Butters, Mary (late 18th–early 19th centuries)

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An attempt to cure a cow of bewitchment with white magic
ended in disaster for Mary Butters, the “Carmoney
Witch,” who narrowly escaped a trial in Carricfergus,
Ireland, in March 1808. Butters was a reputed wise
woman, skilled in herbal knowledge and various spells.
In August 1807 Butters was hired by Alexander Montgomery,
a tailor who lived in Carmoney, to cure a cow that
gave milk from which no butter could be made. Montgomery’s
wife was convinced that the cow was bewitched. On
the appointed night of the exorcism (see spirit exorcism),
Butters arrived with her charm bag of magical ingredients.
She ordered Montgomery and an onlooker, a young
man named Carnaghan, out to the barn, where they were
to turn their waistcoats inside out and stand by the cow’s
head until she sent for them. Butters, Mrs. Montgomery,
the Montgomery’s son and an old woman named Margaret
Lee remained with her in the house.
Montgomery and Carnaghan waited until dawn, growing
increasingly worried. They returned to the house,
where they were shocked to find all four persons collapsed
on the floor. The smoky air smelled of sulphur; on the fire
was a big pot containing milk, needles, pins and crooked
nails. The windows and door were sealed tight, and the
chimney was covered. The wife and son were dead, and
Butters and Lee were close to death; Lee died moments
after the men arrived. In a fury, Montgomery threw
Butters, Mary 45
Butters out onto a dung heap and began kicking her to
consciousness.
On August 19 an inquest was held in Carmoney, at
which it was determined that the victims had died of suffocation
from Butters’s “noxious ingredients” and smoke.
Butters, terrified, claimed that during her spell-casting,
a black man appeared inside the house wielding a huge
club. He knocked everyone down, killing the other three
and stunning Butters to unconsciousness.
Butters was put forward for trial at the spring assizes,
but the charges against her were dropped. The
community’s reaction to the tragedy was one of derision.
The incident was made the subject of a humorous
ballad.