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  • Fairy Death Bed Conversion December 15, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing’s fairy year continues. In his grazing through the accounts of the fairy faith on the western and northern fringe of Europe one of the things that has most fascinated him is the belief of the connection between Catholicism and things fairy. There is a famous early modern comment – irritatingly Beach can’t remember by whom – to the effect that fairies left England with the arrival of Protestantism. There are the bigoted but perhaps quite astute debates about how belief in purgatory may have preserved belief in fairy land. Then there is the fact that the nineteenth-century Protestant Welsh believed that in fairy matters any sufferer should make a bee-line for a Catholic priest. While musing on this Beach came across the following bit of bizarreness from the second half of the nineteenth century, from the most bizarre corner of the United Kingdom, Strabane in the Six Counties. Today confessional warfare involves collecting money for one group or other of sectarian thugs and occasionally throwing stones at the police. A century and a half ago there was also though a fairy front!

    John McCorkle, the dying man, aged eighty, was all his life a Presbyterian. He lived in a house by himself, being attended by a woman who is a Roman Catholic. The Rev. Jas. Gibson regularly visited him, and entertained a favourable opinion of the old man’s piety. He was also frequently visited by one of the elders. On Sunday the 22nd ult.. Mr McCorkle sent word to Mr Gibson that he was very ill, and requested to be remembered in the prayers of the congregation; soon after his mind began to wander. He accused the fairies of having shot him through the head, and he mentioned the name of Mr Magee – the [Catholic] priest – as having power to save him from their influence. On being asked, he said that the suggestion had come from ‘that woman there’, meaning his Roman Catholic servant.

    Mr Magee was afterwards summoned by the woman in Mr McCorkles’s name. He came at once, and began his ministrations before any of the old man’s relatives, who are all Presbyterians, were aware. An old neighbour woman, a Presbyterian, came in, and was astonished to see the priest at the bedside. She told him he must have made a mistake, and requested him to withdraw. He told her he had been sent for, and refused to withdraw, but ordered her to leave the house. She at length ran and acquainted the sick man’s relatives. One of them, a respectable young woman, ran in and ordered the priest to desist. The priest seized her by the arm roughly, and forcibly expelled her, barricading the door. A male relative soon arrived and forced the door open, so as to be able to see the priest, and warn him to desist. Mr Magee put his head out of the door and ordered a Romanist, who was passing, to put the man away. This he did speedily and violently. A Romish crowd also collected to protect their priest from interruption. Mr Magee, on Sunday evening went to a magistrate and made an affidavit, in which he swore that he had been sent for by Mr McCorkle, that he had found him quite sensible and anxious to see him, but that he apprehended personal violence in case he attempted to repeat his visit, and therefore claimed the protection of the constabulary. This was granted, and shortly after eleven o’clock at night he proceeded again to the house, accompanied by a number of armed police and a crowd of Romanists. All the sick man’s relations but one, a young man, had gone home. The priest ordered his friends away. This was done, the door closed, and the priest finished his work. McCorkle was made a Romanist, and died a few hours later ‘a good Catholic’.

    Naturally the Prots were not amused!

    It is no wonder that such proceedings have excited deep feelings of indignation in the minds of the Protestant members of the community. The Romanists exult over their new ‘convert’ and prayers were offered for the repose of his soul in Strabane Chapel, on Sunday last. Here we have the whole machinery of proselytism. An old man, in a state of mental aberration, a Romish woman bringing the priest, a Romish crowd, and even the police assisting. Are these things to be allowed in the Protestant North? Is an aged Protestant not to be allowed to die in peace? This is another instance of the mode in which converts are made to Romanism. The conversion is a farce, but greater care must be taken that sick Protestants be protected from annoyance. We allow religious liberty to others, and we must have it to ourselves, otherwise the struggles of the past are vain and must be re-commenced.

    And, of course, so they were…

    Why does Catholicism and the fairy faith seemingly get on so well? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Regular readers should be warned that Mrs B is both bemused and disgusted.


    16 Dec 2011: James writes that ‘Sir Walter Scott wrote that the Pope was indulgent of fairies. The connection between Protestantism and the flit of the fairies is often found in the seventeenth century onwards. John G and Invisible point out that a late reflex of this is from Kipling’s Puck of Puck Hill: ‘An’ old!’ Tom went on. ‘Flesh an’ Blood have been there since Time Everlastin’ Beyond. Well, now, speakin’ among themselves, the Marshmen say that from Time Everlastin’ Beyond the Pharisees favoured the Marsh above the rest of Old England. I lay the Marshmen ought to know. They’ve been out after dark, father an’ son, smugglin’ some one thing or t’other, since ever wool grew to sheep’s backs. They say there was always a middlin’ few Pharisees to be seen on the Marsh. Impident as rabbits, they was. They’d dance on the nakid roads in the nakid daytime; they’d flash their liddle green lights along the diks, comin’ an’ goin’, like honest smugglers. Yes, an’ times they’d lock the church doors against parson an’ clerk of Sundays!’  ‘That ’ud be smugglers layin’ in the lace or the brandy till they could run it out o’ the Marsh. I’ve told my woman so,’ said Hobden. ‘I’ll lay she didn’t beleft it, then—not if she was a Whitgift. A won’erful choice place for Pharisees, the Marsh, by all accounts, till Queen Bess’s father he come in with his Reformatories.’ ‘Would that be a Act o’ Parliament like?’ Hobden asked. ‘Sure-ly! ’Can’t do nothing in Old England without Act, Warrant, an’ Summons. He got his Act allowed him, an’, they say, Queen Bess’s father he used the parish churches something shameful. Justabout tore the gizzards out of I dunnamany. Some folk in England they held with ’en; but some they saw it different, an’ it eended in ’em takin’ sides an’ burnin’ each other no bounds, accordin’ which side was top, time bein’. That tarrified the Pharisees: for Goodwill among Flesh an’ Blood is meat an’ drink to ’em, an’ ill-will is poison.’ ‘Same as bees,’ said the Bee Boy. ‘Bees won’t stay by a house where there’s hating.’ ‘True,’ said Tom. ‘This Reformations tarrified the Pharisees same as the reaper goin’ round a last stand o’ wheat tarrifies rabbits. They packed into the Marsh from all parts, and they says, “Fair or foul, we must flit out o’ this, for Merry England’s done with, an’ we’re reckoned among the Images.”’ ‘Did they _all_ see it that way?’ said Hobden. ‘All but one that was called Robin—if you’ve heard of him. What are you laughing at?’ Tom turned to Dan. ‘The Pharisees’s trouble didn’t tech Robin, because he’d cleaved middlin’ close to people like. No more he never meant to go out of Old England—not he; so he was sent messagin’ for help among Flesh an’ Blood. But Flesh an’ Blood must always think of their own concerns, an’ Robin couldn’t get _through_ at ’em, ye see. They thought it was tide-echoes off the Marsh.’ ‘What did you—what did the fai—Pharisees want?’ Una asked. ‘A boat to be sure. Their liddle wings could no more cross Channel than so many tired butterflies. A boat an’ a crew they desired to sail ’em over to France, where yet awhile folks hadn’t tore down the Images. They couldn’t abide cruel Canterbury Bells ringin’ to Bulverhithe for more pore men an’ women to be burnded, nor the King’s proud messenger ridin’ through the land givin’ orders to tear down the Images. They couldn’t abide it no shape. Nor yet they couldn’t get their boat an’ crew to flit by without Leave an’ Good-will from Flesh an’ Blood; an’ Flesh an’ Blood came an’ went about its own business the while the Marsh was swarvin’ up, an’ swarvin’ up with Pharisees from all England over, striving all means to get through at Flesh an’ Blood to tell ’en their sore need.’ Thanks James, John and Invisibile!