Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I was cleaning out some my files last night and came across the following. The story of Biddy Early has always been one of my very favorite tales, so, if you don't mind, I would like to share it here today. Biddy, a wise woman from the County Clare, was absolutely the most famous of the Irish country witches. She was well-known as a healer, and many traveled from all over the country to meet with Biddy in her cottage on Kilbarron Lake. Much of what we know of her has been passed down from oral tradition or blended into myth and folklore.
Biddy O'Conner, the daughter of a poor farming family, was born in 1798 in Kilanena, Ireland. Biddy's mom, Ellen Early was well-known for her herbal cures and taught her daughter many of her secrets. Biddy was 'different' than the other kids, and they poked fun of her. Therefore, the story goes that Biddy played with the faerie. By the time she 16, both of her parents had passed away. She was evicted from her home and wandered about the countryside with no place to hang her hat. Little is known about this part of her life, but it is said that she earned her keep as a serving girl. In 1817, she moved to Feakle where she met and married widower, Pat Malley. He died a short time thereafter.
Biddy then married his son, her stepson, John, and they lived in a little three room cottage and had a son, Paddy, who died when he was only 8 months old. This is were Biddy first began to earn a reputation for her cures. Sadly, John died in 1840, and Biddy found herself a widow once again.
Her third marriage was to a man named Tom Flannery, and the couple moved into a little cottage near Lake Kilbarron which came to be known as Biddy Early's Lake. By now, Biddy's reputation as a healer was spreading, and the road to her little home was always filled with travelers who were seeking out her help. Her cures not only involved applying herbs to a wound or a recipe for the sick, but she was also intuitive and was able to recognize and understand other people's needs.
At some point, no one knows when or how, Biddy acquired her famous 'blue bottle' which was said to be magical. By looking into the bottle, she would be able to see what ailed those who sought her assistance and even view the future...under one condition..that she would never receive any monetary for her services. She was allowed to accept gifts, however, but was instructed to give away whatever was left over from her own needs. Others were never allowed to look into the bottle.
Now, in Biddy's time, superstitions involving faeries and all things supernatural were very strong, so when something occurred that appeared to be miraclulous...and without the aid of the church....it was usually attributed to witchcraft and the devil...and because of this, the local church viewed Biddy with a great deal of suspicion, and the priests were totally opposed to her. Furthermore, as her fame began to spread, they even tried to warn off the people from visiting her. In 1865 she was accused of witchcraft under a 1586 statute, was brought before a court in Ennis, but her case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The few who had agreed to testify against her backed out, and many of the local people stood their ground against the clergy.
Her husband, Tom, died in 1868 and Biddy, now 70 years old, married her fourth husband, a man named Thomas Meaney, but he, too, got sick and died within the year. After his death, Biddy's health began to deteriorate, and she died in April 1874 with a rosary around her neck and her mysterious blue bottle wrapped in a shawl beside her. According to the legend, a priest who Biddy had befriended picked up the bottle and hurled it into Kilbarron Lake as per her request. Since then, many have trawled the lake in search of the bottle, but it has never been found.
I know what you are all thinking....so many husbands dying...this just doesn't sound right. But, the fact is, that most of Biddy's "gifts" consisted of whiskey and other strong liquors, and because Biddy provided for everything with her healing work, it is believed that her husbands, having nothing to do, drank and died of alcohol abuse. Did Biddy really exist? Absolutely she did, but because she lived in age where most of the folk were illiterate, nothing about her was written down, so all we have are the stories of her life which were passed down by local oral traditions.