There are also several sightings of Oonagh accompanied by a large black cat. Speculation ran that this was her familiar.

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Tim Toldrum, says Oonagh in the transcript. When first he showed his self I beseeched he begone, lest he gain me the repute of enchantress. Then I planned to do away with the ugly brute and bury his bones before my door on Samhain night. Truth be I became fond of that old man and did not kill him. To all gathered here I say I cannot kill a living thing.

As for her conversations with the local chiroptera, Oonagh says, I commune not with they bats, but leave them to consort with me.

****

She defended herself passionately, but died by burning in 1468.

Each of history’s myriad persecutions of so-called witches is a case of moral panic and mass hysteria, many of which were driven only by peoples’ desire to punish uppity, undesirable women. No reparation has been offered to the people worst affected.

But now a trauma, a certain ache, has started to emerge from the realm of the unspoken. A reassertion of humanity, of human-ness; it is a very new thing, and therefore it is vulnerable, and the more people unafraid to speak, the more the silence rises, organises, tries to swallow it.

Some people, now long gone, had nobody to speak up for them.

This is my defence of Oonagh Kirk.

****

The main witness at Oonagh’s trial appears to have been Beircheart Ó Baoill, a master brithem, or juror, at the settlement. He reports seeing Oonagh and Ailill on the night of the fire ceremony, October 31st, 1467.

I witnessed her, the witch, running him back along the gully, he of the name Ailill Byrnes. The slain man. Pursued at fair close quarters was he. She held in her claw a torch, swinging it aloft as a poacher with a sack of eels. Now the Byrnes Witch drove he who was her husband into that field where had been built the great wicker giant for tomorrow’s ceremony.

I had in mind to give pursuit, but caught sight of the little black devil that was the woman’s familiar giving chase to its mistress, leaping, flying along as if on the attack. But there was nothing there to strike at.

Then the old tom did start to scream like a bruised baby, and went up like kindling, burst aflame from one moment to the next. There at the great trunk of the oak tree did it lay dead, and the air was like blood in my nostrils.

Do not make me speak what happened next. Went over backwards did I, but nothing was there to knock me. Satan himself had struck me down on me arse. I had a feeling of the grave. I felt sure I would die. Hot breath on my face, and yet still nothing around to see but trees and earth.

While Oonagh Kirk hurried home to finish her night’s work, the people of Loch Iascaigh were awoken by frantic shouts of fire. The township’s wicker man had been set alight before time. The gods would be sore displeased.

A rabble soon gathered at the impromptu fire ceremony, blinking and dazed in the firelight, unaware that one of their number was in the conflagration, was even now a twisted and blackened lump of matter. By the time Ailill’s death certificate had been issued, Oonagh Kirk was on the stand in Dún na nGall.

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Master juror’s testimony was damning enough. The final witness, the servant girl who had tried to wrestle Ultan Byrnes from his mother’s murderous grasp, was dismissed, and her name struck from the trial records. A note scrawled onto the transcript tells us she was burned for witchcraft herself, on Saturday July 11th 1468, the very same day as Oonagh.

It would have been Ultan’s first birthday. There was a sense of retribution in the air.

The Burner is a dead God, and he is weary of his life. His dreams are of those Samhain nights long ago, when he would visit the Hill of Tara and sow his wild oats. A skilled harpist, a singer of beautiful music, he would enchant the whole settlement to sleep before burning their lives down around them. His name is Áillen Mac Midgna of the Tuatha Dé Danann, enemy of the Fomoire, scourge of Tara. A being of flame. When the veil between worlds was diminished enough for him to emerge from beneath the sidhe, his breath would scorch the fields around him. But then came clever young Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his poisoned spear.

Áillen remembers the puny figure pursuing him through forest and field, wide awake when everyone else had been lulled into dreams. The mortal was still awake because he was in terrible pain. It was strategy; he had put the spear with which he intended to kill Mac Midgna into the fire, seared his own face with the glowing point. As he tracked the god, Mac Cumhaill screamed until his voice was ragged.

Then, the critical moment; the soon-to-be King almost consumed by Áillen’s fiery breath. The skins he wore blazed and smoked, embers flying from his platted red beard. Then the spear rising towards him, unnoticed at first, one more point of light in the furious maelstrom. But when the poisoned tip pierced Áillen’s flesh, the God leaked out of his host like air from a balloon. An ignominious end.

When Áillen re-formed, he found he had been banished to the underworld.

****

But now Fionn Mac Cumhaill is long gone. So, Áillen leaves Mag Mell, moving up through the sidhe, and into the grave of poor Donnán Ó Floinn whose face had been slashed into a grin so crooked.

He gives himself a mortal name: Ailill Byrnes. A hundred miles from the location of his defeat, drawn by the smell of a burgeoning witch, Ailill heads straight for Loch Iascaigh.

If Oonagh Kirk was a witch, she was a juvenile. A sorceress in the making, who had only just been selected by her familiar. Unfortunately, Tim Toldrum wasn’t the only being to choose her. Oonagh Kirk had the stalker from hell.

****

The township’s propagation of the communal flame was the key to his final triumph; a torch in every hearth would allow Áillen’s malignant spirit into each of the settlement’s dwellings. The god would be rid of the scarred and rotting form of Donnán Ó Floinn, and out of the ashes would walk his new host, Ultan Byrnes.

But somehow, Oonagh stopped him. Remember, Beircheart Ó Baoill witnessed her running Ailill Byrnes towards the wicker man. There was a cage to catch the monster, kindling to burn his body back to hell. When she went to finish her work, to destroy the fire god’s host, she was caught.

Despite suffering the same fate that she gave her own demonic husband, Oonagh shares in the triumph of the High King of Ireland. She is one of only two people, and the only woman, to defeat the fire god Áillen Mac Midgna.

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