Friday, 8 April 2011

Ireland's last witch trial reexamined

The verdict in Ireland’s last witch trial was handed down three centuries ago in 1711, but a new historical study is reexamining the evidence which convicted eight Co. Antrim women of “possessing” a teenage girl, Mary Dunbar.

Dr. Andrew Sneddon from the University of Ulster has undertaken a new investigation of the Islandmagee witches case, presenting the theory that the women were wrongfully convicted and that the girl fabricated the entire story.

He told the Irish Independent: “My research is based on a wide variety of contemporary documentation, including witness statements, letters and eye-witness accounts…It suggests that Mary Dunbar’s symptoms of bewitchment were that of demonic possession: fits, swearing, throwing bibles, vomiting household objects, and trances.”
Based on testimony by the “possessed” 18-year-old, eight Presbyterian women were tried at a court in Carrickfergus and sentenced to a year in prison. They were also placed in the public stocks on market days.

In Sneddon’s new work Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland 1586-1946, he argues Dunbar chose to accuse these women because they were already perceived to be outside polite society.
“Dunbar chose to blame her possession on the witchcraft of the Presbyterian Islandmagee women because they had reputations locally as witches and failed to meet contemporary standards of female behavior and beauty,” he said.

“Some were physically disabled, others swore and drank alcohol. All were poor. The local male authorities believed Dunbar’s version of events because she was beautiful, educated, and from a respected family.”

The book will not be published until early 2013, but Sneddon will give a paper on the topic in July at the annual conference of the 18th Century Ireland Society in Trim, Co. Meath.

£30m Public Record Office opens in Belfast

(from the Belfast Telegraph)

More than 800 years of history can now be viewed at Belfast’s dockland with the opening of the new £30m Public Record Office.

The state-of-the-art building, which holds the millions of papers forming Northern Ireland’s official archives, opened its doors yesterday, two months ahead of schedule.
Situated in the city’s Titanic Quarter, the new building is twice the size of the former site at Balmoral Avenue and comprises four huge vaults holding papers dating back to the 13th century.

Construction work on the purpose-built premises began in November 2008, and the relocation process involved the transfer of some 40km of documents.
Those papers cover every facet of public life, and range from Cabinet minutes to the records of a local corner shop.

And Stephen Scarth, head of public services at PRONI, is hoping the new facilities will help to attract more visitors in the coming months and tap into the public’s quest for knowledge of their family history.

“This isn’t just a facility for historians — there really is something for everyone,” he said.
“With programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? more and more people are interested in tracing their family history.

“We have records which go back hundreds of years, for example church records, school records, even records from the old workhouses, so it’s possible for people to trace their histories over quite a long period.”

The building has a public search room holding 52 computer desks and a reading room that seats 78.  “The biggest change is the scale of the operation — this building is much bigger than our old premises at Balmoral Avenue,” he added.  “We are able to offer more modern resources and services, including an exhibition covering the last 100 years which opens next month.”  Mr Scarth said new technology has brought different challenges for the office, with more and more records being held digitally.  “This is probably the last decade where we will have original records to display,” he added.  “Everything is being born digital and that has changed the landscape of how archiving works.”

Family Tree DNA Update 8 April 2011

(The Ulster Heritage DNA Project uses the Family Tree DNA firm to do genetic testing.  Updates for our lab below)

Family Tree DNA has the largest DNA database in the world for genetic genealogy. As of April 02, 2011, the Family Tree DNA database has 329,073 records. We also have:
  • 101,171 unique surnames
  • 203,473 Y-DNA records in the database
  • 124,230 25-marker records in the database
  • 105,023 37-marker records in the database
  • 46,117 67-marker records in the database
  • 125,600 mtDNA records in the database
  • 14,077 FGS records in the database
Launched on March 4, 2011 – Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree Update
We are excited to announce that we have updated our Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree to reflect new haplogroup sub-branches!  Family Tree DNA, in partnership with the YCC, periodically reviews known SNPs in order to evaluate those that meet the requirements to be added to the haplotree. The SNPs that passed this review are now included in the haplotree and considered for deep clade testing.
Along with this update to the tree, we have implemented some changes in the ordering process for deep clade and SNP testing:
We now offer a universal deep clade test for $89. This will identify a customer’s terminal SNP for any haplogroup.  If a customer has pending results for a deep clade test, they will automatically be tested according to the new tree.
If a customer has never ordered a deep clade test, they will have the option either to order the universal deep clade for $89 or order individual SNPs from the tree.
Follow these instructions for the new SNP ordering system if you already have results for the first 12 markers of a Y-DNA test–
  • Log in to your “My FTDNA” page and click the ‘Haplotree’ button.
  • If you see the words “You Are Eligible For An Upgrade” then click the “Continue for more information” button which will take you to an order page for the Deep Clade test. 
Or, if you already have Deep Clade results and do not see the “You Are Eligible For An Upgrade” button, you can click “Continue to Choose SNPs.”  If you do not have any SNPs available to order, an alert box will appear letting you know “You currently have no SNPs available to order.”
Family Tree DNA

Friday, 1 April 2011

9 April Scots Irish Festival

Lexington’s Fifth Annual Scots/Irish Festival Set April 9
The Sheep Dog Trials are back this year at the 5th Annual Scots Irish Heritage Festival!!

Lexington, VA- Lexington’s Fifth Annual Scots/Irish Heritage Festival will be held Sat., April 9th, from 10am to 5pm on the Maury River Middle School campus. Weather permitting, the event will be held outside but will be moved indoors in the case of inclement weather. The goal of the event is to present the culture of the Scots/Irish, and the lasting impact they made on the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

The festival will start with a parade at 10am. Attraction are scheduled throughout the day and will include Highland games demonstrations, Medieval Reenactments, living history presentations, vintage British Cars (weather permitting), music, entertainment, traditional food items, craft demonstrations and a variety of other vendors that represent the culture and its importance to the Valley. “The biggest news this year is that we are bringing back sheepdog demonstrations, a huge crowd favorite,” said John Morman of Celtic Tides.

The Highland games demonstration will display events that take part in Highland Festivals. The Highland games are believed to be one way Celtic societies used to determine the worthiness of their future leaders and a “safe” means for men to stay in shape.

Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Highland Pipes and Drums, Shenandoah Valley Pipes and Drums and Warpipe will give pipe and drum performances. Mary Smith of Richmond, Carl Peterson of Kutztown, PA. and Cranruach of Lexington will perform traditional Scots/ Irish/Welsh and Breton music on a variety of instruments.

The event is primarily sponsored by the Lexington Lions Club and The Chamber of Commerce, serving Lexington Buena Vista and Rockbridge County. Other confirmed sponsors are VMI and Bath Fitter; additional sponsors may be added later.

Admission for the event is $5 dollars for adults, $3 for children (ages 6-16) and no fee for children under six. Proceeds from the event will go to the Lexington Lions Club's project at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, where a complete vision Center is being installed.

For more information about the event visit or contact The Chamber of Commerce, serving Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County at (540) 463-5375 or by email to