Let’s Visit Biddy Early’s Cottage 

Myself and a fellow gallivanter recently went on a little road trip to uncover the cottage of Biddy Early, and we found it! Plus it was just as magical and atmospheric as you could image. For directions to Biddy Earlys Cottage and images of what we found, scroll down. But first, a little story…..

Biddy Early has always been somewhat of a hero to me. For those of you who may not have heard of her, Biddy Early was probably the most famous Bean Feasa or wise women Ireland has ever seen.

Biddy Early
Ban Feasa Nan (Anne) O’Toole Galway. Photographed in 1913 by two French women, Marguerite Mespoulet and Madeleine Mignon-Alba

Born in 1798, in the small townland of Feakle in County Clare, she had a very tough but very long life outliving 4 husbands and a son while fighting against the Church, her Landlord and even the local police force. So renowned for her magical abilities that its said, that even the great Liberator himself, Daniel O’Connell paid her a visit!

Ireland did not have the same Witchcraft Panic that was seen in other parts of Europe or the US.

Beliefs in magic, fairies, ghosts, water spirits, and much more continued on into very recent history. To this day, in rural Ireland, there is still a respect for certain trees like the hawthorns, ancient mounds and very very old Holy Wells due to their association with the Fairy people. Though sadly these beliefs are slowly disappearing.

And the Bean Feasa was our closest link to this shadowy world of magic, mystery, and myth. She knew the healing and magical aspects of every herb, flower, or tree, she knew how to craft a charm, curse a neighbour or cure both a sick or injured body, be it human or animal!

Typical one-room cottage
A typical one room cottage interior

It was said she cursed Sheehy as she was forced from the house, and sure enough, 24 hours later he was dead. Murdered by one of the other evicted tenants Dr Sheehy was no more!

It wasn’t too long later that Biddy married for the first time. Pat Molloy was a surprise choice considering he was more than twice her age, but he brought with him to the marriage, a house on the side of a hill
and a son to do the heavy lifting. And it was during this time that Biddys reputation began to grow.

It was said she had the Gift, and it was given to her by the Fairies. They had lent her a beautiful blue glass bottle and it was from this that she used for scrying, to divine exactly what this issue was with her “customers”. While her herbal medicine skill had come from her mother Ellen.

As news spread about Biddy through stories, her fame grew and people travelled from further and further away to visit her.

But for poor Biddy, at the very young age of 25, she found herself both a mother of a baby boy and a widower as her much older husband suddenly passed away!

Biddy Early's cottage in Clare
Biddys Cottage in Clare

Luckily for Biddy, her step son stepped up. Becoming her second husband and step brother/father to little Paddy.

Unfortunately, for Biddy, most of the people who came to her were peasants like herself and so payment was mostly in the way of food and drink, namely strong home-distilled whiskey and potín. And so 2nd husband, John, soon developed a fondness for the drink and before too long, he had joined his father, leaving Biddy a widow once more.

By this time Biddy found herself up against her next advisory, the Church! It was said when the local priest denounced her from the pulpit, she wove a spell that caused his horse to freeze while crossing a river, and unable to leave the saddle as if he was stuck with glue, he sat there for hours upon hours. Only when he shouted an apology to the dawning sky did the horse bolt throwing the priest into the icy water and freeing him from the curse!

Having faced down the Priest, she was then accused of Witchcraft, but this time by the local Doctor. He with the backing of yet another Priest had poor Biddy pulled in front of the Courts under the 1586 Witchcraft Statute. But the case was eventually dismissed as unsurprisingly, they could find a single person willing to testify against her! I can’t help but notice that these were two influential men, who obviously had issues with a strong willed woman!

Sadly Biddys son passed away while still very young, most likely from TB, despite her efforts to cure him. This must have been a huge blow to the woman and it can’t have been an easy time working as a Healer will suffering such grief.

And she found more heartache when her third husband passed away just a few short years after they wed. Can this woman get a break?!

Again it has been suggested that husband number three, Tom Flannery, had enjoyed the bottles of whiskey and poitín far more than the parcels of homemade butter or breads and chunks of pork paid to Biddy!

Items left as offerings
Items are left as Offerings in the cottage to this day, including a couple of blue glass bottles!

Getting on in years, but still doing whatever she saw fit to do, she scandalised the parish with her next move. It even made headlines in the Limerick Chronicle. They wrote on July 29, 1869:

“We understand that a marriage of an extraordinary kind was celebrated this week in Limerick by one of the parish priests, that of an old woman known as ‘Biddy Early’ who resides near Tulla, and who, among the peasantry, has the reputation of a witch or sorceress, who could cure all kinds of diseases, and such was her fascinating power over a fine young man … that she succeeded in inducing him to become her fourth husband.”

A 19th century cougar as well as a feminist rebel, you just have to love this woman!

Witch, Crone, Enchantress, Wise Woman, Fairy Woman, or simply a woman ahead of her time?

Despite the fact she died over 130 years ago, she remains an inspiration to many Irish women. She made her own path, she fought against so many of the same institutions that would make Irish women’s lives a misery. The Church, the courts and the medical authorities. Perhaps from her Blue Bottle, she saw what was coming down the line?

Did she see the savage laundries, the enforced hysterectomies and broken pelvises, the illegitimate babies thrown in septic tanks and the police who turned a blind eye against the abuses?

Or perhaps she was just a woman, who liked a smoke, a drink, and the security a husband offered while helping out her neighbours?

Biddy Early's cottage in Clare
The doorway to the one room dwelling

Whatever Biddys story was, this woman is to be remembered and revered. When she died, her bottle was thrown into the waters of Kilbaron. We do know that she eventually made peace with the local clergy. Perhaps it was the fact she didn’t approve of gambling that made the new Priest come to visit her home.

Stories say that two horsemen came to visit her, asking could they name a horse after her, believing that her name would bless the horse with great luck. When she refused and they did it anyway, well the story goes that the poor unfortuante horse died on its first race.

On her deathbed, she made her final confession to a man by the name of Fr Connellan. He was instructed to take the famed Bottle and throw it into Kilbarron Lake. It was said that a mysterious hand reached out from under the water to catch it and it was never seen again.

So how do you find Biddy Earlys cottage?

That was the question myself and Paul had, so first step was to get on google maps and search the Feakle area of Clare, than it was reading a selection of blogs and finally hit the road! I am happy to say we found it very quickly and below are directions but first a word of warning!

Items left as offerings

Biddys cottage is not a tourist attraction, it is a ruined cottage surrounded by farmland. This is not a place that should ever be developed into anythihng more than what it is, a place of quiet contemplation and a place to show your respects. So do not light fires, leaave candles burning unattended, do not block farm gates, park on a bend, nor should you take anything from the site, certainly not any brickwork anyway! Tokens left behind should not be perishable, ie loaves of bread!

Should you decide to take a souvineer of your visit, you will find plenty of medicinal flowers and plants surrounding the cottage, so take a flower of leaf to press. But be sure to leave something in payment, some bird seed, a few coins, a blue bottle, a crystal or stone from your home place.

Directions to Biddys Cottage

  • From Feakle take the R468, after 4 or 5 minutes you will pass a farmhouse on your left
  • Slow down and keep an eye out on your left for a brown field gate with a few bars missing
  • Opposite this gate, is a path, partially hidden by the hedgerow, but look out for an Elder Tree, (of course it would be an Elder, the witches tree!) this is the entrance to the path
  • The path is very short and sloped up an incline, and surrounded with nettles and brambles so wear trousers!
  • After just a moment, you’ll see the cottage, covered in ivy, the roof long gone, but the door, walls and windows along with a beam that once supported the chimney still standing.

Well worth the trip!