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The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story Paperback – July 1, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In March 1895, Bridget Cleary became ill. Her husband, Michael, and a number of neighbors and relatives became convinced that she was a fairy changeling and tortured her to death. This grisly true story forms the basis of Angela Bourke's outstanding narrative The Burning of Bridget Cleary, in which the whole context of this "crime" and its punishment is sparely and powerfully laid out. Bourke's style, judgment, and eye for detail are superb. There are scenes in this book of appalling vividness--in particular, the chapters concerned with poor Bridget's end. The closed room, the men yelling questions at her, trying to force her to eat herbs boiled in milk (if she could eat them, then she might be the real Bridget and not the changeling), manhandling her; "lifting her body and winding it backwards and forwards, yelling, 'away with you; come home, Bridget, in the name of God!' while slapping her." On March 14, they held her over the fire to drive the spirits out, and on March 15, Bridget's husband set fire to her nightgown, throwing lamp oil on her to make the fire burn more fiercely. "She's not my wife," he told the assembled people. "You'll soon see her go up the chimney."

This is a chilling story, one that stays with you, creepily, long after you have finished reading. Like Arthur Miller's The Crucible, it seems to open itself to a wide variety of interpretation, and Bourke's balancing of old-world superstitious Ireland against the new rational nation about to be born is expert. These events may be a hundred years old, but they come over as frighteningly contemporary. --Adam Roberts, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A wonderful example of narrative cultural history, this text examines a pivotal moment in Irish history, through folklore and language. In 1895, Bridget Cleary, of Ireland's County Tipperary, caught a bad coldAwhich her husband interpreted as a sign that she'd been taken by a "fairie." "She's not my wife," Michael Cleary said, "she's an old deceiver sent in place of my wife." After trying to treat her with herbs, "first milk" and urine, Michael burned his wife to death. When her body was discovered in a shallow grave, the Royal Irish Constabulary, who saw her death as evidence of Ireland's backwardness (and hence justification of the British colonial presence in the region) rounded up a band of menAincluding MichaelAand tried them for murder. As she pieces together the details of these events, Bourke (senior lecturer in Irish at University College, Dublin) tells the history as a deeply rooted collision of cultures: the accused Irish believed that they'd justifiably snuffed out a fairy changeling; the British authorities called it murder. Fairies, Bourke argues, held an important place in 19th-century Irish culture, but fairy scares were often evidence of larger personal and social conflict. In Bridget Cleary's case, she may have been the victim of unresolved marital trouble (she was barren, opinionated and financially self-supporting). Found guilty of manslaughter and sent to prison, Michael Cleary, upon his release in 1910, emigrated to Canada, but the legend of Bridget Cleary lives on in a Tipperary children's rhyme: "Are you a witch or are you a fairy,/ Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?" This thoughtful and disturbing book gives the legend a new, more complicated cultural life. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (July 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141002026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141002026
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #539,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
THE BURNING OF BRIDGET CLEARY catches the eye immediately with its eerie (hardcover) illustration of a ghostly woman floating in midair superimposed over a man's stern, shadowy face. Lovers of all things Irish will find this horrifying true story of the life and death of Bridget Cleary of County Tipperary particularly disturbing, set as it is in the bucolic Irish countryside of the late 19th Century.

Visitors to Ireland will be aware of what author Angela Bourke calls "townlands." An inexact term, it describes rural places that are not on any map. Certainly not towns, nor even villages or hamlets, these places consist of a few adjacent farmsteads and perhaps a freestanding house or two, set off from other such places by fields, and perhaps by a large boulder carved with the name of the place. Populated by only a few families, who living cheek-by-jowl for hundreds of years are interlinked but independent, such places exist "there but not there," a reality which has informed the Irish mind and character for generations.

Ms. Bourke, a lecturer in Irish history, uses the death of Bridget Cleary as a paradigm for cultural change and disruption. Bridget Cleary died in 1895 because the "modern" Social Darwinist linearly organized, scientific, English-speaking and aggressively concrete universe of the late Victorian era butted heads with the "traditional" non-linear, symbological Gaelic-speaking world it was supplanting.

At first glance, Bridget and Michael Cleary would seem to have been thoroughly "modern." Both Michael and Bridget were educated and literate. She was a trained dressmaker who owned her own Singer machine. He was a tradesman, a cooper, who worked in a large commercial brewery. For their time and place they were affluent.
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By A Customer on November 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is titled "The Burning of Bridget Cleary," and does recount the infamous case in 1895 Ireland where the cooper's wife falls ill and disappers, later to be found burned to death by husband and family. While this book does recount the crime itself in gruesome detail, it is not a book about crime. We must not forget the blurb on the back flap of the jacket to the book "About the Author." Ms. Bourke is a senior lecturer on Irish oral tradition and Irish Literature. This book is about the changing culture in Ireland during this time and how that produced the burning of Bridget Cleary. Namely, this changing culture is the conflict of traditional Irish oral culture and the English (and other western) rational culture defined by the written word. The treasure in this book is the author's cultural commentary and how this conflict sculpts those involved in this specific crime, and by extension, the modern Irishman and woman of the time. Using the Bridget Cleary case, Bourke provides insight into the larger cultural crisis occuring at the turn of the last century. The outcome of this case was a step in the process of reconciling the two world views to create the modern Irish culture and identity.
This book will be mediocre if you are interested in the details of the criminal case and criminal analysis, the latter of which is mostly lacking. However, if you are interested in the wider picture of Irish identity, history of daily living in Irish or other cultures, or the history of thought and worldviews, this book provides a wonderful microcosm and is well worth your time to check out.
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Format: Hardcover
The murder-by-torture of the cooper's wife Bridget Cleary at the hands of her husband and family members, who thought she was a fairy changeling, would seem to be almost entirely resistant to narratorial ineptitude. The 1895 incident in rural Tipperary seems to distill all of the fin-de-siecle British Empire's obsession with darkness and horror at the margins of its own civilization, and the story in and of itself should make a rattling good read. Angela Bourke, however, seems utterly incapable of telling a good story: there is little narrative logic to her recounting of events and background historical materials, and she repeatedly refuses to make transitions between the micro-history of Cleary's death and the surrounding wider issues of the day. As a result, the fascinating implications of the murder and its aftermath (with respect to gender, nationality, sex and even race) are often ineptly presented, and the story itself becomes dull and uninvolving.
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By A Customer on April 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
I don't usually read non-fiction (unless it is biography) but a friend recently gave me this book and it looked intriguing. In March 1895, in County Tipperary, Ireland, a sick wife, Bridget Cleary, was burned to death by her husband, aunt and four cousins, who then buried her body in a makeshift grave. This book, written by Angela Bourke, an expert in Irish oral tradition, details what probably caused those close to her to suspect that Bridget Cleary was a changeling and also what happened to her husband, Michael, in the aftermath of her burning.
According to Michael Cleary and the other relatives responsible for Bridget's death, Bridget Cleary became ill with bronchitis and was then abducted by fairies who left behind only a changeling. This came after Michael Cleary had sought genuine medical help for his wife, then, convinced that Bridget had "gone with the fairies," conspired with a fairy doctor instead.
Bridget Cleary, at 26, was definitely not the average 19th century peasant wife. She was more independent that most women of her time, both in her outlook and in her finances (she was a successful dressmaker), she was more educated, she was quite attractive and she spoke her mind. But probably most damning, at least in Bridget's day, was the fact that although she had been married for eight years, she was childless.
To put it all in a nutshell, Bourke, who originally began this book as a part of her doctoral dissertation, believes that Bridget was simply too "strong-willed" to fit in with 19th century Tipperary society. The local traditions condoned the burning of witches and fairies and so, what better way to "control" Bridget than to burn her? Just get her out of the way.
I can buy the reasoning above.
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