A pillory was a medieval-era device used for punishing lesser criminals via public humiliation. But the accused also often endured further physical harm, including whipping, branding using heated liquids, and even cutting off ears or fingers. The device itself consisted of two hinged wooden boards with holes for the head and hands, which would then be locked. Pillories were also placed usually on platforms to increase public visibility of the spectacle.
The current pillory in Carrickfergus is a replica of the original that once stood in the same spot, next to what was then known as Castle Worraigh, which held cells on the ground floor for criminals awaiting their public humiliation. Crimes included perjury, stealing, and witchcraft. In fact, Carrickfergus was one of the last places in Ireland where a town witnessed a witchcraft trial and punishment.
The last witchcraft trial of Ireland in Carrickfergus took place on March 31, 1711, and involved eight women from nearby Islandmagee. They were accused of causing the victim, a young woman named Mary Dunbar, to experience multiple fits, eventually leading to her vomiting materials such as feathers and yarn. It was also said that during one of her episodes, objects were hurled around the room and that three strong men were needed to hold her down until the episode passed. Dunbar recounted the appearance of the eight women who had been tormenting her. As such, they were quickly rounded up and put on trial for witchcraft.
The trial lasted from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Although the judge felt the women should be acquitted due to their commitment to public worship within the Presbyterian Church, a jury found them guilty. The eight women were sentenced to stand four times at the pillory in Carrickfergus and were imprisoned for 12 months. While the women were at the pillory, townspeople hurled rocks and garbage at them. According to a memoir by Samuel M’Skimin of Carrickfergus, one woman even lost an eye.
Know Before You Go
The pillory is situated at the end of High Street in Carrickfergus town center at the corner of Antrim Street and Joymount. There are plenty of parking lots within the town center area and the Carrickfergus train station is only a 10-minute walk away.