Nothing further on the subject is recorded until the year 1544, under which date we find the following entry in the table of the red council book of Ireland :
" A letter to Charles FitzArthur for sendinge a witch to the Lord Deputie to be examined".
This note is a most tantalising one. The red council book has been lost, but a succinct " table" of its contents, from which the above has been extracted, and which was apparently compiled by Sir William Usher, has been preserved in Add. MSS. 1792, and published in Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Report, appendix, part 3, but an examination of the original MS. reveals nothing in addition to the above passage ; so, until the lost book is discovered, we must remain in ignorance with respect to the doings of this particular witch.
The next notice of witchcraft in Ireland occurs in the year 1578, when a witch-trial took place at Kilkenny, though here again, unfortunately, no details have been preserved.
In the November of that year sessions were held there by the Lord Justice Drury and Sir Henry Fitton, who, in their letter to the Privy Council on the 20th of the same month, inform that Body that upon arriving at the town " the jail being full we caused sessions immediately to be held. Thirty-six persons were executed, amongst whom were some good ones, a blackamoor and two witches by natural law, for that we find no law to try them by in this realm." 1 It is easy to see why the witches were put to death, but the reason for the negro's execution is not so obvious. It can hardly have been for the colour of his skin, although no doubt a black man was as much a rara avis in the town of Kilkenny as a black swan. Had the words been written at the time the unfortunate negro might well have exclaimed, though in vain, to his judges :
" Mislike me not for my complexion— The shadowed livery of the burning sun".
Or could it have been that he was the unhappy victim of a false etymology! For in old writers the word " necromancy" is spelt " nigromancy," as if divination was practised through the medium of negroes instead of dead persons; indeed in an old vocabulary of 1475 " Nigro-mantia" is defined as " divinatio facta per nigros" He may therefore have been suspected of complicity with the two witches.
1 Carrigan, op. cit., iii. p. 18.
As yet the " natural law" held sway in Ireland, but very soon this country was to be fully equipped with a Statute all to itself. Two Statutes against witchcraft had already been passed in England, one in 1541, which was repealed six years later, and a second in 1562. Partly no doubt on account of the Kilkenny case of 1578, and partly to place Ireland on the same footing as England, a Statute was passed by the Irish Parliament in 1586. Shorn of much legal verbiage the principal points of it may be gathered from the following extracts :
" Where at this present there is no ordinarie ne condigne punishment provided against the practices of the wicked offences of conjurations, and of invocations of evill spirites, and of sorceries, enchauntments, charms, and witchcrafts, whereby manie fantasticall and devilish persons have devised and practised invocations and conjurations of evill and wicked spirites, and have used and practised witchcrafts, enchauntments, charms, and sorceries, to the destruction of the persons and goods of their neighbours, and other subjects of this realm, and for other lewde and evill intents and purposes, contrary to the laws of Almighty God, to the peril of their owne soules, and to the great infamie and disquietnesse of this realm. For reformation thereof, be it enacted by the Queen's Majestie, with the assent of the lords spirituall and temporall and the commons in this present Parliament assembled.
" 1. That if any person or persons after the end of three months next, and immediately after the end of the last session of this present parliament, shall use, practise, or exercise any witchcraft, enchauntment, charme, or sorcery, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroied, that then as well any such offender or offenders in invocations and conjurations, as is aforesaid, their aydors or councelors . . . being of the said offences lawfully convicted and attainted, shall suffer paines of death as a felon or felons, and shall lose the privilege and benefit of clergie and sanctuarie ; saving to the widow of such person her title of dower, and also the heires and successors of such a person all rights, titles, etc, as though no such attaynder had been made.
" 2. If any persons (after the above period) shall use, practise, or exercise any witchcraft, enchauntment, charme, or sorcery, whereby any person or persons shall happen to be wasted, consumed, or lamed, in his or their bodie or member, or whereby any goods or cattels of any such person shall be destroyed, wasted, or impaired, then every such offender shall for the first offence suffer imprisonment by the space of one yeare without bayle or maineprise, and once in every quarter of the said yeare, shall in some market towne, upon the market day, or at such time as any faire shall be kept there, stand openlie in the pillorie for the space of sixe houres, and shall there openly confesse his or theire errour and offence, and for the second offence shall suffer death as a felon, saving, etc. (as in clause 1).
" 3. Provided always, that if the offender in any of the cases aforesaid, for which the paines of death shall ensue, shall happen to be a peer of this realm : then his triall therein to be had by his peers, as is used in cases of felony and treason, and not otherwise.
" 4. And further, to the intent that all manner of practice, use, or exercise of witchcraft, enchauntment, charme, orsorcery, should be from henceforth utterly avoide, abolished, and taken away ; be it enacted by the authority of this present Parliament that if any person or persons . . . shall take upon them by witchcraft, etc, to tell or declare in what place any treasure of gold or silver shall or might be found or had in the earth or other secret places, or where goods or things lost or stollen should be found or become, or shall use or practice any sorcery, etc, to the intent to provoke any person to unlawful love (for the first offence to be punished as in clause 2), but if convicted a second time shall forfeit unto the Queen's Majesty all his goods and chattels, and suffer imprisonment during life".