Do you believe in Fairy Stories?

Bridget Boland & husband Michael Cleary

Bridget and her husband Michael

Bridget Boland was born at Ballyvadlea, between the towns of Drangan and Cloneen in County Tipperary on 19th February 1867. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Patrick Boland and Bridget Keating. She attended Convent School in Drangan and was later apprenticed to a dressmaker. On 6th August 1887, she married a local cooper [barrel-maker] named Michael Cleary, after which she worked successfully as a dressmaker and egg seller. The couple remained childless and Bridget was recognized to be an unusually independent woman for this era in rural Ireland.

After her mother died in 1894, Bridget developed a habit of visiting the so-called fairy forts in the district. Local superstition named such places as haunts of the fey folk. Perhaps Bridget was seeking supernatural help to overcome her infertility.

Bridget became severely ill on 6th March 1895. Her headache, fever, and congestion were diagnosed as bronchitis by the local doctor, but family members thought that her lassitude indicated a clear case of fairy stroke. Michael Cleary, in particular, became convinced that his wife’s spirit had been stolen by the fairies.

As a consequence, for the next nine days, Bridget was forced to endure the rigours of a secret fairy trial. Bridget’s family and neighbors confined her to the house, and then doused her with urine and hens’ dung to keep the evil fairies away. Next, Bridget was force-fed all manner of odious potions and dry herbs. At the peak of the “trial,” Michael scarred his sickly wife with red-hot fire brands in an effort to force the occupying fairy within Bridget to release her good spirits, and enable her to make a recovery. The wicked fairy was not to be overpowered, and retaliated by weakening Bridget even more.

In the predawn hours of March 16th, Bridget was dressed in her best clothes and taken before the hearth where her husband doused her with lamp oil and burned her to death. Bridget’s body was then wrapped in a sheet and buried in a shallow grave in a bog ditch little more than 1000 yards from the Cleary cottage. The body was discovered five days later and a coroner’s inquest was held. Nine of Bridget’s family members were arrested on charges of murder. The subsequent trial became a religious and political showcase in which different parties attempted to quash potential Home Rule for Ireland by denigrating the whole population as superstitious primitives. Prominent Catholic churchmen who attempted to defend the actions of a grief-stricken family were duly rounded on and made a laughing stock as supporters of supernatural nonsense. “What is the difference in believing in God and his angels, as opposed to the Devil and his demonic fairies?” This was the national argument in the Spring of 1895.

1895 photo (Bridget Cleary's grave, Drangan)

Four stones between the cemetery wall and the crucifix indicate Bridget’s final resting place

In the end, Michael Cleary was convicted of manslaughter and served fifteen years of his twenty year sentence at hard labor. Bridget’s elderly father, Patrick Boland, served six months hard labor. Several cousins and an uncle of the deceased also served sentences between three to five years.

Bridget’s body, unclaimed by her incarcerated kin, and untouched by the local RC church reluctant to associate themselves with a scandal so steeped in superstition, was quietly buried one evening by two constables just outside the churchyard wall at the Drangan and Cloneen Parish Church, not far from her mother’s grave within the Holy Cemetery.

The Poteen Wars

Retrieved evidence verifies that the wild residents of the Ox Mountains in County Sligo, and in particular the Catholic parishioners of Kilmacteigue living by the Windy Gap overlooking Lough Talt, were highly-regarded distillers of some of the finest Mountain Dew ever sipped in Ireland. Highly-regarded, that is, by fellow aficionados of the home-brewed spirit known as Poteen. The British authorities and later the Civic Guard of the Irish Free State took a different view to the producers and imbibers of duty-free liquor.

As a result, an ongoing clandestine war was fought around the south Sligo mountains and boglands for centuries. The policing agencies always boasted of victories in isolated skirmishes, but truth be told, the distillers were never beaten. The “illegal” trading of mysterious lethal brews still persists to this day – albeit that the receptacles containing the wondrous concoction are more likely to be discarded white lemonade bottles these days (if the plastic does not melt).

The newspaper articles below give a “taster” of the never-ending Poteen War:

1923 A Poteen Case

                 1923: the judge and police know the flavour (of                                         confiscated hooch)

1926 Poteen #2

                                   1926 …. One -Nil

1926 Poteen #3

                                            1926 ….. Two – Nil

1926 Poteen Captures

                                          1926 …. Three – Nil

1926 Poteen Making

1926 ….. Three – One (Cloongoonagh fights back)

1926 Poteen Traffic

1926 ….. Three – Two (no prosecutions in No Man’s                                             Land)

1926 sick cow

1926 ….. Three – Three (if all else fails, use the sick                                                     cow defence)

“ANOTHER ONE” led to the Civic Guards retreating to their Barracks in Aclare. The Poteen Pushers could not be stopped. Casual visitors to Cloongoonagh carried on their everyday business. Christmas was coming. Everybody was happy – even the Guards and the Judge, sampling the finest Mountain Dew prior to enjoying their fattened goose dinners.

If you want to know how to make Mad Man’s Soup follow this link at your peril:

Poteen Making