Having just celebrated Halloween/Samhain, we are now all looking forward to Yule/Winter Solstice and Christmas of course, but let’s stick to the spooky theme for a bit longer.
So what else happened in November? The 1st is All Soul’s Day, when we remember the souls who have passed on, depending on your beliefs of course, to the Summerlands, Heaven, Valhalla and so on.
Now looking through an old Llewellyn’s Witches’ calendar that I have (dated 2002, eek!), I read that on 3rd November 1324, a lady called Petronilla de Meath was executed in the first recorded Witch burning in Ireland.
Petronilla (c. 1300–1324) was the maidservant of Dame Alice Kyteler, who was a noblewoman born in Ireland around 1263 of Flemish immigrants. After the death of Kyteler’s fourth husband, Dame Alice was accused of practicing witchcraft and Petronilla was charged with being one of her accomplices. Petronilla was tortured and forced to proclaim that she and Dame Alice were guilty of witchcraft. Dame Alice fled to save her life, and Petronilla was then flogged and eventually burnt at the stake on 3 November 1324.
Dame Alice Kyteler was a formidable and clever woman though. Due to the deaths of her husbands, Dame Alice amassed a fortune which caused a lot of resentment with the locals and she was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be burned. However, her connections with the local gentry ensured that she was ‘spirited’ away out of the country to England, where she just disappeared and no record of her has ever been found in England. May be she drowned at sea?
Before she left for England, it is thought she spent some time hiding in the local Dunmore cave. The cave has been known for many centuries and is first mentioned in the ninth-century Triads of Ireland, where it is referred to as one of the ‘darkest places in Ireland’. The most gruesome reference, however, comes from the Annals of the Four Masters, which tells how the Viking leader Guthfrith of Ivar massacred a thousand people there in AD 928. Archaeological investigation has not reliably confirmed that such a massacre took place, but finds within the cave – including human remains – do indicate Viking activity.
You can do a guided tour of the cave, but be warned, it is very deep with many steps down (& back up again!). If, like me you are claustrophobic, I would not recommend it though. My mother-in-law was brought up not far from Dunmore Cave had spent a lot of time there in childhood and teenage years. Speaking to one of the tour guides, it appears she is one of the few people of the general public to have seen the beautiful pool right at the very bottom of the cave. Because of a very difficult access to this area, only experienced guides and cavers have seen it! Mother-in-law said she got several telling’s off from her mother when she came home covered in mud after exploring the cave with friends!
There is also a pub/inn in Kilkenny called Kyteler’s Inn which was established by Dame Alice. It is now one of the oldest pubs in Ireland and is well worth a visit if you ever visit Kilkenny. Offering good food, music & beer, there is something going on every night. When I was there a few years ago, one night we sat downstairs in what would have been the cellars for our meal and I am sure I saw someone move through a door way which had been bricked up at some point.
If you are really lucky though you might also just glimpse out of the side of your eye, Dame Alice walking up some stairs in the main bar or come and sit at your table. Another night we sat at a table by these stairs where there is a life size wooden statue of Dame Alice who of course, I thanked for her hospitality when we left!