Emerald Isle

Black Alice

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Irish Ghost Stories

Marry in haste, repent at leisure, but sometimes you don't even get that much!

Alice KytelerIt was the year 1280 in Kyteler's House in Kilkenny that Dame Alice Kyteler was born to a family of good prospects, a family of Flemish merchants who had settled in Kilkenny. When she grew up, Alice married William Outlawe, a wealthy merchant and moneylender, by whom she had a son. Then she married to her second husband, Adam le Blund of Callan, another rich moneylender. When he died, Alice married her third husband, Richard de Valle, a wealthy landowner, and after that, she married Sir John le Poer, who also died.

She became known as Kilkenny's merry widow, and her good fortune seemed to have no end, whatever about those of her spouses!

After this fourth sudden and mysterious death, where her former husband was found with his nails torn out and body hair fallen off, not to mention his will changed to benefit Alice and her son, the children of her husbands got together and accused her of witchcraft!

Seven were the charges brought against her and her servants – that she denied Christ and the teachings of the Church, that she had intercourse with a demon called the son of Art in exchange for sorcerous powers, that they cut up living animals and scattered the pieces in unhallowed places as offerings to pagan gods, that they stole the keys to a church and held meetings there at night, that they made love potions and poisons from vile ingredients in the skull of a hanged robber, and that Alice had used these potions to make her husbands give their possessions to her son, and finally, to kill them.

They went to the Bishop of Ossory with their complaint, and he convened a court to hear them and conduct a trial. The Bishop was a Franciscan,  Richard de Lederer, and beside him stood five knights and several noblemen. And yet for all of his authority, the Bishop not only failed to get Alice to appear before him, but wound up in prison himself!

She eventually escaped to England, never to be heard of again, but her son stood trial and was convicted of witchcraft, being ordered to attend mass thrice a day and give of his considerable wealth to the poor at the behest of his powerful friends. He didn't manage to maintain the penance however and ended up in prison again until he prostrated himself before the Bishop and was ordered to cover the roof of the local cathedral with lead. He did succeed in this penance, but the roof of the cathedral collapsed under the weight of the lead a few years later.

Less fortunate was her maid Petronella, who was tortured, whipped, and finally burned at the stake.

And yet before she died, legend has it that Petronella swore to take her revenge on the crowds of gawpers, and then she was consigned to the flames.

Ever since then, strange goings-on have been recorded in and around Kilkenny, and tales of ghostly apparitions have multiplied, especially around the time of 1763, when a great flood came to Kilkenny, and a hundred people stood on the nearby John's bridge watching debris flow by beneath. But when most of them got off to view a cabin floating by, the bridge collapsed, killing sixteen, and still to this day people speak of ghostly figures leaning over the side of the bridge, watching the water!

The site of Kyteler's house is marked on the map below.

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