Samhain, Halloween and Witches

Snap-Apple_Night

Daniel Maclise’sSnap Apple Night or All Hallow’s Eve at Blarney, painted in 1833 but depicting the celebrations in Fr Matthew Horgan’s barn on 31st October 1832.

 

With Halloween upon us it is worth remembering that it derives its origins from the ancient Celtic quarter feast of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest (Deireadh Fomhair) and the beginning of winter. In fact the festival of Samhain marked the end of the ‘bright half’ of the year and the beginning of the ‘dark half’ of the year (which ran until Bealtaine, about 1st of May).

Modern spoilsport meteorologists will tell you that ‘winter’ properly begins on 21st December, the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient Samhain was marked with a harvest feast and customs of divination – attempting to divine the future, a feature we still find in the ring, stick, pea and rag in the barm brack and in the whole snap apple custom celebrated in Daniel Maclise’s wonderful ‘Snap Apple Night in Blarney or All Hallows Eve,’ which he painted in 1833. The large painting depicts a Halloween entertainment held by Fr Mathew Horgan, the Parish Priest of Blarney and Whitechurch, in his barn on 31st October 1832, an event that Maclise attended with Thomas Crofton-Croker. All social classes were mixed together to enjoy the night’s revels. There’s nothing scary about Maclise’s depiction of a community coming together to enjoy themselves after the harvest had been gathered in. Samhain was celebrated as both a harvest festival with feasting from the (hopeful) abundance of the harvest…and a time of ghosts.  It was a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was particularly thin and the ghosts of ancestors could visit the living, and even bring their living relatives back to the world of the dead with them! To avoid any unexpected encounters, the living donned disguises to prevent their dead relatives from bringing them to the underworld. Oddly enough, Mexico’s Day of the Dead occurs at the same time with visits to the graves of dead relatives. A potent mixture of ancient Aztec beliefs and the Christian All Saints and All Souls celebrations, it has eerie echoes of the Celtic Samhain.

Turnip Jack O Lantern

The Irish Jack O’Lantern was made from a turnip, not a pumpking, since pumpkins were unknown in Ireland. 

There is no evidence that the early Roman church tried to suppress Samhain, simply because the festival was just unknown in RomeRome, however,  observed a feast of the Holy Martyrs, or All Saints, on 13th May, while in Ireland the same feast was celebrated on 20th April. When Pope Gregory tII (pontificate 731-741) built an oratory in (Old) St Peter’s Basilica to house the relics of the martyrs, he moved the Feast of All Saints to 1st November. In the tradition of the Church, the feast began at sunset on 31st October, and the Pope suppressed the feast day of 13th May. The problem in Ireland was that 1st November coincided very closely with the festival of Samhain, which was already entrenched in Irish society and tradition, so the Samhain customs survived in Ireland on that day. However, following the English invasions, and the change of language in Ireland, Samhain soon became Halloween – the Eve of the Feast of All Saints.

How did we go from the sociable celebration of Halloween as depicted by Daniel Maclise to the modern association of Halloween with horror? How did it turn into ‘fright night’? The source is the United States and Hollywood – or rather American (and British) film and television programmes. If you don’t believe this, just ask ‘when did we begin to associate carved pumpkins with Halloween in Ireland’? When I was young we often picked up sugar beet discarded from passing trucks to carve into lanterns. They were, frankly, much more spooky than the colourful American pumpkins. Originally the lanterns were carved from turnips – the National Museum of Folk Life in Castlebar has a truly frightening example of such a lantern. One must wonder if the massive arrival of Irish emigrants fleeing the horrors of the Great Famine (1845-1850) brought their traditions with them and added in the horrors of the massive mortality during the famine.

Witchhunt

The burning of witches took off following the 16th century Reformation and continued into the 17th century.

The association of Halloween with witchcraft was yet another American association. It you visit the lovely old town of Salem, Massachusetts, at this time of the year you will discover that the town is filled with more witches than ever lived there in 1692-1693, when 25 people died during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Here in Ireland we have three infamous witch trials to consider.

The earliest was the persecution of Alice Kyteler of Kilkenny by the English-born Franciscan bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledrede. In 1324 Ledreded declared that his diocese was a hotbed of witchcraft, centred about Alice Kyteler, according to the accusations of her step children. Alice had married the Kilkenny merchant William Outlaw in about 1280 and had a son, also called William. But Outlaw had died by about 1300. Her son William was declared an adult in 1303. In the meantime Alice had married the merchant Adam le Blund of Callan. In 1307 le Blund had quitclaimed his wealth and possessions to his stepson, William, cutting out his own children by a previous marriage.  Soon after, Adam died and Alice married the Tipperary landowner Richard de Valle (Wall). Richard made a settlement that benefitted Alice’s son William, despite having a legitimate son of his own. When Richard died his son was sued by Alice for withholding her dower (widow’s portion).  Alice had married for a fourth time to John le Poer, who died of a wasting disease.

Bishop Ledrede’s accusations against Alice were based on the animosity of her stepchildren and his dislike of financially successful women. Alice fled abroad but her maidservant, Petronilla, was tortured and burned at the stake. There was no evidence that Alice was ever a witch.

The next witch trial was that of Florence Newton of Youghal at the Cork Assizes in September 1661. The impoverished Newton had approached the house of John Pyne in Youghal to seek old bread to eat. Pyne’s maid, Mary Longdon, refused her even a scrap of food, and, despite Newton saying she bore Mary no ill will, the maid shortly afterward began to experience fits and trances. Various incidents suggested to the town elders that Mary was bewitched and during the trial, Longdon, went into fits in the presence of Newton. The fits only stopped when Newton was removed from the courtroom. Alas, we don’t know the final verdict but, given that the trial used the English witchcraft law of 1586 and the English attorney general Sir William Ashton was present, it is likely that the unfortunate Florence Newton was executed for witchcraft.

The last great witch trials in Ireland happened in 1711. The trials involved the obviously fake accusation against a number of women in Islandmagee, the peninsula in County Antrim that looks across to Scotland.  And this is important, because Scotland is thought to have tortured and executed more ‘witches’ per capita of population than any other country in Europe between 1479 and 1727 – some 2,500 people in total, of whom only 15% were men. The trial of eight women took place in the nearby town of Carrickfergus. The women were accused of indulging in witchcraft against yet another servant girl, Mary Dunbar. The charges were patently false but, as at Salem two decades before, this was  Presbyterian-Scots community under enormous religious, legal and economic pressure. The accused women were sentenced to the stocks and to be imprisoned for a year.

malleus_maleficarum 1596

A 16th Century (1596) printed copy of Malleus Maleficarum by Heninrich Kramer, originally published in 1487.

‘Witches’ were usually single women who appeared to be ‘unnatural’ to the men in the community and they had nothing to do with Halloween. Astonishingly the Church actually forbade the persecution of people for witchcraft in the early medieval period on the grounds that witches simply did not exist! This all changed in the period after 1100 and became rife by 1300, leading to the horrific witch-hunts between 1500 and 1700. The key to this was the publication in 1487 of Malleus Maleficarum by the inquisitor Henrich Kramer which proported to set out the means of indentifying and confirming the guild of ‘witches’ – much to the dismay of many German bishops who had banned his witch hunts. The book became the basis of all witch hunts from then even for the anti-Catholic reformers! Remember, Kramer was a Dominican friar! The horror of the sixteenth and seventeenth century witch hunts must have lingered long in the memory, to be revived as a scary story for Halloween.

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Ightermurragh Castle and Early Modern Imokilly.

Ightermurragh Castle

Ightermurragh Castle is a Stuart era ‘stronghouse’ built in 1641 by Edmund Supple and Margaret Fitzgerald ‘whom love binds as one.’ It remains one of the best preserved fortified houses in County Cork. The view shows the castle from the south-east, with the main entrance in the projecting wing. The original armorial over the door is long gone. Note the windows on the east wall, which gave a view of the formal garden.

In the barony of Imokilly, the local road R633 leads from Ladysbridge to Ballymacoda by way of the ancient parish of Ightermurragh. There is an old graveyard on the southern side of the road. Inside this enclosure there are scant remains of the seventeenth century church which stood there. There had been an earlier medieval chapel dedicated to the St Mary the Virgin which was subordinate to the College of Youghal. It seems likely that the chapel took its dedication from the Collegiate Church of St Mary at Youghal. However a new church seems to have been built following Ightermurragh’s erection as a separate parish in 1637. The creation of a separate parish with a new church at Ightermurragh was part of the attempt by the reformed Established Church to make a firm imprint on East Cork in the early seventeenth century. The nearby church of Kilcredan was also built in the early 1600s as perhaps the earliest purpose-built Protestant church in East Cork.

Ightermurragh Graveyard

The small graveyard of Ightermurragh where the Protestant church erected in 1637 once stood.

This date is interesting because it suggests a link to the erection of a fortified house  within sight – Ightermurragh Castle. What makes this juxtaposition so interesting is that although the church was built by the Established Church, the ‘castle’ was built by a man described as ‘Ir papist’ in the Down Survey. – the builder of the ‘very fayre large House’ was an Irish Catholic. The same Down Survey text says that the church was ‘demolished’. Even more interesting is the proximity of Ightermurragh Castle to the Fitzgerald’s Castle Richard (Inchinacrenagh) across the Womanagh River.which runs from west to east from near Cloyne to debouch into Youghal Bay near Ballymacoda.

With the most unfortunate timing, the fortified house at Ightermurragh was built in 1641 by the seemingly happily married Edmund Supple and his wife Margaret Fitzgerald ‘whom love binds as one‘ as proclaimed by the Latin inscription over the principal fireplace on the ground floor.

They built a four square three story block of rubble limestone with basement and attics. The main block runs east-west with a square, full height, central projection on the south front to house the arched entrance door. The north front is similar, but it housed the ‘back door’ or servant’s door at the foot of the wooden staircase that rose the full height of the building. The different floors are identified on the exterior by  string courses. The windows are square stone mullioned openings of various sizes with hood mouldings. They are entirely typical of the early seventeenth century architecture of early Stuart Ireland.

The house had seven tall chimneys with corresponding fine fireplaces in various rooms of the house from the ground floor to the second floor. There was one oddity of Ightermurragh worth remarking on. When we build houses in Ireland today, we like to have the largest windows on the south west to capture the best of the day’s light.  But when Edmund and Margaret built their new house, the best views were to the east over what appears to have been a walled garden. The entire west gable end was built without a single window. Indeed this end of the house consists of a huge chimney fed by the vast kitchen fireplace in the basement and by another fireplace on each of the first and the second floors.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Ightermurragh viewed from the south-west showing the entirely windowless west gable wall. This wall consists of a single great chimney. Note the box machicolation over the entrance door – and indication of the often unsettled conditions of early modern Imokilly.

Ightermurragh is the best preserved seventeenth century fortified house in East Cork. It lacks just the roof and the internal timber floors and partitions. Oh, and the leaded glass casements are gone from the stone-mullioned windows too.

In all, Ightermurragh must have been one of the best houses built in Imokilly before the Cromwellian invasion. It was clearly a modern, well built, well lit house with plenty of heating available from its numerous fireplaces. However  Ightermurragh also looked backwards – it was a defended or fortified house. The principal entrance was protected by a ‘box machicolation’ on the parapet. This parapet ran all around the top of the house. There were holes for muskets to protect the entrance and other parts of the house. It should be recalled that there were no police to keep order when robbers attacked a dwelling.

Alas, Edmund Supple and his wife, Margaret Fitzgerald, had little time to enjoy their fine house. In 1642, the Great Catholic Rebellion had spread countrywide to all parts of Ireland….although Imokilly was relatively quiet until 1645. One night, Edmund, Margaret and their little child had to flee in the face of serious armed threats, presumably from the Protestant forces in Cork led by Lord Inchquin and Lord Broghill.

With the Cromwellian settlement of 1653,  Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill  who was now Lord President of Munster, awarded himself the Fitzgerald lands of Castlemartyr and also took for himself Ightermurragh. – the Ightermurragh holding was some 620 acres spread over five townlands.

With the Restoration in 1660, the Supples tried to recover their lands by a lawsuit. However, Boyle, now Earl of Orrery, was to entrenched to be moved.

Ightermurragh West Gable

The inner face of the west gable wall displays the huge kitchen fireplace (which has a bread oven) in the basement, with a small ruined fireplace on the first floor and a fine preserved fireplace on the second floor. Note the complete lack of windows on this wall.

By 1750 Ightermurragh was leased to a gentleman called Smith . He had a most unfortunate experience one night. Some robbers, apparently from Cloyne, got into the castle and began to threaten Smith to make him divulge his money. He gave was money he had in the house at the time but it wasn’t enough. It appears that Smith was really a farmer and not a particularly wealthy man. Failing to find any further money in their search of the house, the gang took Smith down to the kitchen. There they tied him to the spit in the huge fireplace – it was big enough to roast a whole ox. Smith was roasted over his own kitchen fire until the robbers were finally convinced that he had no more money in the house.  With dawn approaching, the robbers grabbed their loot and fled into the darkness. Poor Smith finally got himself untied from the kitchen spit and, severely traumatised by his experience, fled to his relatives in Rathcoursey. It would seem that the robbers were never identified, caught or punished. It seems an appropriate story to recount at Halloween.

After this, Ightermurragh was abandoned although the Earl of Shannon, Boyle’s successor, did try to prevent the locals from looting the stonework in the later 19th century.  Ightermurragh stands today as a gaunt reminder of how promise could turn sour in a very short time.  

Samhain/Halloween in Irish folklore.

The Turnip Jack O'Lantern is the Irish Halloween tradition - the use of pumpkins is an American idea.

The turnip Jack O’Lantern is the Irish Halloween tradition – the use of pumpkins is an American idea which, sadly, has caught on in Ireland.  .

As we enter the dark half of the year, in Ireland tonight we are celebrating Halloween or, more properly, Samhain. Our ancient feast of Samhain was partially replaced by the Christian feast of All Saints or All Hallows on 1st November. This feast pushed the ancient pre-Christian observances of Samhain to the evening of 31st October – the Eve of All Hallows or Halloween. The Feasts of All Hallows and All Souls (2nd November) both commemorate the dead, and Samhain was a liminal festival which marked a time when the division between the world of the living and the world of spirits and the dead is very faint and it is possible to pass from one to the other. It also marked the end of the old year and the start of the new year in the ancient Irish calendar. Sadly, Halloween has become a celebration of b-movie fright nights rather than a time to reflect on the dead. The blog Irish Archaeology has highlighted the folk traditions that were recorded by the Irish Folklore Commission in the 1930s. The Commission asked schoolchildren to interview elderly people about their memories and local traditions. These recollections were written out in school copy books and are now preserved in the Department of Folklore in University College Dublin.

The website Dúchas has published examples of these Halloween recollections:

http://www.duchas.ie/download/15.10.23-halloween.pdf

For the blog Irish Archaeology: http://irisharchaeology.ie.

http://irisharchaeology.ie/2015/10/halloween-in-irish-folklore/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+irisharchaeology%2FdNsJ+%28Irish+Archaeology%29