The burning of Bridget Cleary: Psychiatric aspects of a tragic tale

Abstract

Background

Bridget Cleary was brutally burned to death by her husband in the presence of her father and several close relatives in rural Ireland in 1895. The story has attracted public attention for more than a century now, for numerous reasons.

Aims

The issue of psychiatric illness in this tragedy and the role of fairy mythology in belief systems in 19th Century rural Ireland are reviewed, particularly in relation to providing explanations for physical and psychiatric illness, along with learning disability

Methods

Reference was made to a wide range of sources featuring the burning of Bridget Cleary.

Results

There is some evidence to suggest that the actions of Michael Cleary and other key protagonists were influenced by Capgras syndrome and folie a plusiers.

Conclusions

Delusional belief in fairy mythology may have coloured the psychological make-up, motivations and behaviour of some of the people involved in the killing of Bridget Cleary.

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References

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    RTE ‘Hidden History’ series, first broadcast November 2005.

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    Walsh D. The Burning of Bridget Cleary. The Irish Times. 1999.

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Correspondence to H. O’Connell.

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O’Connell, H., Doyle, P.G. The burning of Bridget Cleary: Psychiatric aspects of a tragic tale. Ir J Med Sci 175, 76–78 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03169179

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Keywords

  • Psychiatric Illness
  • Learning Disability
  • IRISH Journal
  • Sociocultural Context
  • Delusional Belief