Bridget Cleary (Irish: Bríd Ní Chléirigh) was an Irish woman killed by her husband in 1895. Her death is notable for several peculiarities; the stated motive for the crime was her husband's belief that she had been abducted by fairies with a changeling left in her place; he claimed to have slain only the changeling. The murder's gruesome nature—Cleary was immolated, either causing or immediately following her death—prompted extensive press coverage, at a time when her country's prospects for self-government were being hotly contested.
Bridget was reported missing in March 1895. She evidently had been ill for several days, although her specific diagnosis is unknown. More than a week into her illness, on March 13, 1895, a physician visited her at her home; her condition was considered sufficiently grave that a priest soon followed, to administer last rites. Several of her friends and family members attended her over the next two days, and a number of home remedies were administered, including one ritual that anticipated her later demise: Patrick and Michael accused her of being a fairy sent to take Bridget's place, and so urine was thrown on her, and she was carried before the fireplace to cast the fairy out.
By March 16th, rumors were beginning to circulate that Bridget was missing, and the local police began searching for her. Michael was quoted as claiming that his wife had been taken by fairies, and he appeared to be holding a vigil. Witness statements were gathered over the ensuing week, and by the time Bridget Cleary's burnt corpse was found in a shallow grave on March 22nd, nine people had been charged in her disappearance, including her husband. A coroner's inquest the next day returned a verdict of death by burning.
The evidence showed that on March 15th, Michael summoned the priest, Father Ryan, back to the Cleary household. Ryan found Bridget alive but agitated. Michael told Ryan that he had not been giving his wife the medicine prescribed by the doctor, because he had no faith in it. According to Ryan, "Cleary then said, 'People may have some remedy of their own that might do more good than doctor's medicine,' or something to that effect." Bridget was given communion, and Ryan departed. Later that night, neighbors and relatives returned to the Cleary house. An argument ensued, again tinged with fairy mythology. At some point, Bridget told Michael that the only person who'd gone off with the fairies had been his mother. Michael attempted to force-feed his wife, throwing her down on the ground before the kitchen fireplace and menacing her with a burning piece of wood. Bridget's chemise caught fire, and Michael then threw lamp oil on Bridget. The witnesses were unclear as to whether she was already dead by this point. Michael kept the others back from her body as it burned, insisting that she was a changeling and had been for a week previously, and that he would get his wife back from the fairies.
Bridget Cleary's death has remained famous in popular culture. An Irish nursery rhyme reads,
"Are you a witch, or are you a fairy,/Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?"
Her death is also notable in more serious historical contexts: She is popularly described as the "the last witch burned in Ireland," or as the subject of the last of the witchcraft trials, although it has been noted that Bridget was never actually described as having consorted with the devil, which is customary with accused witches. Instead, she was thought to have been replaced by a fairy changeling.
About Burning Bridget Cleary
Rose Baldino and Genna Gillespie met as pre-teens at a traditional Irish music session where they became instant friends. Since that time, both have been first-place trophy winners at the Celtic Classic fiddle competitions. Both were born into musical families (Genna’s parents are founding members of the Celtic band, Blackwater). The natural pairing of these talented young women, backed by Rose’s dad, a life-long musician, has created a polished musical team with a lively and engaging stage presence.
They have opened for "Halali", the "Tartan Terrors", "Tempest", and"Old Blind Dogs".
Their new CD is now getting airplay nationwide on a wide variety of stations . On January 9, 2009, BBC was again featured on Fiona Ritchie's NPR "Thistlepod"podcast sampler of "New Releases".
The band is named in honor of Bridget Cleary, who is remembered as the last witch burned in Ireland. She was a vivacious and fashionable young woman who lived during the late 19th century. Believing that her flu symptoms were caused by evil faeries, her deranged husband and family members burned poor Bridget to death. They were later convicted of murder and new laws were ultimately passed to protect women from such acts. Bridget was buried in an unmarked grave, but her memory is kept alive by our music, and by several recent books and plays.
Rose and Genna, both lively and fashionable young women, related to Bridget by composing "Burning Bridget Cleary", an original tune found as Track #10 on their first CD. Their new CD features an original song, "Ah Tusa Si", that relates Bridget's tale in a compelling and haunting style.
Celtic Radio Comments:
Burning Bridget Cleary is an energetic Celtic group featuring traditional music and song. Both Rose Baldino and Genna Gillespie have been playing since they were 10. Lou Baldino, a veteran in the music business, had a guitar in his hands at age 5. Their "Everything is Alright..." album is top notch and shows the talent and pure fun this group had in making such a wonderful album. 5 Haunted Halloween stars from CelticRadio.net!