Cleary was born Bridget Boland around 1869 in Ballyvadlea, Co Tipperary. She married Michael Cleary in August 1887. The couple met in Clonmel, where he worked as a cooper and she served as a dressmaker’s apprentice.
The horrific case dominated the media in Ireland during the trial. Reports of the incident suggest that her husband (who was sentenced to 15 years for manslaughter) was the one who was not mentally sound shouting ‘It is not Bridget I am burning’ during the horrific incident.
‘I saw Cleary throw lamp-oil on her. When she was burning, she turned to me’ (imagine that face of woe!) ‘and called out, ‘Oh, Han, Han!’ I endeavoured to get out for the peelers. My brother William went up into the other room and fell in a weakness, and my mother threw Easter water over him. Bridget Cleary was all this time burning on the hearth, and the house was full of smoke and smell. I had to go up to the room, I could not stand it. Cleary then came up into the room where we were and took away a large sack bag. He said, ‘Hold your tongue, Hannah, it is not Bridget I am burning. You will soon see her go up into the chimney.’
He forced one of her brothers to carry her to a shallow grave. Some time afterwards, it was reported to the local priest that Bridget had been burned to death by her husband and other family members. The priest went to the police who found her charred body and arrested nine people, including Bridget’s family members, neighbours and friends, in connection with the murder. Michael Cleary served 15 years for the crime after which he emigrated to Canada.
According to the New York Times, the case was used as a weapon against Irish Home Rule, asking how could a people who still believed in fairies and spirits be trusted to govern themselves in the modern world?
The Burning of Bridget Cleary: http://www.libraryireland.com/articles/Burning-Bridget-Cleary/index.php