I wrote this one after coming across a passing reference to the ‘Screamers’ of Burtonport in the 70s. I hadn’t heard of them. Looking them up was certainly a wild ride but I found out that the group that went to the big house in Burtonport after them were just as weird, albeit quite different. They deserved an article.
I couldn’t put this in the article but it does seem to me that the whole thing was more of a fantasy subculture than a bona fide religious belief. At least it explains how the group changed so easily. It was linked to a wider subculture called ‘Aristasia’. It just about still exists but looking into it felt like an whole other endeavour. Maybe I’ll write about it some day.
The Silver Sisterhood was a new religious movement that was active in Burtonport, County Donegal, Ireland from 1982 to 1992. The group has also been referred to as the Rhennish Community and St. Bride’s. English writer Miss Martindale was a prominent member. The community is known for creating early text adventure video games such as Bugsy and Jack the Ripper, the first game to be given an ’18’ rating.
The Silver Sisterhood came to Burtonport from Yorkshire in September 1982 and occupied a large house that had previously been the home of the Atlantis commune (often referred to as the Screamers). They christened the house An Droichead Beo, meaning ‘the Bridge of Life’. There was seven members initially.
The Sisterhood believed that God was a woman. They worshipped God as ‘the Mother’ and claimed that everything they did centered around worship of Her. Music and chant had great importance as acts of devotion. The musical instruments used by the group were all handmade by them. They stressed a great emphasis on craft as a path to the sacred. There was also an emphasis on self-sufficiency and the members grew food to feed themselves and sell. Members fasted on Fridays by skipping breakfast and lunch. They operated a tearoom in the house which served the town. No electricity or modern appliances were used by the group initially and plastic was shunned as a pollutant. Female members wore full-length dresses, covered their heads in public and referred to themselves as ‘maids’.
The Rhennish community was matriarchal. The group claimed to be following a matriarchal structure that was the norm in western Europe in ancient times. Patriarchy was claimed to be a recent and unusual development that would soon die out and be replaced by a matriarchal ‘golden age’. Men could become members. One man was part of the original group that came to Burtonport in 1982. However, he had left by July 1983. In an interview for RTÉ a member expressed hope that men would come to live in the community long-term but acknowledged that it was difficult to attract them to. The community was also hierarchical in nature. Equality[disambiguation needed] was claimed to be a patriarchal concept that stopped people from working together. In an interview for WomanSpirit magazine, the view was expressed by one member that there are always leaders in a group whether acknowledged or not and that ‘some maids like to tell others what to do and some maids like to be told what to do’.
Later in the 1980s members began to wear full Victorian era outfits as the norm. In 1984 the house was re-christened as St. Bride’s, after the 5th century abbess and miracle worker (see: Brigid of Kildare). From then women, ideally in their 20s or 30s, could pay to experience life in a Victorian boarding school. Daily Telegraph writer Candida Crewe likened the house to a Gothic novel where “a single candle flickered behind a lace curtain, guests were invited into a parlour heated only by a feeble coal fire, and the mistress of the house greeted her guests wearing a long black dress and white lace collar”. The prospectus offered courses in mathematics, elementary Latin, grammar and literature. Discipline and corporal punishment, including caning, were part of the experience and achieved a greater prominence in later years. This was to an extent that the group has been called a fetish club. Two women, including Miss Martindale, ran the group in this phase. In 1990 Miss Martindale was convicted of assaulting one of her clients and was handed a £100 fine and a two-month suspended sentence.
Anti-modern and elitist views were expressed by St. Bride’s in the Victorian phase. Miss Martindale stated her view that “some people are meant to rule and others to serve”. The group was involved in the anti-metric system campaign “Don’t Give an Inch”. In a 1988 appearance on The Late Late Show the two leaders of St. Bride’s said that they adopted Victorian dress because they liked it and it was their way of being creative.
To raise money St. Bride’s also sold handmade costumes, and published books and magazines. One business venture they are well known for is creating eight text adventure video games. The Secret of St. Bride’s was the first game they created, but they were also responsible for titles such as Bugsy and Jack the Ripper. The latter was the first video game to receive an “18” rating. Although television was shunned, computer games were liked as they involved “concentration and commitment”.
The group left Burtonport in 1992, relocating to Oxford and then to London. Far-right and antisemitic publications were found in the house after they left. This included a two-year correspondence with John Tyndall, then leader of the British National Party, who expressed his admiration for what the St. Bride’s group were doing. One former member denied in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that they had far-right leanings.
- Atlantis (commune) – A different new religious movement that occupied the same premises as the Silver Sisterhood before them
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l “Maids of the Silver Sisterhood“. rte.ie. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e “Neo-Nazi leaflets found in gracious ladies’ academy where caning was on the curriculum Inside the secret world of the sisters of St Bride’s”. The Sunday Telegraph. 3 January 1993. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g “A Matriarchal Society In Donegal”. rte.ie. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u “The Mystery of St Bride’s” (142). “GamesTM”. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Jump up to:a b “Jack the Ripper Review”, Sinclair User, January 1988
- ^ Jump up to:a b “Dracula unbound: The story behind the first 18 certificated video game”. March 2015.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l Turner, Buckwheat (Spring 1984). “The Silver Sisterhood”. 10(39). WomanSpirit. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Jump up to:a b “Victorian Values Reign In Donegal”. rte.ie. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Jump up to:a b “School For Young Ladies”. rte.ie. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
- ^ Gerrard, David (2004). The Hidden Places of Ireland (Fifth ed.). Travel Publishing Ltd. p. 84.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d Farrell, Nicholas. “Oxford educators: Miss Partridge and Miss Langridge run meetings for students downstairs, discipline sessions for paying punters upstairs Swish society of Oxford’s hits and misses”. The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 29 February 2020.