|"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.
STRANGE DUNGANNON SLANDER SUIT
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.
BURNED THATCH UNDER COW’S NOSE
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.
“LAUGHING STOCK OF TYRONE”
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