Investigation Involving Fairies
Prison Photograph of Michael Cleary. National Archives of Ireland

The court acquitted Denis Ganey and Mary Kennedy. It then sentenced all but one of the defendants for wounding. Michael Cleary, however, was found guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 20 years penal servitude. After fifteen years, Cleary was released. He immigrated to Canada, never to be heard of again. The fact that most of the defendants were illiterate and steeped in an older, traditional lore does make it credible that they at least believed their actions were helping Bridget. Michael Cleary, however, was literate and had been part of a more modern world. Did he believe his wife was a changeling?

Perhaps lack of sleep clouded Cleary’s judgment. However, there are signs his marriage was in trouble. Firstly, there was the level of violence used by Cleary against Bridget. Then, there was the testimony of Bridget herself. While she was ill, Bridget told her aunt that Cleary had been ‘making a fairy’ of her for months. She also claimed ‘he thought to burn me about three months ago.’ After the burning, Cleary disappeared for three days, supposedly waiting for the real Bridget to reappear out of Kylenagranagh hill. However, this was not his first impulse after his wife’s death. For initially, Cleary talked of feigning madness, fleeing to America or killing himself. This suggests Michael Cleary did not believe he had a changeling bride; he merely hoped by claiming he had one, he would be absolved of murder.

 

Where do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Dark Spirit: Sinister Portraits from Celtic Folklore, Dr. Rob Curran, Cassell & Co, 2001

Fairy legends and traditions of the south of Ireland, Thomas Crofton Croker, London; John Murray, 1828

The Burning of Bridget Cleary, Angela Bourke, Pimlico, 1999

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