The Mythical Defense Bridget Cleary's Husband Gave For Her 1895 Murder

Society's obsession with the supernatural goes back to the beginning of time. Ideas of beings, aliens from other planets, and demons have always been a part of cultures from across the world. Sometimes even humans were believed to possess supernatural abilities, and depending on how a civilization viewed that, it could be really great. On the flip side, it could potentially cost you your life.

These days we don't generally run around accusing people of having supernatural powers or of being possessed by otherworldly forces. However, this was not always the case in past centuries. Trials took place in Europe and the Americas between the 15th and 18th centuries in search of "witches." Additionally, folks were always on the lookout for mysterious creatures like werewolves (via Mythology Explained) and vampires (via History) or concerned about demons or ghosts crossing over from other realms.

Irish culture has their own mythology about worlds outside of ours which includes folktales of banshees, leprechauns and fairies (via Irish Road Trip). In 1895, when an innocent woman met a gruesome fate, it didn't seem like it was anything more than a tragic accident. Apparently there was more to the story, especially with things taking a turn toward the mystical and magical.

Bridget's early life and marriage

Briget Clary (Boland) was born in 1867 to Patrick and Bridget Boland near Clonmel in the southern region of Ireland. She was their only daughter and youngest child, whom the couple raised in the Catholic faith. Clary was sent to a convent school and obtained an education along with marketable skills like needlework and dressmaking (per The Irish Place). By all accounts she was a rather impressive woman: physically attractive, literate, and able to earn her own money.

When she was 18, she married the town cooper, Michael Cleary. Their marriage turned some heads for a few reasons. The couple had a significant age difference, with Cleary being nine years older than the bride. Their personalities were also opposite of each other, with Cleary being more reserved and surly, while his new wife was outgoing and well- liked. The duo also had some rather unusual living arrangements for a time, as they lived apart. Cleary lived in Clonmel while his wife was in her parents' home. It was not until 1891 that the couple moved in together on property near Mrs. Cleary's paternal aunt (per History Collection).

Bridget falls ill

The couple finally were reunited and seemed to be moving up in the world. Unfortunately, this success in their lives would be rather short-lived. On March 4, 1895, Bridget Cleary went to deliver eggs to a family member, Jack Dunne, before returning home. According to Mental Floss, once she arrived back at the cottage, she couldn't seem to shake the cold, and spent the following day in bed. She was reportedly suffering from shivering and a very painful ache in her head.

Five days later her husband sought out a doctor to come look at his wife. The doctor he found was unable to come for another three days, but he did eventually provide them with a diagnosis. He believed that Mrs. Cleary was suffering with "nervous excitement" and "slight bronchitis." However, Michael Cleary was not so sure. For some reason he believed there was something very different about his wife. In fact, he became convinced that the woman laying in his wife's bed was not his wife at all. He supposedly believed she was a changeling.

Changelings In Irish Folklore

In Irish folklore, one of the most common creatures are called changelings. According to The Irish Post, a changeling is a "fairy that has been left in the place of a human baby or child that had been stolen by other fairies." If a child became sick, was unable to move, or suffered some other deformity, locals would suspect it was the work of fairies. Michael Cleary reportedly believed that this is what had happened to his wife.

The fact that Bridget did not bounce back quickly from her bout of sickness turned out to be a bigger problem than she bargained for. While she was still fighting the illness, Jack Dunne came for a visit. He reportedly took one look at her and stated that what was in that bed was not Bridget, but a changeling (per The Irish Place). When Michael heard that, he subsequently became obsessed with the notion that his "real" wife had been captured by the fairies and replaced. Unfortunately for Bridget, that single statement by Dunne triggered a string of events that would lead to tragedy.

The truth behind a mysterious disappearance

According to The Irish Place, Michael Cleary reported his wife missing on March 16, 1895, claiming she had "gone away with the fairy folk." Bridget Cleary was missing for another five days before her burned body was found buried in a shallow grave. Shortly after this gruesome discovery, the horrible truth of Bridget's death came to light.

When Bridget originally fell ill, her husband initially sought the advice of a medical doctor. As soon as he became obsessed with the idea that his wife was a supernatural being, he did not follow the instructions of the doctor, and he visited a local "Fairy Doctor" instead (per History Collection). This "doctor" prescribed an herbal remedy to restore Bridget to her true self. After administering this "treatment," Michael initially seemed satisfied that his wife had been cured. However, the following day, all of that changed.

On March 15, following a comment made by his wife, Michael became extremely angry. In his fit of rage, he tore off her clothes, leaving her in her shift, which he subsequently lit on fire (per Mental Floss). As his wife lay dying, burning alive, he then proceeded to dump paraffin lamp oil on her, to strengthen the flame. He then stated, "She is not my wife. She is an old deceiver sent in the place of my wife." Even more disturbing, he committed this murder in front of their relatives and family who had come to check on Bridget.

Motives and consequences

Michael was arrested along with nine others who were present at the time of Bridget's death (per Exemplore). Based on the testimony of the other defendants, it was blatantly obvious that Michael was responsible for his wife's death. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years while his co-defendants received various consequences, including penal servitude and hard labor.

Michael reportedly committed this awful crime because he believed that his wife had been exchanged with an otherworldly creature. That may sound a bit unusual to some people, but it is possible that he truly believed that when he killed his wife. According to Healthline, Michael may have been suffering from a psychological condition we know today as Capgras syndrome, which involves the belief that someone they know has been replaced by an impostor. There may have been multiple triggers for this, including the death of his father and sleep deprivation. However, there are others who speculate that Bridget's outgoing and vivacious nature contributed to her demise due to the fact that she did not fit society's idea of a woman at the time.