Curing and foretelling…did not find favour with the local Catholic clergy, who openly spoke out against the deeds and words of Biddy Early. Her ‘magic’ cures were treated by them with great suspicion, many believing that her power was obtained from evil sources – ‘The Devil’ they said. She had, therefore, several heated confrontations with the priests.
Biddy was a force to be reckoned with. Try as they did, the Church was unable to thwart her power, as they were generally unsuccessful in banishing the old ways of knowing. They did instill some degree of fear, but the people, although perhaps conflicted, continued to seek the assistance of healers like Biddy. The tension between the old ways and new preachings is very evident in the stories and writings we will explore, these coming from Meda Ryan’s book Biddy Early: The Wise Woman of Clare. The following is but one of Biddy’s clergy encounters.
‘Are you the woman they call Biddy Early?’ says he.
‘Well, they call me that anyway, Father,’ says she.
‘Well, you wrath of a devil, what’s keeping you here, bringing misfortune down on the parish,’ says he, ‘with your devilment and your cursing and your pishogues. If you don’t lave this,’ says he, ‘and stop that I’ll put you into the lake below in a great ball of fire.’
He went all round the room with his whip, cracking the lash around the room to knock fright out of Biddy. He walked away, he walked down the avenue, and he turned back. ‘If I come back again to see you, you’ll remember me.’
‘You’ll remember me too,’ says she, ‘before you’re gone very far.’
He was very vexed, he went down, gave no heed to Biddy. He went up on the saddle, pulled his horse, and he stepped away about a quarter of a mile, and at a place called Annasala Bridge, the horse stood up on the road, and he drew the whip. And when he went to draw the whip, his hand would make no hand to shove for the whip. When he went to bring his legs off the saddle his legs wouldn’t come out of the stirrup. So he couldn’t come off ‘a the saddle, nor his horse wouldn’t go.
There he was, and he from Tipperary…and no go, no go at all.
‘Gor,’ says he, ‘I’m done.’
Then there did a little man come down the road walking, he called him over. ‘Come over,’ he says, ‘I want you. Do you know Biddy Early here?’ says he.
‘Oh, I do, Father, I know her well.’
‘What kind is she?’
‘Oh, a fine honest woman.’
‘Would you go down,’ says he. ‘Would you go in to her and ask her. Tell her there’s a priest above in the road, and he can’t come off ‘a the saddle, nor his horse won’t walk. And don’t let me here all night, and ask her for God’s sake, and I’ll never again bother her, or I’ll ever again say a word to her. Sure she might be righter than what we are.’
So the little man went to Biddy and she lifted the spell. And faith he never returned to Feakle or Biddy Early any more.