Ulster University is partnering with Carrickfergus Museum to allow visitors to step back in time and ‘hex’perience the history of Ireland’s last witch trial through ‘Reimagining the Islandmagee Witches: An Interactive Exhibition.’

Bringing Ulster University research on the Islandmagee witch trial to life, from 9 September until 16 November, the museum will be hosting a series of exhibitions, projects, events and workshops, including an immersive virtual reality experience: ‘The Demonised: Possessed and Bewitched’, which has been created in partnership with Belfast tech firm Immersonal.

The Ulster University research project is led by Dr Andrew Sneddon, Dr Victoria McCollum and Dr Helen Jackson, and will give visitors the opportunity to time travel through tech to the year 1711 when the last witch trial anywhere on the island of Ireland took place. Eight women and one man were put on trial and found guilty of exercising witchcraft on a young woman named Mary Dunbar. Interpretative panels, a range of objects and material culture, animation, a graphic novel and choice-driven video game will showcase the story of the trial.

The exhibition will also feature a range of objects from Carrickfergus Museum’s collection plus loaned items from National Museums Northern Ireland, National Library of Ireland and Belfast Central Library.

Commenting on the exhibition’s virtual reality experience, Dr Helen Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media at Ulster University, said:

“We wanted people to get a sense of what it means to be persecuted and that feeling of being disorientated, confused and alienated and even nervous when you know everyone is against you. You are transported to Islandmagee and the Rocking Stone where you find yourself in the shoes of either Mary Dunbar, or the accused ‘witches’. There are objects connected to the story that you can interact with which can cause you to spin and levitate and get the sense of what it’s like to be a witch. It is physically unsettling and the quality is fantastic. It creates a really intuitive experience but at the same time is really challenging for the user. “  

CEO of tech company Immersonal, Tom Houston, who worked with Ulster University to create the VR experience, added:

“There really are no limits to what can be achieved with VR, even to allow someone to experience what it is like to be possessed by a demon. Working with Dr Jackson and her team on such an important resource was a pleasure for us and the end product is something which we are confident will surprise and delight the user. We hope it helps in the education of the next generation of VR specialists as well as in boosting tourism in the Antrim area.”  

As well as the exhibitions in Carrickfergus Museum, ‘Witches in Eden’, produced by Ulster University’s Victoria McCollum, Lisa Fitzpatrick, and Andrew Sneddon, will be performed by a collective of staff and students at the University’s Riverside Theatre, and has been directed by Kat Woods. ‘Witches in Eden’ by Olga Fielden is a one act play written in 1948 based on the real witch trials that took place in Islandmagee in the early 1700’s. Set over the course of an evening, the play follows Justice of the Peace Andrew Ferguson’s investigation into Mary Dunbar’s allegations that some local women had bewitched her.

Booking for all museum-based events is through Eventbrite. For further information, visit: https://www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/events or email carrickfergusmuseums@midandeastantrim.gov.uk

There are more events planned at Ulster University in the run-up to Halloween, including the Global Zombie Studies Symposium at the Derry~Londonderry campus which you can register for here. Keep an eye on the University’s events page for updates.