ELOPEMENT, 5 min play, for UCD Dramsoc

ELOPEMENT by Paul B McNulty

Sibella Cottle, now pregnant, is thrilled when Harry Lynch-Blosse elopes with her. But will his unresolved annulment shatter her dreams?

SIBELLA COTTLE (Sarah Burton, also Orlaith): An orphaned, 19 year-old red-haired beauty.
HARRY LYNCH-BLOSSE (Ryan Gillespie, also Donagh Ruane): A philandering 25 year-old heir to a baronetcy.
RECTOR GARROOD (Liam Galgey): Church of England, Belstead, Suffolk.
(Disembodied voices may play the butler and the chamber-maid.)

Wednesday, 8th December 1773, drawing room of Belstead Hall, Suffolk, home of Elizabeth Barker, the late mother of Harry Lynch-Blosse, Balla, Co Mayo, and the home of her late uncle, Tobias Blosse.

Miss Constable (1787) by George Romney, 1734-1802. (Original portrait in Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)

Sibella Cottle is assumed to be adequately represented by George Romney’s 1787 portrait of Miss Constable. (Original portrait in Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.)


SIBELLA: Harry! Why are you wearing your sword?

HARRY: Because, Rector Garrood has agreed to marry us.

SIBELLA: Wondrous! That’s great news, Harry. (RISES.) It only seems like yesterday since I left a note for my parents.

HARRY: What did you say?

SIBELLA: I thanked them … from the bottom of my heart … for looking after me from infancy. I asked them to forgive me for my irresponsible behaviour / that

HARRY: Irresponsible behaviour?

SIBELLA: Sleeping with you, you big brute! (PACES.) They offered to settle me in Waterford during my confinement. I would have hated that! Instead, you offered to take me to Suffolk. I asked them not to be angry with me.

HARRY: What happened next?

SIBELLA: I rose at five that morning. I donned my winter shawl and shouldered my bag. I crept down the stairs and opened the back door. The guard dog wandered over. I stroked him to keep him quiet. He walked with me to the corn mill where I waited until I heard the sound of footsteps.

HARRY: And then … the dogs started barking … but we were on our way … by gig to Castlebar … by coach to Ballinasloe … and on to Dublin. Seven days later … we arrived exhausted at Belstead … after a stormy sea and bumpy coach-rides.

SIBELLA: I was so sick. I feared for the safety of our baby … but I think he’s all right.

HARRY: Thank God for that.

SIBELLA: What did Lady Lynch say when you announced your departure?

HARRY: She wondered if I might find it lonely. I said: “Grandmamma! How could I possibly be lonely in the house of my birth, the house in which I spent the first six years of my life?”

SIBELLA: Clever boy. (PAUSE.) So what did you do in Ipswich yesterday?

HARRY: I met the family solicitor. He gave me this affidavit. (LAYS IT ON THE TABLE.) I’m now free to marry. (BENDING DOWN ON ONE KNEE.) Sibella Cottle, I ask you again … will you do me the great honour? (PROFFERS AN ENGAGEMENT RING.) Will you marry me, my dear heart?

SIBELLA: Of course, I will marry you, my darling. (HUGS HIM.) This is the happiest day of my life. (ADMIRES THE RING ON HER FOURTH LEFT FINGER.) But how will Garrood react to my faith?

HARRY: Mixed marriages are now allowed in England, he said. (FROWNS.) But then he wondered … if you were one-and-twenty.


HARRY: Because at nineteen, you need the written consent of your parents. I said a gentleman could never ask a lady her age. I insisted, however, that you had reached your majority.

SIBELLA: Clever again! I can swear to nineteen with a clear conscience … it suffices for a majority in certain cases. (PACES.) But how can we marry today? I have no wedding dress.

HARRY: You could wear my mother’s wedding / dress

SIBELLA: Oh how I would love my own creation … but your mother’s wedding dress will have to do … if, I can fit into it … in my condition.


HARRY: You’re most welcome, Rector. Allow me to introduce Miss Cottle of Ashbrook House.

GARROOD: I’m delighted to meet you Miss Cottle.

SIBELLA: (CURTSIES.) Thank you for agreeing to marry us, Rector. As you know, I’m a Catholic, and have reached my majority.

GARROOD: You certainly have retained a remarkable youthfulness. It must be the fresh air of Ireland.

SIBELLA: Please excuse me, gentlemen … I must settle my hair.


HARRY: (HUMS THE WEDDING MARCH.) Sibella, my darling, you are a diamond of the first water. (ESCORTS HER TO STAND BEFORE GARROOD.)

GARROOD: (SMILES.) We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of Mr Harry Lynch-Blosse and Miss Sibella Cottle in holy matrimony. (GLANCES AT HARRY.) Mr Lynch-Blosse will you take Miss Sibella Cottle to be your lawful wedded wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her for as long as … (FROWNS.) Is that a galloping horse, I hear?

OFFSTAGE: An urgent message for Mr Lynch-Blosse.


GARROOD: Are you quite well, Mr Lynch-Blosse?

HARRY: (PASSES THE LETTER TO GARROOD.) I’m ever so sorry, Sibella.

SIBELLA: For heaven’s sake, what does it say?

GARROOD: (RECITES.) “ … Further to a request from my colleague in Ipswich … I regret to say that your application for an annulment of your first marriage remains unresolved. May I suggest that you postpone your wedding to Miss Cottle until we remove this encumbrance to your union?
Andrew Edmondson, Solicitor, Castlebar.”

SIBELLA: How could you do this to me, Harry? How could you be so stupid … so careless?

HARRY: Don’t worry my darling. Edmondson will soon sort it, I promise.


HARRY: Please accept my apologies, Rector Garrood. I was sure my annulment would have succeeded by now.

GARROOD: You must not worry. You will marry soon. Now, I should leave you in peace. (DEPARTS.)



Participant in the UCD Dramsoc Mini Plays Festival (including minor amendments), Dramsoc Theatre at 7 p.m. on 14, 15 and 16 October, 2015 under the direction of Rosa Bowden, Auditor, UCD Dramsoc, Student Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. Actors (indicated in italics) are members of UCD Dramsoc.

1. Sofa and table.
2. Modest dress quickly convertible to a low-cut dress.
3. Harry’s jacket, cravat, waistcoat and tight breeches over white stockings.
4. Affidavit and Letter.
5. Engagement ring.
6. Candles, flowers and incense sticks.
7. Waistband, scabbard and sword.

1. Sound of footsteps.
2. Dogs barking.
3. Wedding march (MENDELSSOHN Piano).
4. Sound of a galloping horse.

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

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.

Mayor Noreen Heston launches “Spellbound by Sibella.”

Mayor Noreen Heston kindly agreed to launch my historical novel 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.

Paul B McNulty, author of the historical novel “Spellbound by Sibella” is flanked by his wife, Treasa, on the left and by Mayor Noreen Heston, in the middle, who launched his book in the Castle Book Shop, Castlebar, Co Mayo on Wednesday, 20 November 2013.


“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.


Sibella Cottle and Miss Constable

Would you agree that Miss Constable by George Romney is a good representation of Sibella Cottle in my debut novel, Spellbound by Sibella asks paul.mcnulty@ucd.ie?

Miss Constable (1787) by George Romney, 1734-1802. (Original portrait in Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)

Miss Constable (1787) by George Romney, 1734-1802.
(Original portrait in Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)