We now come to the last instance of witches being tried and convicted in Ireland as offenders against the laws of the realm —the celebrated Island-Magee case. There is a very scarce published account of this, said to have been compiled by an eyewitness, and entitled : " A Narrative of the sufferings of a young girl called Mary Dunbar, who was strangely molested by spirits and witches, at Mr. James Halt-ridge's house, parish of Island Magee, near Carrigfergus, in the County of Antrim, and Province of Ulster, in Ireland, and in some other places to which she was removed during her disorder ; as also of the aforesaid Mr. Haltridge's house being haunted by spirits in the latter end of 1710 and beginning of 1711." This continued for many years in manuscript, but in 1822 it was printed as a pamphlet at Belfast, under the editorship of M'Skimin, author of the History of Carrigfergus. This pamphlet we have not seen ; but full particulars of the entire case can be obtained by combining the following sources of information, viz. Wright's Narratives of Sorcery and Witchcraft; the Dublin Universify Magazine, vol. lxxxii. ; a letter by Dr. Tisdall, the Vicar of Belfast, in the Hibernian Magazine for January 1775 ; Classon Porter's pamphlet ; M'Skimin's History of Carrigfergus (ed. M'Crum, 1909) ; while the depositions that were taken are published in Young's Historical Notices of Old Belfast, pp. 161-4.
The actual trial of the witches was preceded by a series of most extraordinary incidents. In September 1710, Mrs. Anne Haltridge, widow of the Rev. John Haltridge, late Presbyterian minister at Island Magee, while staying in the house of her son, James Haltridge of the same place, suffered great annoyance every night from some invisible object, which threw stones and turf at her bed, the force of the blow often causing the curtains to open, and even drawing them from one end of the bed to the other. About the same time, also, the pillows were taken from under her head, and the clothes pulled off; and though a strict search was made, nothing could be discovered. Continuing to be annoyed in this way she removed to another room, being afraid to remain in her own any longer.
Then about the 11th of December, as she was sitting in the twilight at the kitchen fire, a little boy came in and sat down beside her. He appeared to be about eleven or twelve years old, with short black hair, having an old black bonnet on his head, a half-worn blanket about him trailing on the floor, and a torn vest under it, and kept his face covered with the blanket held before it. Mrs. Haltridge asked him several questions : Where he came from ? Where he was going ? Was he cold or hungry ? and so on ; but instead of answering her he got up and danced very nimbly round the kitchen, and then ran out of the house and disappeared in the cow-shed. The servants ran after him, but he was nowhere to be seen ; when they returned to the house, however, there he was beside them. They tried to catch him, but every time they attempted it he ran off and could not be found. At last one of the servants, seeing the master's dog coming in, cried out that her master was returning home, and that he would soon catch the troublesome creature, upon which he immediately vanished, nor were they troubled with him again till February 1711.
On the 11th of that month, which happened to be a Sunday, old Mrs. Haltridge was reading Dr. Wedderburn's Sermons on the Covenant, when, laying the book aside for a little while, nobody being in the room all the time, it was suddenly taken away. She looked for it everywhere, but could not find it. On the following day the apparition already referred to came to the house, and breaking a pane of glass in one of the windows, thrust in his hand with the missing volume in it. He began to talk with one of the servants, Margaret Spear, and told her that he had taken the book when everybody was down in the kitchen, and that her mistress would never get it again. The girl asked him if he could read it, to which he replied that he could, adding that the Devil had taught him. Upon hearing this extraordinary confession she exclaimed, " The Lord bless me from thee ! Thou hast got ill lear (learning)." He told her she might bless herself as often as she liked, but that it could not save her ; whereupon he produced a sword, and threatened to kill everybody in the house. This frightened her so much that she ran into the parlour and fastened the door, but the apparition laughed at her, and declared that he could come in by the smallest hole in the house like a cat or mouse, as the Devil could make him anything he pleased. He then took up a large stone, and hurled it through the parlour window, which, upon trial, could not be put out at the same place. A little after the servant and child looked out, and saw the apparition catching the turkey-cock, which he threw over his shoulder, holding him by the tail ; and the bird making a great sputter with his feet, the stolen book was spurred out of the loop in the blanket where the boy had put it. He then leaped over a wall with the turkey-cock on his back. Presently the girl saw him endeavouring to draw his sword to kill the bird, but it escaped. Missing the book out of his blanket he ran nimbly up and down in search of it, and then with a club came and broke the glass of the parlour window. The girl again peeped out through the kitchen window, and saw him digging with his sword. She summoned up courage to ask him what he was doing, and he answered, " Making a grave for a corpse which will come out of this house very soon." He refused, however, to say who it would be, but having delivered himself of this enlivening piece of information, flew over the hedge as if he had been a bird.
For a day or two following nothing happened, but on the morning of the 15th the clothes were mysteriously taken off Mrs. Haltridge's bed, and laid in a bundle behind it. Being put back by some of the family they were again removed, and this time folded up and placed under a large table which happened to be in the room. Again they were laid in order on the bed, and again they were taken off, and this third time made up in the shape of a corpse, or something that very closely resembled it. When this strange news spread through the neighbourhood many persons came to the house, and, after a thorough investigation lest there might be a trick in the matter, were obliged to acknowledge that there was some invisible agent at work. Mr. Robert Sinclair, the Presbyterian minister of the place, with John Man and Reynold Leaths, two of his Elders, stayed the whole of that day and the following night with the distressed family, spending much of the time in prayer. At night Mrs. Haltridge went to bed as usual in the haunted room, but got very little rest, and at about twelve o'clock she cried out suddenly as if in great pain. Upon Mr. Sinclair asking her what was the matter, she said she felt as if a knife had been stuck into her back. Next morning she quitted the haunted room and went to another ; but the violent pain never left her back, and at the end of the week, on the 22nd of February, she died. During her illness the clothes were frequently taken off the bed which she occupied, and made up like a corpse, and even when a table and chairs were laid upon them to keep them on, they were mysteriously removed without any noise, and made up as before ; but this never happened when anyone was in the room.