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Biddy Early

The Magical Lady of Clare

Born in 1798 in Faha, Kilanena, Biddy O’Connor was the daughter of a poor farming family. At sixteen, she was sent to Feakle to work as a servant girl and later to Kilbarron to work for a doctor Dunne. It was necessary for Biddy to go in to service at such a young age so as to help her family survive in such hard times.

It was in Kilbarron that she married one Pat O’Malley, and the couple had one child, a daughter. Pat was to die however after a few short years of marriage. Her second husband was a Tom Flannery from Carrowroe, who sadly died when their only child Tom was only eight years old. It was about the time of this husband’s death that the first story of Biddy’s magical powers occurs. Biddy being unable to pay the rent to the local landlord because of her husbands’ death and the expense of rearing her young son, was served with an eviction notice. The night before the eviction was to take place her dead husband Tom visited her and told her that when the police arrived the following day to tell them to : “Stay where you are”, and they would leave and return no more. Thus the following day when they arrived, Biddy said the words her husband had told her to say and the five policemen and sheriff were stuck to the roadside for two hours being unable to move. After two hours Biddy told them to go away and never return, and the lock which Biddy had put on them was broken and they ran off with their tails between their legs never to bother this lady and her magical powers ever again.

Of all the tales of Biddy’s magical powers none were so fascinating as her “Blue Bottle” with which it was said she could see the future. Her son Tom died as a young man, but being worried about how his poor widowed mother would survive now that he was dead, Tom returned from the dead, to give her this magical “Blue Bottle”. He told her: “Take this mother and it will make a living for you”, and this bottle did indeed make her a living. People from all over the country were to seek Biddy’s predictions for the future which were said to be amazingly accurate down to the last detail. It was also said that if a weary traveller was coming many miles to meet Biddy, she would see him coming in the bottle and meet him half way.

Biddy was visited also, for her great healing potions which it was said healed most ailments. Biddy had a well at the side of her house, the water from which possessed the most magical powers, and if given with her consent could cure a person of any affliction. Animals were of enormous importance, the death of a cow or pig could mean failure to pay rent and the death of a working horse could mean destitution. In this time of no vets, Biddy was relied upon to cure the most serious of animal ailments of which it was said she could cure very effectively with a drop of water from her well, or one of her potions. Biddy, not being a selfish woman, did not make a great fortune from her powers, she only accepted a jug of poiteen or whiskey, or perhaps some food for her services but never money. It was said that never was a tired traveller turned from her door and many a passer-by was given a jug and a seat in front of her warm fire.

Another great power which Biddy is accredited with her ability to talk to and cure the wrath of the Fairies. People used to come to her who had been bewitched by the “little people”. One man had his entire herd of cattle cursed by the fairies and they all became violently ill. On the advice of one of his friends he went to see Biddy. After looking in to her bottle, she saw the problem. He had planted a whitethorn bush along a fairy path in his field. She instructed him to go home and remove the bush. As soon as he had done this, his entire herd immediately returned to full health.

It is said by some that Biddy had six husbands, of this we can not be sure, but we know she had at least three, the last being a man less than half her age. A man called O’Brien from Limerick visited her who was close to death and asked her to cure him. She said she would only if he married her to which he agreed, and after he recovered the couple were married. Although Biddy possessed such great powers, she was unable to prevent her own death. She died in April 1874. Her magical bottle was never seen after her death and it has been said that she only had a loan of the bottle from the fairies who took it back on her death.

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Biddy Early's bottle
Illustration from
"Biddy Early; the Wise Woman of Clare"
by Meda Ryan,
Mercier Press, 1978