Plaque erected in memory of so-called ‘Witches of Islandmagee’

Tuesday 21 March 2023

A plaque commemorating nine people convicted of witchcraft more than 300 years ago has been unveiled in Mid and East Antrim.

Author Martina Devlin, Mayor Alderman Noel Williams and Councillor Maeve Donnelly

The Islandmagee witch trial took place in 1711 and is believed to have been the last witch trial to take place anywhere on the island of Ireland.

Eight women were put on trial and subsequently found guilty of exercising witchcraft on the body of another local, Mary Dunbar.

The women were tried under the Irish 1586 Witchcraft Act and found guilty by a jury at County Antrim’s Criminal Assize Court held in Carrickfergus on 31 March 1711. They were sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and to be pilloried four times on market day for six hours.

They were: Janet Carson, Janet Latimer, Janet Main, Janet Millar, Margaret Mitchell, Catherine McCalmond, Janet Liston and Elizabeth Sellor.

A Dublin Newspaper reported on 24 April 1711 that Mary died of unknown causes shortly after the trial.

The last suspect, William Sellor, father to Elizabeth Sellor and husband to Janet Liston, was found guilty of Mary’s bewitchment at the same court on 11 September 1711.

In 2015 the then Larne Borough Council approved the installation and wording for a small plaque to be displayed in the vicinity of the Gobbins Visitor Centre along with some planting, to commemorate the trial and conviction of those involved.

Following approval at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Borough Growth Committee on 21 November 2022, and subsequent ratification at the Full Council meeting on 5 December 2022, Council designed a commemorative plaque relating to the so-called ‘Witches of Islandmagee’.

It was officially unveiled by the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Noel Williams, at the Gobbins Visitor Centre, Islandmagee, on Tuesday morning.

He was joined by Councillor Maeve Donnelly, and Martina Devlin, author of The House Where It Happened, a fiction story based on the 1711 events, and who has been a long-time advocate of a memorial to those involved.

The Mayor said: “This plaque marks what we believe to have been the last so-called witch trial to take place in Ireland.

“One can only imagine the impact this trial would have had on not only the accused, but the entire community. Relatives of those convicted still live in the area today and the story of the Witches of Islandmagee is still very much in the minds of local people.

“The installation of the plaque at the Gobbins Visitor Centre commemorates the events of three centuries ago, remembers all those involved and also highlights the story to those visiting the area who may not be aware of this unique piece of history.”

Meanwhile, a special exhibition organised by Carrickfergus Museum in conjunction with Ulster University is set to launch in September.

It will include a range of interpretative applications that have been developed by a multi- disciplinary team at Ulster University.

These include a virtual reality experience, animation, graphic novel and choice-driven video game.

It will also feature art installations, graphic interpretative panels and a range of objects from museum collections. Further information regarding the exhibition will be publicised in due course.