Witchcraft in Mayo

When I researched the history of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who settled in Galway, I never expected to find a story of witchcraft. Of special interest was an 18th century tale in which SIBELLA COTTLE was urged to spellbind her lover, SIR HARRY LYNCH-BLOSSE of Balla, Co Mayo. Guided by a local midwife, the red-haired beauty made a powerful love charm from the skin of a corpse. Known as the spancel of death, she would use it to spellbind the 7th Baronet should he decide to abandon her.

This story has fascinated me ever since its discovery in Legends of Connaught in which Sibella was described as “a professed woman of pleasure.” T H Nally later called her “a governess from Moore Hall” in his 1916 play, The Spancel of Death. Whatever her provenance, Sibella bore seven children by Sir Harry before his death in 1788. In his will, Harry surnamed all his children by her as Lynch, and left substantial bequests to each.

Sibella resorted to witchcraft only after JAMES CUFFE MP of Ballinrobe advised Harry to banish his Catholic mistress and marry a wealthy Protestant lady. Such a union would have eased the financial pressure on his estate of 20,000 acres. Terrified for the future of her children, Sibella approached her midwife, JUDY HOLIAN, who recommended the spancel. Judy guaranteed that the powerful love charm would spellbind Harry to her for life. Although shocked by a process that required the flaying of skin from an exhumed corpse, Sibella agreed to carry out the dastardly deed out of desperation.

She was even more horrified when told that the corpse was that of Ellen Colgan, an illegitimate child of Harry in a previous dalliance. In the ritual that followed, Sibella was required to walk around the corpse seven times quenching a candle after each round, while Judy chanted a spell in Gaelic. A strip of skin was flayed off the young girl. The witch embedded seven hairs from Harry’s head into the skin using animal blood before covering it with silk. Sibella was instructed to place the love charm under Harry’s pillow at night. When the cock crowed in the morning, she was to remove the spancel and hide it in a safe place.

For those who might doubt the authenticity of this story, I would refer you to the Reverend Caesar Otway who recorded the use of witchcraft by three Catholic girls in Belmullet. They had made good matches above their station in life having flayed the corpse of a Trappist monk to produce a love charm. Local people believed that the spell was made more powerful through the use of such holy and chaste skin. Otway was surprised to find that “Protestant females … of the better sort,” also used a practice that had originated in England.

Whether Sibella Cottle actually applied the spancel to Harry is not known. Nonetheless, the existence of the spancel was reputedly confirmed when it was found dangling from the gable end of Balla chapel. It may have been discovered in the thatch of the witch’s cabin and dispatched from there to the chapel.

We know that Harry never married the rich Protestant lady recommended for him, or anyone else for that matter. Instead, he remained loyal to Sibella as his mistress in the Big House until he died – a practice that scandalized the local community. Thereafter, nothing is known of this extraordinary woman. Did she go mad, wracked with guilt, as suggested in The Spancel of Death, a fate prompted by Lady Wilde’s rendition of “The Fatal Love Charm?” Adele Dalsimer, the late Professor of Irish Studies at Boston College, has suggested that Sibella may have survived the trauma of her witchcraft. If true, she must have been a strong and resourceful woman who put the past behind her in order to rear her seven illegitimate children. I have adopted this latter approach in my on-going research into her fate and the fate of her children.

My debut novel published by Club Lighthouse in 2013

My debut novel published by Club Lighthouse in 2013

1776 Election to the Irish Parliament for Mayo

The election manifesto of Arthur Browne, Viscount Westport and James Cuffe MP of Ballinrobe was published in the Freeman’s Journal on six occasions from May 9 to May 21 for the May 23 election in Castlebar. The two candidates appeared irritated by having to endure an electoral contest having been nominated to represent Mayo by the gentlemen of the county on September 4, 1775.

To the Gentlemen, Clergy, and Freeholders of the County of Mayo.
Gentlemen, Having had the Honour to be called upon to stand joint Candidates to represent the County of Mayo in the next Parliament, by the unanimous voice of the Gentlemen of our County at the County Meeting, held at Castlebar on Monday the 4th September last, by Advertisement in the public Papers, the High Sheriff in the Chair, We thought that the Sense of that Meeting would show the Sentiments of the County, and prevent the unnecessary Trouble to Gentlemen removed from Castlebar of attending at the Election; but as we find that an Opposition is intended, we beg Leave to call upon you for the Honour of your Suffrages on that Occasion; and as the High Sheriff has fixed on Thursday the 23rd Day of this inst. May, at the County Courthouse in Castlebar, in said County, at eight o’Clock in the Forenoon of said Day, to proceed to the Election; and as it is probable (as two polls are by the late Law to go on together) the Election will not hold many Days, the early Appearances of our friends will lay a lasting Obligation on,
Gentlemen,
Your most obliged, and most obedient humble Servants,
WESTPORT, JAMES CUFF.
Castlebar May 7, 1776.

When the votes were counted over two days, Browne (709) and Cuffe (613) were re-elected despite opposition from George Fitzgerald Esq (245), and Charles Fitzgerald Esq (149) who were eliminated. The total votes cast for the four candidates were 1716 as recorded in Finn’s Leinster Journal and in the Freeman’s Journal, Sat 1 Jun 1776.

James Cuffe of Ballinrobe, elected Member of Parliament for Mayo in 1776.

James Cuffe of Ballinrobe, elected Member of Parliament for Mayo in 1776.

The Lynch Clan of Galway and their Famous Associations

You can read and listen to my podcast which links the Anglo-Norman Lynches of Galway to the Michel Lynch wine label, to Che Guevara and Bram Stoker. My contribution starts at the conclusion of a previous item (lasting 1.50 minutes) on The History Show, RTE radio, http://www.rte.ie/radio1/the-history-show/programmes/2014/0511/615538-the-history-show-sunday-11-may-2014/

A more detailed exposition on The Lynch Clan of Galway and their Famous Associations is included in the Genealogy of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who settled in Galway available on Amazon UK and on Amazon.com.

Lynch’s castle, Galway, c.1500 built of limestone in the Irish gothic style and noted for its elaborate decorative style. Bearing the arms of Henry VII and the Lynch family, it is now occupied by the AIB bank at the junction of Shop and Abbeygate Streets.

Lynch’s castle, Galway, c.1500 built of limestone in the Irish gothic style and noted for its elaborate decorative style. Bearing the arms of Henry VII and the Lynch family, it is now occupied by the AIB bank at the junction of Shop and Abbeygate Streets.

Giveway of “A Rebel Romance” on English Historical Fiction Authors website

Paul B McNulty is giving away an e-copy of his recently published historical novella to an international winner. You can enter the contest by clicking on the English Historical Fiction Authors website.

A Rebel Romance deals with the fictional romance of John Moore of Moorehall, President of the momentary Republic of Connaught, with Cecilia Lynch, within the context of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Cecilia was the illegitimate daughter of Sibella Cottle and the late Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse, a member of the Irish Parliament from 1776 to 1783.

RebelRomance-page

 

 

 

5 star review for “Spellbound by Sibella” by Paul B McNulty

I was pleased to receive a 5 star review for my historical novel, Spellbound by Sibella, from Jack Hudson on Amazon.com. It runs as follows:

Fascinating, scandalous….

The story of Sibella and Sir Harry is a fascinating one. The political implications, the intrigues, the pressure on the weak Sir Harry to marry an heiress and desert his true wife and children – great stuff. The gruesome witchcraft adds to the drama, and gives an insight into the lives of the common people. Indeed, a lot of the story’s interest lies in the sense it gives of fidelity to the society it depicts: it’s based on true events, even if one hopes it’s not all true.

Fascinating, scandalous, mostly authentic…

“Spellbound by Sibella” is the debut historical novel written by Paul B McNulty based on real events in late 18th century Ireland.

“Spellbound by Sibella” sold-out at book launches

The launches of my historical novel Spellbound by Sibella in Dublin, Galway and Castlebar were beyond expectation.  Even better were follow-up sales which moved my North America publisher to suggest that we might even “have a best seller in the works.”

We were delighted to have distinguished guests at the various launches: Sir Richard Hely Lynch-Blosse 17th Baronet of Oxfordshire did the honours in Dublin in the UCD Campus Bookstore where Philip Harvey presided on Thursday, 7 November 2013.  Sir Richard is a descendant of the male protagonist in the novel, Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse 7th Baronet of Balla, Co Mayo.

Ronnie O’Gorman, the well-known publisher and local historian, did the honours in Galway assisted by the Mayor of Co Galway, Liam Carroll of Oranmore in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop on Friday 15 November 2013.

Mayor Noreen Heston did the honours in Castlebar, Co Mayo where I grew up as a boy having been a past-pupil of both St Patrick’s National School and St Gerald’s College. Presiding over the launch were David and Kathryn Brennan of the Castle Book Shop on Wednesday, 20 November 2013.

I am now putting the final touches to a follow-up historical novel, The Abduction of Anne O’Donel, which I hope to publish in 2014. Some of the characters in Spellbound by Sibella have minor roles including Sibella Cottle, Sir Harry and Ned Holian.

Launch of "Spellbound by Sibella" by author, Paul B McNulty.

Paul B McNulty, author of the historical novel “Spellbound by Sibella” is flanked on the left by Ronnie O’Gorman, publisher and local historian, who launched the book and by the Mayor of Co Galway, Liam Carroll who presided over the proceedings in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway on Thursday, 15 November 2013.

Book launches for “Spellbound by Sibella” by Paul B McNulty

My historical novel, Spellbound by Sibella, recently published by Club Lighthouse CLP, Canada will be launched in November as follows:

Dublin  The Campus Bookshop, UCD, Belfield, Dublin 4, 6pm, Thursday, 7th November. Sir Richard Hely Lynch-Blosse, 17th Baronet to launch.

Galway  Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, The Cornstore, Middle St, Galway, 6pm, Friday, 15th November. Historian, Ronnie O’Gorman to launch.

Castlebar  Mayo Books, Castle Street, Castlebar, Co Mayo, 7pm, Wednesday, 20 November. Mayor Noreen Heston to launch.

Any interested person is more than welcome to attend any one of these launches.

Five star review

“This is a real gem of a book. It’s the story of a gutsy heroine, Sibella Cottle, and what she has to do to keep lack lustre Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse and father of her children from deserting her and marrying rich heiress Lady Harriet.
It’s a really unusual story involving religion, politics (Sir Harry is a member of Parliament), intrigue and deception. The heart of the story is how Sibella resorts to witchcraft in the end.
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended.”

Cover image for "Spellbound by Sibella"
A portrait of Miss Constable by George Romney circa 1787 courtesy of the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.

 

The Flaying of Human Skin

The flaying of human skin, featured in a Whitechapel episode on ITV (18 September 2013), reminded me of the Judgment of Cambyses, an amazing 1498 portrait by Gerard David. It depicted the punishment of a corrupt Persian judge by flaying him alive. Now hanging in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, the portrait was intended to remind the aldermen of the city to remain uncorrupted.

A different perspective arises in my historical novel, Spellbound by Sibella, where the skin of a human corpse has been flayed to make a powerful love charm. Known as the spancel of death, Alf MacLochlainn has described it as “an unbroken hoop of skin cut with incantations from a corpse across the entire body from shoulder to footsole and wrapped in silk of the colours of the rainbow and used as a spancel to tie the legs of a person to produce certain effects of witchcraft.”

Wrought by Witchcraft

The reputed spellbinding of Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse of Balla, County Mayo, Ireland by his mistress, Sibella Cottle  has been described by Matthew Archdeacon and more recently by Paul B McNulty in his debut novel, Spellbound by Sibella.  Sibella used the spancel, a powerful love-charm to spellbind Harry circa 1780. Judy Holian, a reputed witch prepared the spancel using skin from the exhumed corpse of a young girl according to T H Nally.

Caesar Otway confirmed the use of the spancel to spellbind men through research in Belmullet, County Mayo. He found that three local girls made matches above their station when using a spancel cut from the corpse of a Trappist monk. Protestant girls ‘of a better sort’ also used a practice that may have originated in 16th century England.

Lady Wilde tells the story of ‘The Fatal Love-Charm’ in which a servant girl of modest looks spellbound her widowed master using a spancel. Exactly one year and a day after her marriage, the spancel was accidentally burnt in her wardrobe. The spell was broken. The master now hated her. Despised and isolated, she died half-mad before the year was out, a conclusion drawn by T H Nally for the fate of Sibella Cottle in his 1916 drama The Spancel of Death.

“Spellbound by Sibella” featuring Miss Constable by George Romney circa 1787, courtesy of the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.

 

“Spellbound by Sibella” (now published)

A penniless beauty, a rakish Baronet.  A scandalous affair that shocks a country.

Spellbound by Sibella by Paul B McNulty is now available as an e-book from Club Lighthouse Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Based on real events in late 18th century Ireland, the novel portrays the turbulent liaison between Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse of Balla, Co Mayo and Sibella Cottle, a woman with spellbinding powers reputedly wrought by witchcraft.

This historical novel is downloadable to your computer, Kindle or mobile/cell phone for $5.99, using credit card or PayPal. For further information, click on Club Lighthouse Publishing and follow the attached image on its home page.

“Spellbound by Sibella” by Paul B McNulty is now available from Club Lighthouse Publishing, Canada.