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Sean Kelley (
Posted on Sunday, July 21, 2002 - 10:20 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I've finally got around to reading Angela Bourke's book
"The Burning of Bridget Cleary". I had the pleasure of
sitting in on a lecture of hers at Harvard over ten years
ago. It is a remarkable book; so much so that I had
to read it quickly as my wife was eager to read it too.

It covers the fate of Bridget Cleary in rural Tiperary
in 1895. But more importantly it describes the two
different "views" of the incident.

Part of her argument is that the belief in seanchas
and the old system of using the supernatural to explain
events and physical conditions is a way to smooth
the unexplicable and maintain cohesiveness in a closed
rural society. The "modern" Ireland and the codefication
of a system of laws requires an individual to act regardless
of the group/community. As the rules of society are
codified so it is expected of the individual to be aware
of them and to so act as to prevent their violation.
The court was incredulous that the other eight or so
accused besides Michael Cleary did not act to save her.
I get the impression that a part of what Angela is trying
to say is that within the "old" mentality, they fell back
on using their "seanchas" or "fairy" stories to mask
over the clear homicide and spousal abuse. For a small
community to survive, confrontation would ultimately be
more destructive. So this liquid sort of "old" view would
permit this type of occurrence and attempt to smooth them
over with attribution to changelings/fairy abduction because the needs of the many outway the needs of the one. I hope
I'm making sense in what I am saying it is hard for me
to describe. I look forward to other opinions.


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Doreen Ford Bruscell (
Posted on Thursday, August 15, 2002 - 04:35 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

A Chara:
Sorry it took so long to respond.(I expected to return here and find an on-going discussion!)
What seems important is that those involved, from the outset, were treated as a group and not as individuals who made independent decisions. The author points out that any one of these people could have been placed on a scale and fall anywhere from total belief to almost total disbelief in fairies. Yet, in order for a political point to be made by those in opposition to Home Rule, i.e., 'the Irish are incapable of governing themselves', this was necessary.
What is not really touched on (unless I missed it, in which case I apologize to the author) is the loss of language. The so-called "Fairy Faith" had its growth within the Irish Language. I don't think one can fully understand any culture without an understanding of the language in which that culture flourished.
There was another book published shortly after Angela Bourke's, which the SF Chronicle reviewed along with it. The title is "The Cooper's Wife is Missing", by Joan Hoff and Marian Yeates. I am about half way through it, so you may hear from me again when I'm done.

Le Meas

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