Witch Hunts

Butters, Mary (late 18th–early 19th centuries)

An attempt to cure a cow of bewitchment with white magic ended in disaster for Mary Butters, the “Carmoney Witch,” who narrowly escaped a trial in Carrickfergus, Ireland, in March 1808.

Butters was a reputed wise woman, skilled in herbal knowledge and various spells.

In August 1807 Butters was hired by Alexander Montgomery, a tailor who lived in Carmoney, to cure a cow that gave milk from which no butter could be made.

Montgomery’s wife was convinced that the cow was bewitched.

On the appointed night of the exorcism, Butters arrived with her charm bag of magical ingredients.

She ordered Montgomery and an onlooker, a young man named Carnaghan, out to the barn, where they were to turn their waistcoats inside out and stand by the cow’s head until she sent for them.

Butters, Mrs Montgomery, the Montgomery’s son, and an old woman named Margaret Lee remained with her in the house.

Montgomery and Carnaghan waited until dawn, growing increasingly worried.

They returned to the house, where they were shocked to find all four persons collapsed on the floor.

The smoky air smelled of sulphur; on the fire was a big pot containing milk, needles, pins and crooked nails.

The windows and door were sealed tight, and the chimney was covered.

The wife and son were dead, and Butters and Lee were close to death; Lee died moments after the men arrived.

In a fury, Montgomery threw Butters, Mary Butters out onto a dung heap and began kicking her to consciousness.

On August 19 an inquest was held in Carmoney, at which it was determined that the victims had died of suffocation
from Butters’s “noxious ingredients” and smoke.

Butters, terrified, claimed that during her spell-casting, a black man appeared inside the house wielding a huge club.

He knocked everyone down, killing the other three and stunning Butters to unconsciousness.

Butters was put forward for trial at the spring assizes, but the charges against her were dropped.

The community’s reaction to the tragedy was one of derision.

The incident was made the subject of a humorous ballad.

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