Author says witch trial women deserve pardon

Martina Devlin, who penned the new book 'The House Where It Happened'.  INLT 07-679-CON
Martina Devlin, who penned the new book 'The House Where It Happened'. INLT 07-679-CON

The author behind a new book on the Islandmagee witch trial has been left “saddened” by a Larne councillor’s comments on the subject.

Writer Martina Devlin has penned a novel, ‘The House Where It Happened’, telling the story of eight Islandmagee women who were tried and convicted in a Carrick court for witchcraft over 300 years ago, in what is believed to have been the last witch trial in Ireland.

She also requested that Larne Council erect a small memorial to the women, and the local authority has agreed to place a plaque in the area of the new Gobbins Visitor Centre.

However, TUV Alderman Jack McKee hit out at the plan, describing it as “anti-God”. At a recent council meeting, he said he “could not tell whether or not the women had been rightly or wrongly convicted as he didn’t have the facts and was not going to support devil worship”.

In response to the remarks, Ms Devlin told the Times: “Eight innocent women were convicted of witchcraft in 1711. A wrong was done to them then, and I’m saddened that some people continue to believe these poor souls don’t deserve justice, 300 years on.

“Clearly, their reputations are still being questioned today. Everyone’s entitled to their good name, alive or dead. Their only crime was to be poor and friendless, to be old, or plain, or have a deformity. These women deserve a lot more than a plaque to show they lived and died - they deserve a posthumous pardon - it happened following the notorious Salem witch trials in Massachusetts in the 1690s.”

Ms Devlin also spoke of her “disappointment” that two councillors voted against the proposal and a number abstained, adding: “I can only hope they were not fully apprised of the facts. But it is more heartening that the majority showed compassion.”

She has called on the Department of Justice to issue a posthumous pardon for the women, but was told this would require the Queen to extend the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, which only happens in rare circumstances.

She then approached Larne Borough Council about the idea of erecting a small memorial.

“The story has been buried for generations. But to my mind, Larne Borough Council deserves credit for agreeing to mark the fact that these women lived and died - that it’s willing to have their story shared by future generations who can learn from the way the marginalised are scapegoated,” Ms Devlin concluded.