A Clerical Wizard—Witchcraft cured by a Relic— Raising the Devil in Ireland —How he was cheated by a Doctor of Divinity—Stewart and the Fairies—Rev. Robert Blair and the Man possessed with a Devil—Strange Occurrences near Limerick—Apparitions of Murdered People at portadown — charmed lives — visions and Portents—Petition of a Bewitched Antrim Man in England—Archbishop Usher's Prophecies — Mr. Browne and the Locked Chest
An interesting trial of a clergyman for the practice of unhallowed arts took place early in 1606—interesting and valuable, if for no other reason than that it is the first instance of such a case being discovered in the Rolls at the Record Office (not counting those of the Parliament of 1447), though we hope that it will not prove to be a unique entry, but rather the earnest of others. Shorn of legal redundancies it runs as follows : " Inquiry taken before our lord the King at the King's Court the Saturday next after the three weeks of Easter in the 6th year of James I by the oath of upright and lawful men of the County of Louth. Who say, that John Aston, late of Mellifont, Co. Louth, clerk, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being wholly seduced by the devil, on December 1st at Mellifont aforesaid, and on divers other days and places, wickedly and feloniously used, practised, and exercised divers invocations and conjurings of wicked and lying spirits with the intent and purpose that he might find and recover a certain silver cup formerly taken away at Mellifont aforesaid, and also that he might understand where and in what region the most wicked traitor Hugh, Earl of Tyrone, then was, and what he was contriving against the said lord the King and the State of this kingdom of Ireland, and also that he might find out and obtain divers treasures of gold and silver concealed in the earth at Mellifont aforesaid and at Cashel in the county of the Cross of Tipperary, feloniously and against the peace of the said lord the King. It is to be known that the aforesaid John was taken, and being a prisoner in the Castle of the City of Dublin by warrant of the lord King was sent into England, therefore further proceedings shall cease."1 His ultimate fate is not known ; nor is it easy to see why punishment was not meted out to him in Ireland, as he had directly contravened section 4 of the Elizabethan Act. Possibly the case was unique, and so King James may have been anxious to examine in person such an interesting specimen. If so, heaven help the poor parson in the grip of such a witch hunter.
In the year 1609 there comes from the County of Tipperary a strange story of magical spells being counteracted by the application of a holy relic ; this is preserved for us in that valuable monastic record, the Triumphalia S. Crucis. At Holy Cross Abbey, near Thurles, there was preserved for many years with the greatest veneration a supposed fragment of the True Cross, which attracted vast numbers of people, and by which it was said many wonderful miracles were worked. Amongst those that came thither in that year was " Anastasia Sobechan, an inhabitant of the district of Callan (co. Kilkenny), tortured by magical spells (veneficis incantationibus collisa), who at the Abbey, in presence of the Rev. Lord Abbot Bernard [Foulow], placed a girdle round her body that had touched the holy relic. Suddenly she vomited small pieces of cloth and wood, and for a whole month she spat out from her body such things. The said woman told this miracle to the Rev. Lord Abbot while she was healed by the virtue of the holy Cross. This he took care to set down in writing".
1 Enrolment of Pleas, 6 James 1, memb. 2 (Queen's Bench).
That most diligent gleaner of things strange and uncommon, Mr. Robert Law, to whom we are deeply indebted for much of the matter in this volume, informs us in his Memorialls that in the first half of the seventeenth century there was to be found in Ireland a celebrated Doctor of Divinity, in Holy Orders of the Episcopal Church, who possessed extreme adroitness in raising the Devil—a process that some would have us believe to be commonly practised in Ireland at the present day by persons who have no pretensions to a knowledge of the Black Art ! Mr. Law also gives the modus operandi at full length. A servant-girl in the employment of Major-General Montgomerie at Irvine in Scotland was accused of having stolen some silver-work. "The lass being innocent takes it ill, and tells them, If she should raise the Devil she should know who took these things." Thereupon, in order to summon that Personage she went into a cellar, " takes the Bible with her, and draws a circle about her, and turns a riddle on end from south to north, or from the right to the left hand [i.e. contrary to the path of the sun in the heavens], having in her right hand nine feathers which she pulled out of the tail of a black cock, and having read the 51st [Psalm ?] forwards, she reads backwards chapter ix., verse 19, of the Book of Revelation." Upon this the Devil appeared to her, and told her who was the guilty person. She then cast three of the feathers at him, and bade him return to the place from whence he came. This process she repeated three times, until she had gained all the information she desired ; she then went upstairs and told her mistress, with the result that the goods were ultimately recovered. But escaping Scylla she fell into Charybdis ; her uncanny practices came to the ears of the authorities, and she was apprehended. When in prison she confessed that she had learnt this particular branch of the Black Art in the house of Dr. Colville in Ireland, who habitually practised it.
That instructor of youth in such unchristian practices, the Rev. Alexander Colville, D.D., was ordained in 1622 and subsequently held the vicarage of Carn-money, the prebend of Carncastle, and the Precentorship of Connor. He was possessed of considerable wealth, with which he purchased the Galgorm estate, on which he resided ; this subsequently passed into the Mountcashel family through the marriage of his great granddaughter with Stephen Moore, first Baron Kilworth and Viscount Mountcashel. Where Dr. Colville got the money to purchase so large an estate no one could imagine, and Classon Porter in his useful pamphlet relates for us the manner in which popular rumour solved the problem. It was said that he had sold himself to the Devil, and that he had purchased the estate with the money his body and soul had realised. Scandal even went further still, and gave the exact terms which Dr. Colville had made with the Evil One. These were, that the Devil was at once to give the Doctor his hat full of gold, and that the latter was in return, at a distant but specified day, to deliver himself body and soul to the Devil. The appointed place of meeting was a lime-kiln ; the Devil may have thought that this was a delicate compliment to him on account of the peculiarly homelike atmosphere of the spot, but the Doctor had different ideas. The Devil produced the gold, whereupon Dr. Colville produced a hat with a wide slit in the crown, which he boldly held over the empty kiln-pit, with the result that by the time the terms of the bargain were literally complied with, a very considerable amount of gold lay at the Doctor's disposal, which he prudently used to advance his worldly welfare.