The Islandmagee case of 1711 in Co. Antrim was Ireland’s last mass witchcraft trial, and this paper will examine the case from an overarching legal perspective in order to evaluate whether or not it can be regarded as a miscarriage of justice. The distinction provided by Clive Walker between a direct miscarriage of justice, which stems from the procedure of the trial itself, and an indirect miscarriage of justice resulting from a fabricated accusation, offers a useful blueprint.This paper will first provide a background to the operation of the legal system in early eighteenth-century Ireland, followed by the application of Walker’s five criteria for a direct miscarriage of justice to the trial. Additional contingent sources of unfairness such as jury-packing, the summing-up process of the trial judges, and the issue of ethnoreligious exclusivity will also be considered. However, this paper will conclude that from a procedural perspective the trial was largely just, despite sources of bias generated by the practice of jury-packing. Following this, the paper will examine the details and anomalies of this case to evaluate whether it may be regarded as an indirect miscarriage of justice. The existing evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the allegations made by the complainant Mary Dunbar were false, and were largely targeted at one of the defendants Margaret Mitchell. This new insight into the Islandmagee case reveals that this seemingly inexplicable case was most likely rooted in interpersonal tensions, with earthly rather than supernatural forces at play. Overall though, as a miscarriage of justice is primarily concerned with the legal procedure of the trial, it is difficult to classify this case as unjust despite the fabricated nature of the accusations.
Ciara Molloy is well-known to members as one of leading young historians and from Tullamore.