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The Burning of Bridget Cleary (2000)

by Angela Bourke

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356356,852 (3.45)19
In 1895, Bridget Cleary, a strong-minded and independent young woman, disappeared from her house in rural Tipperary. At first her family claimed she had been taken by fairies-but then her badly burned body was found in a shallow grave. Bridget's husband, father, aunt, and four cousins were arrested and tried for murder, creating one of the first mass media sensations in Ireland and England as people tried to make sense of what had happened. Meanwhile, Tory newspapers in Ireland and Britain seized on the scandal to discredit the cause of Home Rule, playing on lingering fears of a savage Irish peasantry. Combining historical detective work, acute social analysis, and meticulous original scholarship, Angela Bourke investigates Bridget's murder.… (more)
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The Burning of Bridget Cleary is by Angela Bourke, a one-time senior lecturer in Irish History at the University College, Dublin. In 1895, Bridget Cleary of County Tipperary caught a bad cold which possibly developed into bronchitis but her husband Michael decided she’s been taken by faeries. After trying to treat this doppelganger with various home remedies such as herbs and milk, sprinkling her with urine, placing burning objects in her mouth she was beaten and burned to death. When her body was discovered in a shallow grave, the Royal Irish Constabulary saw this murder as evidence of the backwardness of the Irish and hence justification of British rule. A group of men and women were rounded up, arrested and charged with her murder. The accused Irish set forth a case that they had justifiably killed a fairy changeling.

The author chose to use this story as an example of the collision of cultures that were on-going in the Irish/British disputes. Unfortunately I felt the case was a weak one, the evidence showed that Bridget and her husband Michael were not getting along, she was barren, opinionated and perhaps overly flirtatious. Wanting to be master in his own house, Michael had both beaten and threatened her previously. I believe Michael played upon his neighbours jealousy and ignorance which induced mass hysteria that had them believing in the fairy story when in truth Bridget fell victim to Michael’s anger.

I didn’t love this book, finding that it read much like someone’s term paper analyzing culture, politics, religion and mythology. The case was horrific, but I think the author stretched out her information to the point of watering down the story. There was so much unrelated information that the narrative had no clear direction and was quite confusing at times. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jan 17, 2020 |
Just in time for Halloween, I finished reading The Burning of Bridget Cleary. The book is a very good narrative and analysis of the mysterious death of 26-year-old Bridget Cleary on March 15, 1895 in Ballyvadlea, Ireland. Apparently Bridget was believed by her family to have been taken away by "the fairies" and a sickly changeling left in her place. In the course of trying to determine if the Bridget in his house was really his wife, her husband Michael exploded into a rage and Bridget either caught fire or was intentionally ignited. Author Angela Bourke expertly places us in the politics and culture of the time, helping us to understand what might have caused seemingly rational people to behave in a way that is nearly inexplainable. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, folklore, true crime, the supernatural, or sociology. ( )
  bibliothecarivs | Feb 1, 2009 |
This was a great narrative, with tons of documentation, of a burning of a woman "posessed by fairies" in the late 19th Century in Ireland. What will stick with me: the notion of ancient ideas in more primitive society of balancing (crime, money, responsiblity, reality/fantasy, etc.) as opposed to today's prescribed and equally imposed punishments, consequences, etc. ( )
  rfewell | Jan 27, 2009 |
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For Louis and in Memory of Adele Dalsimer 1939-2000
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The Winter of 1894/95 was exceptionally hard, with February 1895 the coldest yet recorded in many parts of Ireland and Britain.
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In 1895, Bridget Cleary, a strong-minded and independent young woman, disappeared from her house in rural Tipperary. At first her family claimed she had been taken by fairies-but then her badly burned body was found in a shallow grave. Bridget's husband, father, aunt, and four cousins were arrested and tried for murder, creating one of the first mass media sensations in Ireland and England as people tried to make sense of what had happened. Meanwhile, Tory newspapers in Ireland and Britain seized on the scandal to discredit the cause of Home Rule, playing on lingering fears of a savage Irish peasantry. Combining historical detective work, acute social analysis, and meticulous original scholarship, Angela Bourke investigates Bridget's murder.

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