When he uttered these words he fell again atrembling, and was stopped in his speaking, looking lamentably at me, designing me to be the person he aimed at; then he fell a crying and lamenting. I showed him the horribleness of his ignorance and drunkenness ; he made many promises of reformation, which were not well keep'd ; for within a fortnight he went to an alehouse to crave the price of his malt, and sitting there long at drink, as he was going homeward the Devil appeared to him, and challenged him for opening to me what had passed betwixt them secretly, and followed him to the house, pulling his cap off his head and his band from about his neck, saying to him, ' On Hallow-night I shall have thee, soul and body, in despite of the minister and of all that he will do for thee.' "
In his choice of a date his Satanic Majesty showed his respect for popular superstitions. This attack of delirium tremens (though Mr. Blair would not have so explained it) had a most salutary effect ; the constable was in such an abject state of terror lest the Devil should carry him off that he begged Mr. Blair to sit up with him all Hallow-night, which he did, spending the time very profitably in prayer and exhortation, which encouraged the man to defy Satan and all his works. The upshot of the matter was, that he became very charitable to the poor, and seems to have entirely renounced his intemperate habits.1
Rejecting the supernatural element in the above as being merely the fruits of a diseased mind, there is no reason to doubt the truth of the story. Mr. Blair also met with some strange cases of religious hysteria, which became manifest in outbursts of weeping and bodily convulsions, but which he attributed to the Devil's " playing the ape, and counterfeiting the works of the Lord." He states that one Sunday, in the midst of public worship, " one of my charge, being a dull and ignorant person, made a noise and stretching of her body. Incontinent I was assisted to rebuke that lying spirit that disturbed the worship of God, charging the same not to disturb the congregation ; and through God's mercy we met with no more of that work." Thus modestly our writer sets down what happened in his Autobiography; but the account of the incident spread far and wide, and at length came to the ears of Archbishop Usher, who, on his next meeting with Mr. Blair, warmly congratulated him on the successful exorcism he had practised.1
1 Quot. in Law's Memorialls.
If the period treated of in this chapter, viz. from the commencement of the seventeenth century to the Restoration of Charles II, be barren of witchcraft proper, it must at least be admitted that it is prodigal in regard to the marvellous under various shapes and forms, from which the hysterical state of the public mind can be fairly accurately gauged. The rebellion of 1641, and the Cromwellian confiscations, that troubled period when the country was torn by dissention, and ravaged by fire, sword, and pestilence, was aptly ushered in by a series of supernatural events which occurred in the county of Limerick. A letter dated the 13th August 1640, states that "for news we have the strangest that ever was heard of, there inchantments in the Lord of Castleconnell's Castle four miles from Lymerick, several sorts of noyse, sometymes of drums and trumpets, sometimes of other curious musique with heavenly voyces, then fearful screeches, and such outcries that the neighbours near cannot sleepe. Priests have adventured to be there, but have been cruelly beaten for their paynes, and carryed away they knew not how, some two miles and some four miles. Moreover were seen in the like manner, after they appear to the view of the neighbours, infinite number of armed men on foote as well as on horseback. . . . One thing more [i.e. something supernatural] by Mrs. Mary Burke with twelve servants lyes in the house, and never one hurt, onley they must dance with them every night; they say, Mrs. Mary come away, telling her she must be wyfe to the in-chanted Earl of Desmond. . . . Uppon a Mannour of my Lord Bishoppe of Lyme-rick, Loughill, hath been seen upon the hill by most of the inhabitants abound-ance of armed men marching, and these seene many tymes—and when they come up to them they do not appeare. These things are very strange, if the cleargie and gentrie say true."1
1 Witherow, op. cit., pp. 15-16.
During the rebellion an appalling massacre of Protestants took place at Portadown, when about a hundred persons, men, women, and children, were forced over the bridge into the river, and so drowned ; the few that could swim, and so managed to reach the shore, were either knocked on the head by the insurgents when they landed, or else were shot. It is not a matter of surprise that this terrible incident gave rise to legends and stories in which anything strange or out of the common was magnified out of all proportion. According to one deponent there appeared one evening in the river " a vision or spirit assuming the shape of a woman, waist high, upright in the water, naked with [illegible] in her hand, her hair dishevelled, her eyes seeming to twinkle in her head, and her skin as white as snow ; which spirit seeming to stand upright in the water often repeated the word Revenge ! Revenge ! Revenge !" Also Robert Maxwell, Archdeacon of Down, swore that the rebels declared to him, (and some deponents made similar statements) " that most of those that were thrown from that bridge were daily and nightly seen to walk upon the River, sometimes singing Psalms, sometimes brandishing of Swords, sometimes screeching in a most hideous and fearful manner." Both these occurrences are capable of a rational explanation. The supposed spectre was probably a poor, bereaved woman, demented by grief and terror, who stole out of her hiding-place at night to bewail the murder of her friends, while the weird cries arose from the half-starved dogs of the country-side, together with the wolves which abounded in Ireland at that period, quarrelling and fighting over the corpses. Granting the above, and bearing in mind the credulity of all classes of Society, it is not difficult to see how the tales originated ; but to say that, because such obviously impossible statements occur in certain depositions, the latter are therefore worthless as a whole, is to wilfully misunderstand the popular mind of the seventeenth century.
1 Lenihan, History of Limerick, p. 147.