Once upon a time the only way for a woman to escape the suffocating tedium of the male dominated Ulster society was to accuse her neighbors of witchcraft.

Pointing the fingers at others took the spotlight off yourself, leaving you free to do things like swear, drink, carouse with men and stay out all night if you chose to - because, after all, the devil made you do it.

That's the conclusion an academic at the University of Ulster has come to about one of Europe's last witch trials - one that convicted eight women in Ulster 300 years ago, about which he has found new evidence.

The Islandmagee witches were eight Irish women who were found guilty of possessing a teenage girl. Each woman was sentenced to a year in prison and put in the public stocks four times on market day.

But according to a report in The Daily Mail Doctor Andrew Sneddon has discovered what really happened and in his son to be released book - Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland, 1586-1946 - the history lecturer argues that 18-year-old Mary Dunbar, the accuser, made the whole thing up.

"My research is based on a wide variety of contemporary documentation, including witness statements, letters and eye-witness accounts," Sneddon told The Daily Mail.

Sneddon claims that Dunbar faked demonic possession to escape the suffocating social restraints of her era and to become a local celebrity.

"Being possessed allowed her to misbehave without consequence, move from invisibility to notoriety within her community and attack her elders at will," Sneddon said.

"Dunbar chose to blame her possession on the witchcraft of the Presbyterian Islandmagee women because they had reputations locally as witches and failed to meet contemporary standards of female behavior and beauty.

"Some were physically disabled, others swore and drank alcohol. All were poor. The local male authorities believed Dunbar's version of events because she was beautiful, educated and from a respected family."