Sliabh na mBan


In March 1895, RIC officers searching the Ballyvadlea area of County Tipperary discovered the charred body of Bridget Cleary in a shallow bog-land grave not far from the cottage which she had shared with husband Michael and father Patrick. She was found with her limbs drawn into the foetal position, a sack covered her head.

The symbol of the high cross, blending elements of Celticism, Christianity and patriotism, appears for several reasons-

  • Many of the rituals inflicted upon Bridget by her relatives and neighbours were a combination of ancient Irish folklore and Roman-catholic religion.
  • Fearing its image would be tainted by the scandal, the Church washed its hands of the affair, thus denying Bridget Cleary a proper funeral. In a sombre echo of the hurried late night burial carried out by her husband and cousin, she was interred after dark and without ceremony by two RIC officers along with a couple of hired labourers. No members of the local community came to pay their respects or contribute towards the funeral expenses (the costs were covered by the Poor Law Society). The foetal position brings to mind the Church’s similar stance on babies who were stillborn or died before baptism, also, the use of cílini.
  • As the Cleary case was unfolding and the details became public knowledge, the main topic in Parliament with regards to Ireland was the Home Rule Bill. Those who opposed the bill, including the Tories, turned the Ballyvadlea incident to their advantage. They argued that any race who could be so wildly superstitious in the modern age simply couldn’t be trusted to successfully govern themselves.

The sleek, controlled lines which depict the slopes of Sliabh na mBan (a place of great importance in Irish mythology) imply that as the 19th century was rapidly drawing to a close, the old culture with strong oral traditions was fading fast, being steadily replaced by a modern and more literal way of life.

Comments about this page

  •  A very interesting sad story of Bridget and her horrifying death and burial. Reminds me of the elderly women who reached eighty years or more who were buried outside graveyards as they were regarded as witches….yet men could live to over one hundred years and allowed burial within Catholic graveyards.

    By Noelene Beckett Crowe. (14/11/2014)

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