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The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story

The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story
Author: Angela Bourke
ISBN 13: 9780141002026
ISBN 10: 141002026
Edition: Reissue
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 2001-07-01
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
List Price: $16.00

Bridget Cleary fell ill, then disappeared from her cottage in rural Tipperary. Even before she vanished, rumors circulated that she was a changeling, left behind by fairies or evil spirits. The "real" Bridget would return on a white horse. Then her badly burned body was discovered in a shallow grave, and her husband, father, aunt, and four cousins were arrested and charged with her murder.

The fate of Bridget Cleary became a cause scandaleuse in turn-of-the-century Britain and Ireland. The murder trial of Cleary's husband and family made a sensation in the new mass media and played directly into the Torys' hands during the debate over Home Rule -- confirming the lingering fears about the savage Irish peasantry.

Angela Bourke, an expert in the Irish oral tradition and a gifted storyteller, combines historical detective work, acute social analysis, and meticulous original scholarship. Bridget's "sin" seems to have been that she was pretty, clever, assertive, and flirtatious. Her story illuminates the clash between two worldviews, two ways of dealing with troublesome people, two ways of accounting for the irrational, at a time of profound social, economic, and cultural change. As Bourke probes the stories told about, by, and around the village, and the astonishing media circus generated by the murder trial, she shows the surprising sources of pressure on Michael Cleary that led him to an unspeakable act.

This is an exquisite if disturbing book that takes no sides when it comes to judging whether a belief in the supernatural is foolish and dangerous superstition or a reality of life at the end of the nineteenth century, and which illustrates how the politicization of a crime is hardly a new product of the twentieth.

New York Times Book Review

Tightly constructed and authentically dramatic...a powerful reconstruction of the crime.