Straight and Narrow - Irish Witch Belief, Trials and Memory
: Straight and Narrow: A Novel, and Irish Witch Belief, Trials and Memory: A Critical Component

  • Lisa Kennedy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The following PhD thesis in Creative Writing is comprised of a creative and critical component. The former is a Young Adult novel which takes as its inspiration the Islandmagee witch trial of 1711. Most of the novel is set in a contemporary fictionalised version of Islandmagee, which, based on true events in 2015, refuses to commemorate the witch trial that forms part of the peninsula’s history. Occasional intersecting chapters are set at the time of the 1711 trial, so that the historical fiction underscores and speaks to the themes of the modern-day narrative.

The critical component is an examination of Ireland’s literary and cultural history regarding witchcraft from the beginning of the Restoration Period in 1660 to the Passing of the Witchcraft Act in 1735 (which prohibited people from making witchcraft accusations). I address the academic research done in this area, with a particular focus on that of Andrew Sneddon and Mary McAuliffe, and the question of Ireland’s relative lack of witchcraft trials as compared to the rest of Europe (particularly its close neighbour Scotland, which is estimated to have hanged and burned around 1500 ‘witches’). I touch upon the various theories posed as to why this might be so, which range from Ireland’s distinct cultural beliefs surrounding witchcraft, to the simple geographical fact of Ireland being on the outskirts of Europe, among others. I discuss how viable I find these explanations as to why Ireland remained, if not untouched, then certainly less impacted by, the European witch hunts. I briefly explore some of Ireland’s unique and fascinating cultural beliefs surrounding witchcraft, and the impact these beliefs played in notable Irish witch cases, such as the trials of Florence Newton in 1661 and the Islandmagee witches in 1711, and a case involving the cure of a cursed nine-year-old girl in Antrim town.

In my conclusion I discuss the waning of witch belief on the part of the State and elite society, following the Witchcraft Act of 1735.

The thesis concludes with a bridging statement which reflects upon the inter-relationship of the two components.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMoyra Haslett (Supervisor) & Garrett Carr (Supervisor)

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