The Philpott Case – A Lesson from History

I’m idly flicking through a copy of The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke. It tells the tale of what’s sometimes referred to as “the last witch-burning in Ireland”.

In 1895 Bridget Cleary, a 25 year old woman from County Tipperary, Ireland, was burned alive by her husband. It was a bizarre and grotesque tragedy in which her assailant used an unusual defence. He claimed that his wife had been abducted by the fairies, and he had only killed her changeling rather than Cleary herself.

The case provoked huge media interest, and that interest turned into politicised comment. To give a flavour of how this was reported in some quarters, here’s a quote from the Clonmel Nationalist around the time of the trial.

We found yesterday that the dreadful occurrence has been utilized editorially by the Tory-Unionist Dublin Evening Mail for purposes of political capital and as a suitable occasion to pour forth slander, odium and abuse on Irish people generally; to stir up racial and religious passion and prejudice, and if possible to damage the cause of Home Rule.

As you might gather, right-wing newspaper barons used this unusual and shocking event to slander an entire people, dismiss them all as unreasoning savages, and to advance a political agenda against them.

Thank goodness we live in 2013, not 1895. This is a much more responsible media era.

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6 thoughts on “The Philpott Case – A Lesson from History

  1. I’m still tearing my hair out over this case. Why the fuck are people making this an issue around benefits? It was a criminal act. Would it have been any less heinous if they had not been claiming benefits? Would that somehow reduce the horror of it? “Oh, yes they burnt their house down and killed their own children, but at least they were ‘proper’ homeowners” FFS. None of this rhetoric changes anything at all. There is so much shit being slung now that the whole point has been lost in entirety. I cannot help but think that it has played out as intended.

    • You miss the point yourself. The welfare lifestyle was intrinsic to this case. It was all about benefits and claiming off the state. The whole purpose of the fire was to get the other children back so he could claim additional benefit for them.

      • Mick Philpott was a nasty, controllng abuser who took every penny from his women – both what they earned from working and what they got from benefits. He didn’t care where it was from. He just wanted it.

        A psychopath like Philpott didn’t need any help from the benefits system to hurt people. He just had to be himself.

      • Oh please. That’s a completely illogical argument, Simon. What if it had been an insurance job and he’d torched the house to claim insurance? You wouldn’t be throwing your hands in the air and lamenting the fact too many people have insurance, would you?

  2. Pingback: Using mental illness as an insult – Mick Philpott, Jon Snow & lunatics | Sectioned

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