The Death of Michael Leahy

michael leahy
Changelings, by Alan Lee

The history of changelings is heavy with stories of real people coming to gruesome ends as a result in people’s beliefs in fairies and changelings. In an earlier blog post we spoke about Bridget Cleary, in this post we cover Michael Leahy.

Michael was four years old, but unable to stand or walk or even speak. Today we can recognize these as possible symptoms of a disability, but in the 1800s in Europe, this was seen as an indication the child was a changeling.

Michael’s grandmother, Anne Roche, became convinced this was the case. Every day for three days she bathed Michael in a pool in the river Flesk, at the point where three farms joined together. On the third day she held Michael under the water, drowning the child.

She was taken into custody, but she argued against any charge of murder. She had not meant to murder the child, only to drive the fairy out of it. When pressed she responded it did not matter that the child had died, he had really died four years earlier when taken by the fairies. She was tried, but the jury acquitted her of murder.

It seems very likely the legends changelings developed out of an attempt to understand the unique behaviors and physical challenges of children who did not develop normally. It has particularly been suggested that children with autism would likely be labeled as such.

Regardless of the source of these beliefs their terrible impacts cannot be denied. They serve as a cautionary tale against blind faith over reason, and against the belief that those different from us are somehow less than us. These ideas are at the heart of my novel Across the Darkling Sea.