Bridget Cleary The “Changeling”

On the evening of March 14th 1895, William Simpson, a neighbor of Bridget and Michael Cleary visited their home on a friendly visit. Bridget had been suffering from influenza recently, and Mr. Simpson along with his wife were visiting out of concern for her condition (Lloyd’s Weekly).

On entering the residence, the two were greeted by an unusual scene. Nine individuals were in the house excluding Bridget herself. Four men were pinning Bridget down on her bed. She appeared to be in the midst of a hysterical fit. Michael was standing above Bridget holding a pot of herbs he had obtained from the “fairy doctor” Denis Ganey (Belfast News-Letter).

It appeared Michael, along with Bridget’s family believed that Bridget had been abducted by fairies and replaced with a changeling. This abduction would explain her recent illness as well as the accompanying fits of hysteria. According to folklore torturing a changeling will cause the fairies to return and reclaim their own, leaving the original person behind (The Bristol Mercury).

As Michael stood over his wife with his pot of fairy banishing herbs he repeated the question “Are you Bridget Boland wife of Michael Cleary Ballyvadlea, in the name of God?” To which Bridget weakly replied “Yes I am” (Freeman’s Journal). Michael proceeded to force feed his wife the herb. The culprits proceeded to pour water and wine over Bridget’s chest (Freeman’s Journal). Patrick Boland, Bridget’s father, then took up the mantle standing above his daughter. He continued with the questioning asking her, “Are you the daughter of Pat Boland, answer in the name of the father, son and holy ghost (Freeman’s Journal). By this point in time Bridget was to exhausted to reply. Failing to get the desired reaction from her they moved on to another method of torture. One of the men said, “make down a good fire and we’ll burn her and make her answer” (Freeman’s Journal). They picked Bridget up and carried her over to the kitchen fire they placed her over the fire for about ten minutes, poking and prodding her with a hot iron poker. The fire returned to Bridget some of her energy, kicking and screaming, she was removed from the fire and carried back to the bed (Lloyd’s Weekly). This torture continued for the rest of the night and into the next day. William Simpson claims to have seen her March 15th around noon, confined to her bed, a shadow of her former self (Lloyd’s Weekly).

Bridget’s body was discovered two days later in a shallow grave in the bottom of a ditch. She was badly burned including a burn in her abdomen so bad her skin has charred through, exposing her intestines (Hampshire Telegraph). The nine accomplices along with the “fairy doctor” Denis Gavey were arrested under suspicion of murder.


Works Cited

“Belfast: April 5 1895”, The Belfast News-Letter, Friday, April 5, 1895

“Burning a Wife,” Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 31, 1895.

“The Tipperary Tragedy”, Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, Tuesday, April 2, 1985.

“THE “WITCH” OF CLONMEL”, Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc. Saturday, April 6, 1895.

“The Witch Burning Case”, The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Saturday, April 6, 1985.