Sunday, 17 March 2019

We're Not Roswell, We're Portglenone

Back in December 1958, Portglenone, a village in County Antrim, made the news after a farmer there - Mr Joseph Bennett - had a very close encounter with a UFO. During this encounter, the unidentified object struck and damaged a tree, thereby leaving tangible evidence that something physical was responsible for the sighting.
Anyway, while I’ve known about this case for some time, the preceding paragraph just about sums up what I knew about it. I’d always assumed that it was one of those quirky incidents that had warranted only a few inches of newspaper space the day after it happened.
From Belfast Telegraph of 30 December 1958
Not so.
Turns out that The Belfast Telegraph took a very keen interest in Mr Bennett’s strange tale. The first story appeared on 30 December 1958.

A middle-aged Portglenone farmer is still thinking about a mysterious black object which went over his head on Sunday afternoon - and cut a tree in two.
Mr. Joseph Bennett, of Bracknamuckley, was out walking when he heard a strange noise. He looked up.
“It made a sound like rushing wind,” he said. The thing - it was about seven feet broad - flashed towards me some 18 or 20 feet up.
“It came from the south and was travelling in a north-westerly direction. Next thing I saw was it’s swift passage through a row of trees which divide two farms at Gortfadd.
“It cut one of the trees in half; the trunk was two feet thick. In a matter of seconds it had vanished.
“It was an oak tree, 40 ft high, and it is sliced clean eight feet from the base.”
And the question they were asking in Portglenone to-day was: “What was that thing?”

The people of Portglenone weren’t the only ones asking that question, as the Telegraph reported on 31 December:

THE STRANGE BLACK OBJECT reported to have ripped apart a large oak tree at Portglenone, Co. Antrim, on Sunday, has already entered the files of U.F.O. (unidentified flying object) researchers.
Mr. Terence Nonweiler, lecturer in the aeronautical engineering department of Queen’s University, and a former member of the Council of the British Interplanetary Society, to-day visited the scene.
Before leaving for Portglenone, Mr Nonweiler told me: “This would appear to be the first case in the United Kingdom where such a mysterious happening has been reported and in which some tangible evidence remains in the shape of the damaged tree.”
From Belfast Telegraph of 31 December 1958
The farmer, Mr. Joseph Bennett, of Bracknamuckley, insists that the tree was sliced in two by a huge, black object which passed over his head, and then proceeded on its way.
He says it was moving at a height of 18 to 20 feet.
The tree shows no signs of scorching, which would indicate lightning, and there is no damage to adjoining trees.
Thousands of U.F.O.’s, in many parts of the world, are now on record.
The term is used by scientists who refuse to accept the description “flying saucer,” which came into vogue a few years ago after several pilots had reported circular objects travelling at speeds of thousands of miles an hour.
In Great Britain, U.F.O. enthusiasts are formed into clubs and keep watch at week-ends from mountain tops. They even have their own magazine.
The forestry department of the Ministry of Agriculture are interested in the oak tree, and to-day instructed their forester at Portglenone, Mr. A. McLean, to examine the tree.
An official said: “This is most unusual in an oak tree but not in an elm [1]. We have never had an instance of this before. We will be glad to have full details for the record.”
Mr. Nonweiler spent about 15 minutes at the tree. He found that there were signs of rotting at the point where it had broken off, and there were also four marks on the bark - three on the trunk and one on a large branch, all in a direct line.
He said: “I think that the rotten state of the trunk explains why it broke at that particular point, and the four cuts in the bark may have some significance.”
He was not prepared to say positively, however, that the tree had been brought down by a flying object.
Mr. Bennett told Mr. Nonweiler: “At about 3-30 p.m. on Sunday I saw what looked like a small black cloud giving off a hissing sound and travelling at fantastic speed along the valley from the direction of Lough Neagh at a height of about 20 feet.
“It passed right through the tree which crashed and proceeded on its way at the same speed as if nothing had happened. the tree came down with a terrible crash.
“It was going so fast that that I could not tell whether it was a solid object or not. It was going at many times the speed of a jet plane.”
Mr. Alfred Connolly, who owns the field in which the tree stood, said that the state of the branches made it look as if something solid had torn across the tree as it came down.
He added: “Mr. Bennett is a most reliable witness. If he says he saw a black flying object you can be sure that he saw it.”
The tree was to-day the main object of interest in the Portglenone area and cars stopped every few minutes on the near-by road as the occupants alighted to examine it.

 By 1 January 1959, the “experts” were already reporting their findings.

Although an element of mystery still surrounds the felling of a tree at Portglenone by a small, black object travelling, according to a local farmer, “at fantastic speed,” an examination of the Meteorological Office records to-day showed that gusts of wind of 52 miles an hour occurred about the time of the incident.
Weather experts inclined to the view that a local whirlwind, similar to that at Kilkeel a few months ago [2], had been responsible.
“It may be,” a Meteorological Office spokesman said, “that it was not severe enough to do any other damage.”
Mr. Terrence Nonweiler, Queen’s University lecturer on aeronautical engineering and a former member of the council of the British Interplanetary Society, who examined the tree yesterday afternoon, said afterwards that the evidence was “too flimsy” to say that the tree had been brought down by a solid flying object.
He thought that the marks on the tree would not fit the theory that it had been brought down by the object.
He was impressed, however, by the testimony of Mr. Joseph Bennett, a local farmer, who told him that he watched the object from its appearance over Lough Neagh until it left the valley after bringing down the tree.
And it is the opinion of the local people that “something very odd” happened on Sunday afternoon.

The final story, which appeared in the Telegraph on 2 January, featured more “experts” and their opinions. On a personal note, if we’re expected to favour those theories that have the least assumptions, then the theory that a saucer from Zeta Reticuli damaged the tree is on a par - kind of, if you stand really far back and squint at it - with all of the other suggestions.

Forestry experts gave their verdict to-day on the Portglenone “flying object” which felled a two-foot-thick tree last Sunday - it was a whirlwind.
Samples of the sheared trunk were examined under a microscope at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Division in Belfast and were found to be decayed.
“The tree just snapped below a dead branch,” an official said to-day. “It was very heavily branched at the top and the strain over the years had damaged the cells. A sudden gust of wind was all it needed.”
Just one thing puzzles the experts - the cleanness of the break.
From Belfast Telegraph 0f 2 January 1959
“It could be that the fungus developed in a regular pattern,” the official said, “but it is unusual. There was certainly no evidence of impact damage on the outside of the tree, or on trees nearby.”
To get the samples local forester Andy McLean had to climb the eight-foot tree stump. Souvenir hunters have been at work on the felled section of the tree.
Dr. E. M. Lindsay, director of Armagh Observatory, today put forward the theory that the tree had been brought down by a waterspout.
He said that the fact that the black object was said to have come from the direction of Lough Neagh, together with many examples in the files of the Observatory of waterspouts near the lough helped to support his theory.
“Oddly enough,” said Dr. Lindsay, “practically all these reports were made in the last century, but they are well authenticated. One official, who lived at Loughall, observed several. There were many such reports in the early 1800s.”
Dr. Lindsay has not seen a waterspout in Northern Ireland, but he has experienced many on visits to South Africa. The water taken up by the whirling current of air accounts for the blackness, he says.

1 Is he suggesting that it’s usually only elm trees that get rear-ended by flying saucers?
2 In the early hours of Tuesday, 30 September 1958, what was described as "probably a minor tornado" ripped through Kilkeel. Though lasting only three minutes, it managed to do quite a lot of damage.

The Belfast Telegraph, 30 & 31 December 1958 and 1 & 2 January 1959

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Sputnik in Clonsharragh

Nobody associates Ireland – North or South – with crashed-saucer stories. But on a number of occasions the authorities have been called to incidents that – initially – were suggestive of a crashed craft.
Sputnik 1
In February 1955, the village of Ballincagy, County Westmeath, was awash with rumours of a flying saucer after 15-year-old Leo Penrose saw a strange object come down in a field outside the village. 
And in November 1950, an object that was believed to be a “flying saucer” crashed in a field in Coravilla, County Cavan. 
Then there was that incident in Clonsharragh, County Wexford, in 1962.
The Garda investigated all of these events. They discovered that the Ballincagy object was a weather balloon, while the Coravilla object was a radiosonde – aka the business end of a weather balloon - belonging to the British Meteorological Office.
But when it came to explaining the Clonsharragh incident, they needed a little help from the Army.
The following comes form The New Ross Standard of 14 September 1962.
Army Experts Examine “Mysterious Object”
Local people who first found the shining black object were mystified. They immediately notified Duncannon Garda Station. They, in turn, contacted Supt. W. M. O’Brien, New Ross, who informed the Army authorities whose experts said they would make the one-hundred mile journey from Dublin to inspect the object and were expected to arrive about 4 a.m. some five hours after Mr. Joseph Wallace, Kilbride, saw the flashing light and felt the ground tremble beneath him. 
In the meantime, Garda T. Kerrigan, Duncannon, remained at the scene and was replaced around four o’clock by a force from New Ross.
At nine o’clock in the morning, the area was cordoned off and no one was allowed within a considerable distance of the object which was known to be sitting on top of some yellow clay in a five feet in diameter crater.
People came form a wide area to hear about the mysterious object, but they made no move to go near it even if they could – they were afraid in case it would blast them into eternity. What was it? Various opinions were put forward.
“It is a guided missile,” said one local. “It was probably fired from Cape Canaveral and meant to land in the harbour,” he added.
“I’d say ‘tis a sputnik,” said another, “or one of those yokes the Americans have for testing the upper atmosphere.”
“Whatever it is, ‘tis highly dangerous,” said another. “I wouldn’t like to near it anyhow.”
“It looks awful like a ball-cock to me,” said one of those who braved to go near it before the area was cordoned off.
And that is exactly what it turned out to be – a perfectly harmless cistern ball-cock with four brass rods sticking out of it, three from the top hemisphere.
 The mystery was solved about one o’clock on Saturday when Comdt. P. J. McCourt, Sergt. M. P. Walsh and Cpl. M. J. Cleary, Ordnance Corps, Eastern Command, Dublin, arrived to inspect the object.
Comdt. McCourt’s official description – an ingenious hoax, a cistern ball-cock designed to give a Telstar effect.
Thus ended all the speculation which had been rife from the time Mr. Wallace, who was in the adjoining sportsfield, saw the flashing light and felt the ground tremble beneath him, after a loud explosion. Mr. Wallace related his experience to a few other local people and they decided to explore for themselves before notifying the Gardai.
When our representative called to the scene early on Saturday morning, there was quite a crowd of people gathered, including a number of tourists who were holidaying in Duncannon. A member of the Garda Siochana saw to it that no one entered the field and a lone soldier walked to and fro about a hundred yards from the mysterious object.
Amongst those present was Mr. Andrew Knox, Clonsharragh, who said he was going to bed when he heard the explosion, which was like a discharge from a shotgun or a burst tyre, but three times louder.
The “mystery” object was painted on the outside with black shellac and had four brass rods sticking out of it, each about six inches long and were probably stair rods. The inside was expertly assembled and was obviously the work of someone who knew quite a bit about electronics. It contained transistors and resistors, elaborate wiring and electronic devices probably taken from a wireless set.
The “sputnik” was found on the top of a sauce bottle top laid on top of a hole five feet in diameter which had obviously been dug beforehand.
When asked to explain the explosion which caused the earth to tremble for a considerable distance around, Comdt. McCourt said there was strong evidence to prove it was caused by gunpowder.
Before taking back the “sputnik” to headquarters with him, Comdt. McCourt said he would be able to trace the various items when he got time to examine them in detail. A piece of sponge inside originated Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, he said.
Local people believed that the incident had consequences which were not at all intended by the person or persons responsible. It is thought to have been an experiment by some space-minded person or persons who had hopes of establishing a Cape Canaveral in Ramsgate. The incident, it is believed, would have passed unnoticed were it not for the fact that Mr. Wallace was in the adjoining field. The Gardai, however, may have different ideas, as it was they and the military who were most upset by the hoax.
The Irish Times, 28 November 1950 and 17 February 1955
The New Ross Standard, 14 September 1962 

Monday, 18 February 2019

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Cousin Scorned

In my last post, The Potato Pinching Poltergeist on Old Town Hill, the people of Cookstown – and beyond – were mystified by the goings on at a house in the town. A number of theories – none of which involved acknowledging that a magician lived in the house – and precedents were proposed. This one, which appeared in The Belfast News-Letter on 23 November 1874, is my favourite.
Greencastle Street, Kilkeel in 1936

SIR – In your impression of Wednesday last there appeared a lengthened report of a ghost story from Cookstown, which seems rather inexplicable; but, perhaps, the following may help to be the means of unravelling the mystery.
Some years ago, in the neighbourhood of Kilkeel, an occurrence of a similar kind perplexed the inhabitants for many months. In a house there a series of depredations were committed exactly like those which are at present being perpetrated on Mr. Allen, of Cookstown. The windows were smashed among their hands, and, as in the present case, the broken glass was generally found outside, and a stone with which it appeared to have been broken inside. Clothes were destroyed, cows’ tails and pigs’ ears were cut off, and no clue whatever could be got to explain the matter. Often the minister would go and remain for a time with the afflicted family, and just among their hands a pane of glass would be smashed or some like deed done. The police were resorted to, as if their presence would frighten whatever demon haunted the scene. But all was no use. For months a guard was kept about the house night and day; but the unseen agent of the infernal regions (as many thought it to be) was able to prosecute his work of destruction without detection. Every morning when the police arrived in town the inquiring inhabitants were furnished with some additional turn of the ghost story. Some blamed the evil one, and others thought it might be the work of some ill-disposed neighbour. Few, however, were of the latter opinion, as it was utterly impossible that any neighbour could have done it without being taken by the police. However, the ghost was at last discovered, and he whom Burns styles “Old Clootie,” was set scot free. It appeared that there lived in the house a girl - a niece of the proprietor – and that she was in love with her cousin, who preferred some neighbour, and was not accustomed to stop at home with her. Either in revenge for this indignity, or in some mania, she became the agent of the above depredations, and she carried on the work so cunningly as to defy detection for months. However, one of the policemen at length caught her in the act of breaking a window, and she was taken prisoner, and afterwards confessed the whole thing. She broke the glass with a hammer, or something else, and then deposited a stone inside in order to shroud it in mystery. In short, she acted the part of a supernatural agent for a time quite as cleverly as that which your reporter represents to be at present in Cookstown.
 – Yours, &c., 
H. J
Cloverhill, Belturbet, 20thNov., 1874

The Belfast News-Letter, 23 November 1874

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The Potato Pinching Poltergeist on Old Town Hill

I thought I’d begin 2019 with a poltergeist story from 1874, which took place on Old Town Hill, in Cookstown, the home of the sausage, and was reported in the Irish Times of 18 November 1874. [1] While many will dismiss the story based on how one of Mr Allen’s sons spent his free time, I love it for its range of poltergeist phenomena - from hovering hats to stolen spuds.
Cookstown has lately been singled out for the attention of a visitor whose freaks and doings have caused no little wonderment and curiosity. Were the time a little further advanced the narrative of the manifestations which have so completely upset the ordinary tranquillity of this community might be embodied in a fairly exciting Christmas story. 
Vincent van Gogh's 'Basket of Potatoes'
The haunted house is situated on Old Town Hill, and is occupied by a Mr. Allen, who carries on a respectable business as a grocer. The manifestations of something unusual, and untoward, first became noticeable some eighteen months ago. The phenomena were then mainly confined to breaking the windows. It may be thought there was nothing very extraordinary nor ghostlike in such a procedure; but there was. When several panes were broken, and the how and means escaped attention, a strict watch was put upon the windows, but all was useless: the cause was still undiscoverable. 
Sometimes stones were used as the media, but by whom or what nobody could see; and more frequently again the glass broke, apparently of its own accord. Even the frames began at last to get abused, more especially at the rere of the house, and the strictest and most constant guard could make nothing of it. 
The house, by the way, is a small two-storey building, with three windows behind, and the ordinary shop and front windows before. The yard is small, and surrounded by a wall ten feet high, from whence extend the open fields. 
All the glass at the back of the premises having been repeatedly broken and every effort at protection avoided, one of the windows was barricaded with a shutter, to which was affixed a bell in such a position that if the shutter were removed the bell must ring. Men were also placed at each window with loaded guns, so that it was impossible for any individual to approach without being at once observed and in their power. Notwithstanding this, the shutter was taken down, the bell simply noting the fact when it was accomplished, and that in such a gentle tinkling monotone as to be almost unheard. 
In the front of the premises glass was broken with the same security and freedom from observation. 
Fear now commenced to grow into serious alarm, which in no way decreased, as other incidents, equally, if not more, bewildering in their character, became of daily occurrence. 
Bowls took a fancy to rotate, with various degrees of swiftness, upon the tables, and then, as if smitten with the same idea of self-martyrdom, shot off at a tangent, ending sharply and forever their symmetrical usefulness upon the floor. 
Coats, which formerly hung with all staidness and propriety upon their respective pins, now shivered and fluttered, as if seized with an ague, and again expanded in all their proportions, as if each were enveloping an invisible Falstaff or an aspiring Claimant. Hats took unto themselves wings, and bodily flew away. 
In sooth, the natural order of affairs in the house was completely deranged, and the more agitated became the inanimate articles, the more excited became, naturally enough, the members of the family. Every conceivable project that could be devised for elucidating these mysteries failed utterly in pointing out a cause which could be understood. 
Even the potatoes boiling in a pot on the fire became mashed, and leaped behind the fire. And when ten or twelve were entered for boiling, a tot up in a few minutes revealed the startling fact that several had altogether and unaccountably disappeared, though many pairs of straining eyes were watching with almost painful eagerness every motion of the immovable pot. 
Latterly, also, large stones, weighing on an average about three pounds or three pounds and a half, have rolled slowly down the stairs, bobbing with leisurely ease from step to step. These have been sometimes damp and wet with clay, as if just removed from a ditch or roadway, and at other times, dry and clean, as if preserved from the weather for a considerable space of time. No persons have been in the upper portion of the house where such events have happened, and not the vaguest shadow upon which to found a belief in the collusion or complicity of any parties in the causing of them has been at all afforded. 
These manifestations will serve to show the cruel and persistent manner in which Mr Allen and his family have been afflicted, though they are from exhausting the minor details of a system of persecution as vexations and hard to be borne as it is strange and unexplainable both in cause and result. 
The family consist of Mr and Mrs Allen, two sons, and a daughter. One of the male branches, a young man of twenty-two or thereabouts, resides constantly with his father, and is said to be an apt student of the art of legerdemain.  Rumour will insist on mixing him up with the occurrences, but they have been known to take place when he was away working on the farm. 
Mr. Allen has ceased to accept, or even listen to any interpretation or explanation of the facts. He is not by any means a nervous man, nor superstitious in his way of thinking, but having seen these things occur, and being utterly unable to assert a reason for them, he would at the present moment be an easily manipulated disciple of the most ardent spiritualist. The whole affair in its recital might seem quite a ludicrous matter, were it not for the very great pain suffered by those most concerned.
  1. The Irish Times lifted the story from the Belfast News-Letter.

  • The Irish Times, 18 November 1874

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Bury Me in St Finbarr's

This week, my article “Six ghosts to make the headlines” appeared in the Irish Examiner newspaper. It included an 1853 incident from Cork, where it was believed that a ghost was stoning a cottage. There was more to this story than I could cover in the limited space of the article (I only had about 200 words per story). So, I’m posting an earlier draft of this one; it includes some additional details, including the ghost’s raison d’être.
I hope you enjoy.
On the evening of Tuesday, 13 September 1853, a crowd of 2,000 gathered at St Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork City to wait for a ghost that was supposedly making its way there from the Quaker Cemetery.
The ghost was that of a Quaker lady who had been buried in the Quaker Cemetery, and not St Finbarr’s, as she’d wanted. And every night since her burial, she had been throwing stones at the home of Mr Hughes, whose only crime was living in the cottage adjoining the Quaker Cemetery.
It was a crazy story, but it took hold and spread very, very quickly. And after the first night of ghostly vandalism, hundreds began gathering at the Quaker Cemetery in the hope of seeing the ghost.
RIC Head Constable Crowley was desperate to solve the mystery. In a meeting with the mayor, he reported that he had uniformed officers on crowd control duty and plain-clothes officers mingling with the crowds to find the culprit. He had a list of all those living in the area and he planned to bring every one on of them in for questioning. He was also using his own money to bribe people for information. 
But despite Crowley’s best efforts, the invisible stone thrower continued its nightly antics - and the crowds continued to grow.
It peaked on the evening of Tuesday, 13 September, when crowds gathered to see the ghost make its own way to St Finbarr’s. 
The ghost never appeared, of course. 
While the nightly stone throwing continued, the press lost interest. But Head Constable Crowley didn’t. He had men hiding in the area, and at 5pm on Friday, 14 October, one of his officers finally caught the culprit in the act.
It was Catherine McCarthy, the Hughes’s servant.
When she appeared in court the following day, McCarthy, whom one paper described as a “dirty looking Cinderella,” offered no plausible reason for her actions.
The Constitution, 15 September and 18 October 1853
The Cork Southern Reporter, 15 October 1853
The Limerick and Clare Examiner, 17 September 1853

Monday, 17 September 2018

Demented Tables and Psychic Jazz

In 1920, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph ran a series of articles on psychic phenomena. The second of these articles looked at William Jackson Crawford’s (referred to in the article as J. N. Crawford for some reason) investigation of the Belfast medium Kathleen Goligher. Crawford had been working with Goligher and her family for six years, and in that time he had developed some interesting theories about psychic phenomena. 
The Goligher Circle
William Jackson Crawford
Of late years the purely physical manifestations of supposed spirit power have tended to go out of date; the best people in both worlds have discouraged them, and preferred to concentrate on voice-communications and automatic writing. But the physical phenomena have gained a revival of interest through the astonishing experiments during the last few years of Dr. J. N. Crawford of Belfast. He is a Spiritualist who has discovered in a Miss Kathleen Goligher a medium simply overflowing with “psychic force.” He holds séances with Miss Goligher and members of her family, at which the table, without being touched by the medium or anybody else, rises in the air, turns completely round, poises sideways on nothing, poises upside down on nothing, and generally performs every stunt of which an animated and demented table could be supposed capable.
Dr. Crawford’s belief is that these effects are obtained by means of psychic rods issuing from the medium’s body. These rods are operated by the attendant spirits on correct mechanical principles (Dr. Crawford is a Lecturer on Mechanical Engineering), and he issues requests to them regarding the manipulation of the rods as cantilevers, struts, and so forth; the spirits respond by raps according to a code, and endeavour to comply. The rods are invisible, but he says they feel cold and clammy, and attach themselves to the table by suckers (writers of ghost stories, please note). Other smaller rods cause raps, thuds, bangs, scrapings, drummings, and bell-ringings, all which miscellaneous din Dr. Crawford has carefully recorded on a phonograph. He has placed the medium on a weighing machine, and has found that during a séance she loses weight – sometimes by the stone – but recovers it all at the end; whereas the other sitters, at the end, are on an average half-a-pound lighter than they were at the start.
Possible Explanations
Several non-spiritual explanations of this psychic jazz may be suggested: --
(1)  That Dr. Crawford is spoofing the public;
(2)  That the medium and her family are spoofing Dr. Crawford;
(3)  That the medium hypnotises Dr. Crawford, or Dr. Crawford the medium; or that the whole party are suffering from collective delusion;
(4)  That the medium possesses and exudes some unexplored natural force, no more ghostly than electricity, but hitherto unknown to science.
Spoof explanations can never be wholly put aside where mediums are concerned; but Dr. Crawford seems sincere, like most Spiritualists, and he tells us that the medium is unpaid and quite a nice girl. The hypnotic explanation seems vague, and does not cover the party’s loss of weight; but I do not believe it is wholly inadmissible. Nor, I think, is the speculative fourth explanation. Dr. Crawford says that the force is operated by spirits. Being a Spiritualist, he would say so as a matter of course; it is the weakness of the spiritualists to prefer supernatural to natural explanations. In ordinary table-turning, questions are answered by raps which are not caused by spirits, but by the unconscious muscular action of the sitters. Similarly, perhaps, with this “psychic force,” which may be a sort of extension of muscular action possessed by a few persons, and responsive like it to the subconscious will of those who exert it.
I admit that this suggestion is highly speculative, but it is at any rate clear of the supernatural, and it appears to explain some features of séances, hauntings, etc., not so readily explicable in any other way.
 - Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 22 January 1920

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Blinking Cows

"I think you'll find it's pronounced 'Boo.'"
It was 1927: John Logie Baird was transmitting the first long distance television signals; Charles Lindbergh was crossing the Atlantic; and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was being seen for the first time.
At home, Mary Bailey was becoming the first woman to fly a plane across the Irish Sea; we were getting our first automatic telephone exchange; and the moon was blocking out the sun across the island.
But our focus was on Killyman, County Tyrone, where William Blair’s cows had become a bit lethargic and weren’t producing a lot of milk. 
They’d obviously been “blinked” – and Blair blamed Isabella Hazelton for “blinking” them. 
Why Blair blamed Hazelton is anyone’s guess (although, Isabella Hazelton really is a great name for a witch). But he told just about everyone he knew – and a few people he didn’t – that she had bewitched his cows. 
Soon, everyone in Killyman “knew” Isabella was a witch. She wasn’t at all pleased about this, so she “lawed” him.
The following account of the case appeared in the Northern Whig of 8 October 1927.
Allegations that cattle had been “blinked” by a woman who had the power of the “evil eye” were the main features of an extraordinary slander case at Dungannon Quarter Sessions before his Honour Judge Linehan. Witnesses stated that to dispel the evil thatch was burned at the noses of the cattle and red rags tied to their tails to keep away the witchcraft.
The parties concerned were Isabella Hazelton, of Drumcrow, Killyman, who brought remitted actions for slander against William Blair, of Drumcrow, and Isaac and Sarah McFarland, of Drumhorrick, County Tyrone.
Mr. John Skeffington appeared for plaintiff, and Mr. W. F. McCoy (instructed by Mr. A. P. Orr and Mr. W. J. Irwin) represented the defendants.
Opening the case, Mr Skeffington said the issue was whether the plaintiff had the “evil eye.” Plaintiff’s case was that the power to blink did not exist. Defendant’s case, as far as he knew, was that certain persons had the power to blink or bewitch cattle, even at a distance, but that they never said it was the plaintiff.
Plaintiff, in evidence, said in her district a number of people believed in the power to blink cattle, and rumours had got out that she had that power. She knew that defendants’ cattle had been failing in milk supply, but she had nothing to do with that. In consequence of stories circulated she and her husband visited William Blair on the 19thApril. Her husband asked Blair what slanderous statements he had been making about witness. Blair said that the statements were true, for the thatch of his house [Hazelton’s] had cured the cattle. (Laughter.) Blair added that burning the thatch was one of the recognised cures for blinked cattle, and said he had burned it under the cow’s nose, and the cow had jumped to her feet and got better. Blair referred to the breaking of the byre door; and said that witness broke it to get in to the cattle.
With her husband witness also visited Isaac McFarland on the same evening, and McFarland said witness had destroyed his cattle, and added that he wouldn’t say anything further there, but would say it in the right place. McFarland said he wouldn’t clear her character. Witness heard about the reputation she had got for miles around, and no one in the district would speak to her.
The defendants, added witness, had circulated the story that the first cure was the burning of the thatch, and this was followed by the application of salt. After the cows were cured the defendants protected the animals by tying a red rag on their tails. (Laughter.) “And, mind you, it was not a wee rag, for you could see it a good piece away,” she added, amid laughter.
Mr McCoy – Do you believe in blinking? – I do not, but McFarland and Balir do.
Does anyone else in Killyman believe in blinking? – I don’t know. The neighbours say I can blink the cows, although I know nothing about it. I saw where the thatch was pulled off our house to burn at the cow’s nose.
If a wisp of straw was burned under a cow’s nose would she jump? – If it was burned under your nose you would leave the road. (Laughter.)
Do you read the Bible? – Yes.
Witness denied that Blair advised her and her husband to go home and have sense. People said she had taken the butter from defendant’s cows, as she had more butter than any six of the neighbours.
Robert McKitterick, Cormullagh, a feeble old man, who was assisted into the witness box, said he possessed the cure for blinking, and people came to him from all parts of the country to have their cattle cured of it. The defendants, who lived a considerable distance away, came to him to get the cure, and they asked whether he could tell who was blinking their cattle. He said he could not, and the defendants said they blamed a woman.
Witness said, “Don’t tell me her name, I don’t want to hear it, and she might law you.” (Laughter.) Witness cured the blink by the use of salt in the name of God, and taught the defendants the way to use the salt, as he was too feeble to go with them. He believed people had the power to blink cattle, as he had seen many cases of it. “The Bible stated that blinking can be done,” he added.
Mr McCoy – What effect has the blink on cattle? – They pine away and won’t eat well when affected.
Herbert Toner, Kernaghan, said Blair went to Mrs. Hazelton’s house and took a handful of thatch from the roof. He burned it under the cow’s nose, and the cow got alright again. Blair also told him that he had a red rag tied to the cow’s tail to ward off the blinking.
William Clements, Cohannon, said he spoke to Blair many a time about the cattle. When the cattle were not well Blair would say they had been blinked or overlooked, and blamed Mrs. Hazelton for doing it.
Mr McCoy refused to produce the defendants, and Mr Skeffington said that if the actions were dismissed, so far as the country was concerned, it meant that Mrs Hazelton had the power to blink.
His Honour said the defamation relied on was outlandish and highly improbable, but still serious. From McKitterick’s evidence it was fairly obvious that the imputation was broadcast throughout Killyman that the practice of blinking was attributable to some persons. If he (his Honour) found that the defendants or one of them uttered words suggesting that the plaintiff possessed these powers they would be made answerable for the accusation. He did not agree with counsel not putting his clients in the box; but that was counsel’s responsibility.
Concluding, his Honour said he held that the uttering of a gross scandal by Blair had been proved, and that no justification had been offered. In this instance privilege did not arise, and he awarded sufficient damages to clear the character of the plaintiff at £5 and costs. He dismissed the case against Isaac and Sarah McFarland.
  • Northern Whig, 8 October 1927