Biddy Early

Biddy Early is one of the most famous of all the folk healers of the nineteenth century. She lived in Feakle in County Clare and died in 1873.  Born Bridget Ellen Connors in lower Faha near Kilanena in 1798, the daughter of John Thomas Connors and Ellen Early, she married four times but was always known by her mother's maiden name, because it
was believed that her gifts were inherited through the female line.  Her mother taught her the native herblore which was known to almost every rural housewife of the time.

Her parents died when she was sixteen, and after travelling around, eviction from her home in Carheen, working in 'the House of Industry' in Ennis, she eventually met and married widower Pat Mally from Gurteenreagh who was middle-aged while she was still in her early twenties. She had a son Pat, and on her husband's death married her stepson John Mally. 

 John Mally died in 1840 of a liver ailment due to excess consumption of low grade alcohol and she then married Tom Flannery of Finley, Clare and moved to a cottage on Dromore Hill, overlooking a lake which became known as Biddy Early's Lake. This home in Kilbarron is identified with Biddy 'The Healer', 'The Wise Woman', 'The Witch'.

It was at this time that she first gained a wider reputation and many well known people came to seek her advice among them Daniel O'Connell candidate for Clare in 1828 and a gypsy 'Queen' from County Kerry.

There are many books written about her and many accounts of her healings.  She used the power of scrying and would look into the reflective surface of a blue-green bottle to see visions of the past and the future.  There are many anecdotes about how she came into possession of this 'magic bottle', in one account Her son Paddy won it playing hurley for a team of strangers who then disappeared.

She also used to give a herbal cure of a small bottle filled with a liquid for the afflicted to take.  But they should be careful not to let the bottle drop on the way home or they would lose the cure.

The Christian Clergy were totally opposed to her and would try to warn off anyone that went to visit her.  There are many stories of the opposition of the clergy, and in 1865 she was in Ennis charged with witchcraft under the 1586 statute. The case was dismissed 'due to lack of sufficient evidence against the accused'; those who were to give evidence did not testify against her.

  She would always know if the person going to visit her had gone to either a doctor or a priest first and if they had then she usually refused to treat them unless she was in a good mood.  Many ordinary people stood their ground against this opposition to her, maintaining she did nothing but good works.  She knew if a person had stood up for her and would praise them.

There are some that say she was away with the sidhe, in that she went to live among them for a while, but by her own accounts she said she could see and talk to them in their own language which was different from Gaelic, since she was a little girl and they told her how to use her gifts.

Her husband Tom died in 1868 but Biddy, now over seventy, 'looked only about fifty or less' and married her fourth husband, Thomas Meaney. He got sick and died within the year in 1870.  There is an anecdote which claims that he came to her as a patient and she agreed to cure him if he would marry her and so he did.

It was claimed her husbands all died from the abuse of alcohol, as there was so much whiskey, poteen and other strong liquors brought to her in payment that the house was never without a drop to drink.  Her husbands did not need to work as she herself provided everything through her healing work.  After her last husband died she slowly deteriorated, and died in April 1874 with her rosary around her neck and her bottle in its
red shawl beside her.  

She had befriended one of the local priests and asked him not to let the bottle fall into the wrong hands accordingly the priest took the bottle and hurled it into Kilbarron Lake.  That did not stop a few attempts to trawl the lake afterwards in search of the bottle but it has never turned up.

It was said she was very kind-hearted especially to the poor and to the travelling people, as she herself had been put out on the roads with her mother and family when she was young and she never forgot the experience.

Further Reading: Dermot Mac ManusThe Middle Kingdom, the faerie world of Ireland. first published 1959.

republished by Colin Smythe Ltd. 1973, reprinted 1979, 1993. 

Meda Ryan 'Biddy Early - Wise Woman of Clare'  (Mercier Press, Dublin 1978) 

Edmund Lenihan - In Search of Biddy Early (1987)

Stories, Myths and Legends associated with Biddy Early

Biddy Early the Account of Lady Gregory


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