29 March 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Writer/director Paula Kehoe discuses new TG4 series An Diabhal Inti
08 Mar 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Olwen Fouéré in An Diabhal Inti.
We spoke with writer/director Paula Kehoe to find out more about her visually arresting new TG4 series, which explores why women were accused of being “witches”.

An Diabhal Inti debuts on International Women’s Day, this Tuesday, March 8th at 10pm on TG4.

The new TG4 series explores how and why thousands of people, mostly women, were accused of being in league with the devil and executed as “witches”. Set against the backdrop of the great European witch hunts, spanning two centuries and reaching across the Atlantic as far as America, the six-part series offers a unique lens into the social, political, and religious conditions that resulted in one of the greatest “otherings” in human history.

“I have always been interested in the European witch hunts, from a distance, so when Ashlene Aylward of Lagan Media Productions approached me to work with her on a series about the Irish witch trials, I was intrigued,” director Paula Kehoe told IFTN, when asked how the show came about. “One of the questions that captured me was why there were so few witch trials in Ireland compared to other countries. There are no simple answers, but exploring this idea helped to inform and frame the development of the series.”

“The stories of those who were persecuted are full of drama and tragedy, and it’s very rich material to work with for a director. However we were also working in the margins of the factual when dealing with the accounts of the cases, so dramatic reconstructions of the supposed deeds of the accused women would only serve to reinforce classic witch and horror tropes,” added Kehoe. “When the true horror is to be found in the social conditions of the hostile world they found themselves in, the blurring of reality and fantasy in this environment, and what happened to them as a result.”

Given the heightened attention to gender inequality and a greater push towards balance and parity over the past decade. The launch of this series seems very fitting to debut on International Women’s Day. “Yes I definitely agree that this is a fitting time to launch a series about a dark history that explains much about the present day,” director Paula Kehoe told IFTN. “The fact that we have to have a day called International Women’s Day tells us a lot about the impact of the witch hunts on our culture, and how we are still living with the repercussions of that.”

Featuring the renowned actor Olwen Fouéré, dancer and choreographer Aoife McAtamney, and introducing the young Ailbhe Drimbarean, the series offers a dramatic and mesmerizing re-examination of the idea of woman as “witches”. By exposing patriarchal views of women, which combined with religious beliefs in the devil walking the earth, the series shows how accusations of witchcraft mostly targeted women, making the female body a site of demonic possession, with deadly consequences for the accused.  

“The aim of An Diabhal Inti is not to reinforce classic tropes about witches and witchcraft when reconstructing these stories visually, but to subtly interrogate and undermine them,” Kehoe told IFTN. “This is reflected in the treatment of the’ reconstructions’ and in more abstract methods of telling the women's stories.”

“Enter Olwen Fouéré, who is a force of nature. It’s a cliché, but it is true. She is an immense talent and a powerful performer who is deeply engaged with this subject matter. Working with her is a unique form of collaboration and an absolute pleasure,” said Kehoe. “Olwen brought so much to this project, suggesting the artist Róisín Gartland as the costume designer, and Aoife McAtamney as a performance artist.

“Aoife was the missing piece in our puzzle. Her deep exploration of the history and the women’s stories emerged through her stunning embodied movement, improvisation and creative interpretation, working intuitively with the DOP Raja Nundlall,” Kehoe continued. “Ailbhe Drimbarean makes her screen debut in Episode 3 as the young girl believed to be bewitched by a beggar woman. She is a natural on screen and it was a pleasure to work with her. She has a very bright future!”

Set in Ireland, this six-part, half hour series, tells the individual stories of the women who did not escape the horror of the witch hunts on the island of Ireland. Those who perished include Florence Newton known as the ‘witch of Youghal’; Goody Glover, an Irish woman in Puritan Boston, hung on Boston commons; an unnamed woman in Co. Antrim who meets the same fate as the thousands who were executed as witches in neighbouring Scotland and the infamous mass trial of Islandmagee, where eight women and one man were accused of witchcraft and paid a high price.

The series also explores the reasons why the witch hunts did not affect Ireland in the same way as other European countries, and how paganism, goddess worship and beliefs in popular magic survived longer as a result. The story of Mary Butters, the Carnmoney Witch in the North and Biddy Early, the wise woman of Clare, in later episodes offer other insights into how powerful women survived beyond the witch hunts in a patriarchal world.

“An Diabhal Inti was best described by editor Jill Beardsworth as ‘an uncomfortable, immersive, and enchanting journey,’” Kehoe told IFTN.

An Diabhal Inti (The Devil’s in Her) is a visually rich and layered historical series with a contemporary feel. Woven into the visual narrative is a sumptuous layer of art spanning centuries. Contributors such as Dr Andrew Sneddon, the leading expert on the Irish witch trials, Dr Mary McAuliffe, Claire Mitchell QC, Professor Julian Goodare all offer unique insights into the religious mindset that created the narrative and the conditions for the witch hunts.

“We were fortunate to have Dr Andrew Sneddon as a Historical Consultant. He has written extensively on Irish witchcraft cases, and he is a brilliant storyteller,” Kehoe explained. “Expert contributors were drawn from folklore, history, psychology, gender studies, religion and the art world, including: Dr Mary McAuliffe, Dr Niall Ó Ciosáin, Róise Ní Bhaoill, Professor Angela Bourke, Jonny Dillon, Dr Jenny Butler, Jesse Jones and Deirdre Wadding to name a few!”

“The story of the witch trials in Scotland also provides important context, and this is provided by Claire Mitchell QC, who is behind the Witches of Scotland campaign to pardon those convicted of witchcraft, Professor Julian Goodare and Dr Lizanne Henderson,” added Kehoe. “The witch hunts were five times more intense in Scotland than in other country in Europe. Thousands were persecuted, and those cases informed what later unfolded in Ireland.”

The series is written and directed by Paula Kehoe, produced by Ashlene Aylward and edited by Jill Beardsworth for Lagan Media Productions. An Diabhal Inti is funded by TG4, BBC Gaeilge, Northern Ireland Screen's Irish Language Braodcast Fund and the BAI Sound and Vision Fund.

I hope that audiences have a more nuanced understanding of what it meant to be accused of being a witch during the persecuting times,” the director told IFTN, when asked about what they would most like audiences to take away from the series. “We’re not talking about  spooky old crones flying on brooms, just ordinary women going about their business and finding themselves in an increasingly hostile environment.”

An Diabhal Inti debuts this International Women’s Day, and will continue Tuesdays at 10pm on TG4.

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