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Derry Girls star’s new single inspired by witch trials

Haunting new single from NI duo inspired by 1711 Islandmagee witch trials

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STORY TELLERS: Vokxen featuring Claire and Beccy

STORY TELLERS: Vokxen featuring Claire and Beccy

STORY TELLERS: Vokxen featuring Claire and Beccy

A Derry Girls star who performs with a Belfast-based synth-pop group is bringing a little bit of magic to their new single about the Islandmagee Witch Trials in Co Antrim.

Vocalist, harpist and keyboard player Claire McCartney is joined by friend and fellow musician Beccy Henderson in the 80s-tinged electro-pop duo Vokxen.

Beccy is best known for playing Aisling in Derry Girls and worked as puppeteer on many lead characters on Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

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ROLE: Beccy Henderson (far left) in Derry Girls

ROLE: Beccy Henderson (far left) in Derry Girls

ROLE: Beccy Henderson (far left) in Derry Girls

Her creative flair comes through in their unique performances, the last of which was on Friday, March 13, 2020, where she took her puppeteering skills to the stage during their live gig to tell the story of the famous local witch trials.

In the band, Beccy sings backing vocals, plays bass synth and even helps to write songs alongside bandmate Claire who performs lead vocals.

“We put on a gig called The Song of the Bones, where we told the story of the Islandmagee Witch Trials using our electro-pop music alongside spoken word poetry by Alice McCullough, drums by David McLaughlin of The Blue Man Group and beautiful puppetry built and mastered by performers of London’s flagship puppet theatre, Little Angel,” said Beccy.

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Belfast-based synth-pop group Vokxen

Belfast-based synth-pop group Vokxen

Belfast-based synth-pop group Vokxen

“It was a really different and conceptual type of gig, but it was so cool.”

Vokxen’s new music is being released during their annual Vokxtober celebrations and follows on from the story of the famous witch trials.

The “spooky advent style countdown” of Vokxtober sees the pair reveal brand new music, videos, interviews and much more throughout the month of October on Instagram, including their new single, Sanctuary (The Witches Stone) which draws on the popular Irish folk story.

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SHOWCASE: Claire and Beccy will reveal new material during ‘Vokxtober’

SHOWCASE: Claire and Beccy will reveal new material during ‘Vokxtober’

SHOWCASE: Claire and Beccy will reveal new material during ‘Vokxtober’

Claire said that the song, which is made from “haunting harmonies, atmospheric soundscapes and harp riffs” is reflective of the coastline on which the song is based.

“The track rises and swells — just like the sea by the mystical coastline of Islandmagee in Co Antrim where the trials took place,” she explained.

The Islandmagee Witch Trials of 1711 saw eight women put to trial and found guilty of witchcraft.

“It is believed to have been the last ever witch trial to take place in Ireland. The women were put in stocks and then jailed for one year.

The trial was the result of claims by a Mrs Haltridge that one of the women — 18-year-old Mary Dunbar — exhibited signs of demonic possession such as “shouting, swearing, blaspheming, throwing Bibles, going into fits every time a clergyman came near her and vomiting household items such as pins, buttons, nails, glass and wool”.

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TRAVESTY: A depiction of the trial in Islandmagee where the accused were found guilty of witchcraft

TRAVESTY: A depiction of the trial in Islandmagee where the accused were found guilty of witchcraft

TRAVESTY: A depiction of the trial in Islandmagee where the accused were found guilty of witchcraft

Assisted by local authorities, Dunbar picked out eight women she claimed were witches that had attacked her in spectral form.

During the arrest of the eight women, they were set upon by a frenzied mob and one of the accused lost an eye. Upon release, all of the women were ostracised from the community.

Beccy told Sunday Life that they first started researching the Islandmagee Witch Trials a few years ago.

“There was a surge in the pop culture fascination of witches and witchcraft around that time and we were intrigued by it,” she said. “So, we took to researching native witch trials and digging up the stories from our own island.

“We actually went to Islandmagee a number of times and spoke with locals and academics who knew the subject, as well as reading lots of different books and articles on the subject — anything we could find really.”

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Synth player Beccy Henderson is best known for playing Aisling in Derry Girls

Synth player Beccy Henderson is best known for playing Aisling in Derry Girls

Synth player Beccy Henderson is best known for playing Aisling in Derry Girls

Beccy added that it is important to stress the reality that these women were not witches.

“They were women,” she said, “and with this in mind, we were striving to create a compassionate retelling of the stories of the Islandmagee Witch Trials.”

She said that this new song is inspired by The Witches Stone — a stone covered in unexplainable scratches that the locals claim the witches clung to when being taken during Ireland’s only mass witch trial in 1711.

“Our song follows a woman being hunted down under the accusation of witchcraft, searching for sanctuary,” explained Claire. “But instead, as she reaches the stone, she is caught — she grips the stone so desperately her fingers bore into the surface.

“She is taken away and her scores are left in the stone for ever.”

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Vocalist, harpist and keyboard player for Vokxen Claire McCartney

Vocalist, harpist and keyboard player for Vokxen Claire McCartney

Vocalist, harpist and keyboard player for Vokxen Claire McCartney

Vokxen’s 2018 singles, Running and Crystal Eyes, received dazzling reviews, blog features (Clash, Hot Press, BBC) and a commercial radio playlist spot.

The band are the 2021 awardees of the Northword Creative Practitioners Fund.

Northword’s Bringing Stories to Life involves chosen artists from five countries — Russia, Sweden, Finland, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Vokxen will be presenting this music as an international showcase and digital app in 2022.


  • Sanctuary: The Witches Stone was released last week with the video using traditional puppetry to help tell the story.
  • You can follow Vokxen on Instagram and Facebook.

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