Larne: TUV votes against ‘anti-God’ witch-hunt plaque

Author Martina Devlin said the evidence against the eight women was hearsay
Author Martina Devlin said the evidence against the eight women was hearsay

The author of a book about an Ulster witch trial has said she is “saddened” after objections were raised to a plaque commemorating the convictions.

Martina Devlin spoke out in the wake of a decision by Larne Borough Council to formally mark the case of eight women from east Antrim who were sentenced to prison and public pillorying after being found guilty in the early 1700s – the last such conviction in Ireland.

However, there were two objections to the proposal – one of them from the sole TUV councillor who opposed it on religious grounds.

The minutes of the meeting record that Alderman Jack McKee said “he could not tell whether or not the women were rightly or wrongly convicted as he didn’t have the facts and he was not going to support devil worship”.

Speaking to the Larne Times afterwards, Mr McKee said the plaque would become a “shrine to paganism”, adding: “I could not support the proposal because I believe it to be anti-God.”

Details of the other objection were not recorded.

Martina Devlin, whose book ‘The House Where It Happened’ is to be turned into a film, said: “The eight women were convicted of witchcraft on nothing that we’d recognise as evidence today: it was all hearsay and one person’s uncorroborated word against theirs.

“I’m saddened that some people still think these poor souls don’t deserve justice, 300 years on, and that their reputations are still questioned today.”

She added that the council “deserves credit for agreeing to mark the fact that these women lived and died”.

Ultimately, she concluded: “It’s disappointing that some members voted against the motion or abstained, but heartening that more showed compassion.”

Gregg McKeen, DUP group leader on the council, abstained from the vote and said the issue of granting a plaque itself was “a non-event”.

He said although final details have yet to be worked out, the monument is expected simply to mark a historic fact and no more.

“I’ve no issue either way. It’s not as if the plaque if going to glorify witches or witchcraft,” he said.

As to the witch trial itself, he said: “Yes, the event happened; I’m not going into the details of whether it was right or wrong, whether the convictions were valid whether they weren’t valid...

“It’s given me something to do. I plan to read the book and increase my own knowledge. Maybe in a month or so when I get this book read I’ll be able to make a more informed comment.”

The initial council vote took place in its development committee on Monday, January 19.

All 15 of the council’s elected members sit on the committee, the minutes of which were ratified at another meeting on Monday this week.

The vote is recorded as being six in favour, two against, and all others abstaining.

The motion agrees “that council put some planting and a small plaque in place in the vicinity of The Gobbins Visitors Centre”.

This would commemorate the trial and convictions of the women – many of whom were natives of Islandmagee – but no exact wording has been agreed.