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The World's First Ever Witch Trial - The Ghost of Kilkenny

Dame Alice de Kyteler (or Kettle, as the name would be known today) was born in Kilkenny in 1280, the only child of a prominent Hiberno-Norman family. Born at Kyteler's House, now known as Kyteler's Inn, the noblewoman and her servant Petronella were involved in the world's earliest recorded witch trial. 

Widowed Four Times

Dame de Kyteler outlived no less than four husbands:

  • The first was William Outlawe
  • The second was Adam le Blund
  • The third was Richard de Valle
  • The last was Sir John le Poer

The last of the husbands, John le Poer became sick in 1324. Realising he was dying, he changed his will to make sure his wife would be compensated. 

Accused of Witchcraft

After his death, le Poer's children from his previous marraige, who had lost their inheritance, joined forces with those of the other husbands. They accused Dame de Kyteler of poisoning their fathers, and casting evil spells on them. They also accused her and her followers of

  • Denying the Catholic faith
  • Witchcraft
  • Blasphemy
  • Running a brothel
  • Dismembering animals

They brought their complaints to the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede.

The Inquisition

The bishop convened a Court of Inquisition, which comprised five knights and several noblemen to go through the facts of the case. The bishop had an ulterior motive -- he believed that the wealthy city of Kilkenny was becoming increasingly secularised and independent, and he wished to re-establish the church's power in this city. After much investigation, guided by the bishop, the Inquisition concluded that there was a coven of witches, or 'heretical sorcerers', operating in the city. The ringleader of the coven was believed to be Dame de Kyteler. 

 The Bishop's Plan Backfires

Bishop de Ledrede decided that the Dame should be arrested, and wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Outlawe, making the request. However, the Chancellor was Alice's former brother-in-law, and decided not to prosecute. Through another brother-in-law, the bishop himself was arrested, and imprisoned for 17 days. He was released after an investigation by the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, John Darcy. 

Burned at the Stake

The events served only to further motivate de Ledrede. He continued to pursue the Dame and her 'accomplices'. He had many of her poorer servants jailed and, under duress, they confessed to sorcery. On learning of these alleged confessions, Dame Alice fled. It is believed she went to England. No records of her exist after 1324. The bishop and his minions searched her house, and in the town centre, publicly burned items claimed to have been found there, including:

  • Ointments
  • Powders
  • Dead men's fingernails
  • The fat of murdered infants
  • Various other 'abominations'

Bishop de Ledrede had Alice's servant, Petronella de Meath, tortured, under accusations of heresy. Petronella eventually confessed to witchcraft. Petronella de meath was flogged and burned at the stake in 1324, a scapegoat for the witch hunt that needed a culprit. Petronella was one of the first people to be charged with witchcraft in Europe, and was the first person in Ireland to be burned at the stake for heresy. It is possible that several other of deKyteler's servants were also burned at the stake, though no records exist as to their fate. 

The Ghost of Kilkenny

Some believe that a ghost still lurks around Kilkenny's streets late at night. Sightings have been claimed at Kyteler's Inn. Many older people believe it is the ghost of Alice de Kyteler, who was forced to flee, accused of witchcraft. Others believe it is the ghost of Petronella, who was the first person in Europe to be burned alive at the stake for witchcraft.


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