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Women's ordeal must never be buried

By Martina Devlin

Published 14/09/2015

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin

Silence. It's the tried and tested way of burying a story. Always, the impulse has been to deprive Islandmagee's so-called witches of their voices.

Poor and ill-educated, they were condemned on the flimsiest evidence. It's as if they weren't worthy of justice.

Today, the urge to say nothing may be tinged by shame - by the realisation that eight local women were wronged.

Whatever the motivation, silence injures those women all over again. Their voices deserve to be heard.

If you realise you have harmed someone you make reparation. That's surely a tenet of decency. And undoubtedly the eight were victims of prejudice and superstition, sacrificed by a remote Antrim community which turned in on itself and savaged its own.

How can amends be made more than 300 years later?

By reclaiming their names from obscurity, by sharing the details of their fate.

This matters. If a society chooses to forget unsavoury elements of the past, how can steps be taken to prevent similar mistakes occurring?

In 1711, these Ulster-Scots women from Islandmagee and the surrounding area were convicted of witchcraft on one woman's uncorroborated word. After serving a term of imprisonment and the pain and humiliation of the pillory - they faded from history.

The story has resurfaced more than 300 years later, with Dr Andrew Sneddon's fine non-fiction book covering the subject and my own novel, The House Where It Happened.

Now, Islandmagee has an opportunity to help with shaping the discourse round this regrettable episode in history. It could do this through the magnificent Gobbins cliffwalk.

I make this appeal on behalf of the eight women who lie in unmarked graves. Silence now serves as a double injustice.

Please tell their story.

Martina Devlin's latest novel About Sisterland has just been published

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