A score of Irish murders – more from Skeffy

” The people are getting prodigiously enlightened ; nor do I think that their propensities are so vicious as they were some years back. ”  This is more from the ” Recollections of Skeffington Gibbon. ”  published in 1829, a book best taken with less a pinch, and more like a sack, of salt, and stories embroidered enough to fell all but the stoutest Archbishop under the weight of all that thread. This is what he has to say about his father’s memories of murders in county Roscommon in the late eighteenth century.

“ For instance,” said my father, “ how many heinous murders have occurred in this country in my own recollection, the like of which are now seldom to be heard of ? “

At one time a whole family was murdered near Carrick-on-Shannon; among whom was a Mr. Lawder, the kinsman of the immortal Goldsmith, and the Croftons, of Moate, near Roscommon.  [ This turns out to be just the murder of James Lawder himself.]

Roscommon Castle. It was partially blown up by Cromwellian “Ironsides” who then had all the fortifications dismantled. The castle was burned down in 1690 and ultimately fell into decay.

Several murders were perpetrated by the notorious Anne Walker and her sanguinary husband ; they kept a public inn or half-way house at a place called Boxford — I believe part of the Coote estates, in the vicinity of Roscommon. In this den of murder, and rapacity for the goods and chattels of others, they perpetrated, unsuspected from their opulence, the most ruthless crimes; when detected in the very act, from the cries of a gentleman in bed in their house, at two o’clock at night, the sanguinary husband got off in a beggar woman’s apparel, and evaded being brought to justice for his dark offences ; but his infamous wife was burned at a stake near that old ruin of the Dillon family, about half a mile from Roscommon, the county town from which they take their title. [ The Dillons had a number of different peerages, but one of the principal ones was Earl of Roscommon, who held Roscommon Castle.]

That Daly, who committed a rape on a girl of ten years of age, and, from the violence he used on so young an infant in putting his wicked desires into execution, for fear, according to his own confession, that it would lead to a discovery, murdered her, and hid her under his bed, in which place she was found by her disconsolate parents, kept a country shop near Cloughan, in the Barony of Athlone, and suffered the sentence of the law at the usual place of execution at Roscommon, in the year 1780. I knew his sister, a widow, named Madden, a respectable and industrious woman, who lived many years on the lands of Baslick, near Castlerea, in this county.

Her daughter [Mrs Madden’s], an innocent young woman, was, not many years back, seduced by a pious Dignitary of the Church, not more than one hundred miles from the See-house of Elphin. Not only that, the Reverend Doctor took under his pious care the wife of a man well known in the Whip Club, of the name of Dalton. This is but an outline. [ This is also a perfect example of Skeffy’s bitchy best, managing to mention a child rape, and murder alongside the seduction of Mrs Madden’s daughter, and naming her, and the parish she lived in. How many Widow Maddens are there likely to be in a parish of less than 15,000 people? ] 

“ Children,” said my father, ” of the many revolting massacres committed in this and the adjoining- counties within these few years back, I do not recollect any of them so heinous as the horrible murder committed on the body of young Mr. Bellew, at the great fair of Ballinasloe, and the chief of the gang his own domestics and dependents.

Mr. Bellew was respectably connected in the County of Galway, being lineally descended from Earl Bellew, as also allied to the house of Mount-Bellew, one of the first Catholic families in that county. He lived with his father, (as single gentlemen generally do in this kingdom,) at a beautiful seat, now in ruin, called Drum-House, on the road leading from the village of Creggs, on the Burke manors, to the Town of Tuam, a Bishop’s See, both in that county.

Ballinasloe October Horse Fair

Young Bellew, unfortunately, accompanied his father to this celebrated meeting, well known as the October Fair. I think it was in 1786. Mr. Bellew got a large sum of money for fat cattle the two first days of this meeting, which his own cotters and the stable men of his household saw him making up in the inn where he stopped, and which money they thought the young son retained in his possession ; consequently, a gang (about nine) of those fellows planned a scheme to induce the young gentleman to come to the stable where he kept his horses, about nine o’clock in the evening, saying that they would have a fascinating young woman to meet him. To this he agreed; and to jog his memory, an infamous villain of the name of Greaghan, his own stable-boy or helper, came at the appointed hour, and sent word up by the waiter that he was below stairs, and wished to see his young master.

On Mr. Bellew receiving the message, he desired the waiter to order the man his dinner, which was accordingly obeyed. When the dinner was laid before the monster, who was bursting, like Judas, with evil thoughts, the maid who served him went in search of a knife and fork, sometimes scarce articles at this great fair ; however, to her surprise, at her return, though only about a minute absent, Greaghan had the meat cut on his plate with a large knife commonly called a jack knife, and with which he murdered Mr. Bellew in a few minutes afterwards.

The River Suck, forms much of the border between County Roscommon and County Galway, flowing along the western side of County Roscommon.

Young Bellew had asked his father’s permission to go and see the curious scenes at such large meetings, which gentlemen about his age (not more than twenty- one), are generally anxious to view. His father reluctantly complied, but not until one or two gentlemen who dined with them, and were enjoying themselves at their wine, interfered, by which the unfortunate young man was allowed to go out for a short time. He asked his father for some pocket money ; to which he complied in no pleasing terms, and threw him a purse across the table, containing some silver and sixty guineas in gold. On leaving the inn, Greaghan met him at the door, and conducted him to a lonely stable in a remote lane, within a few paces of the great River Suck, which moves in all its magnitude through part of this town, and empties its copious influx into the noble Shannon, about four miles from Dunlow, commonly called Ballinasloe, where the unfortunate Mr. Bellew entered this horrible den.

He was conducted to a dark corner, in which one of those demons, named Cusack, was seated on a bundle of straw, dressed in woman’s clothes. This villain (Cusack) was selected from the other gang to personate a female, in consequence of his feminine appearance, having no beard, being of fair complexion, and particularly as Mr. Bellew had no knowledge of his exterior. Mr. Bellew advanced towards the young lady, as he thought, to embrace her and put his hands round her person ; but the reception he met for his caresses was a mortal stab of a large knife in his abdomen. He screamed, and called upon Greaghan to come to his aid; but the assistance he met with was the whole of the gang coming and stabbing him in various parts of the body. As he lay prostrate on the floor, even when dead, a young man, who happened to come into the stable at the moment, was obliged to give him three stabs, and take his oath that he would never divulge the secret. They rolled the body in some hay, tied it up in a sheet, and threw it into the River Suck. “

Amongst the murderers was a farmer’s son of the name of Lyons, from the village of Croswells, on the Caulfield estate near Donamore. Lyons was the only son, and what I may call a spoiled child, of respectable and industrious parents far above want, and how he could bring himself to be guilty of so atrocious and sanguinary an action, and to join such a group, who had no stake or dependence in the country, save the general lot of those serfs and peasants who possess no other means but their scanty earning from one meal to another — their residence a filthy, smoky hut, their companions a pig, a cat, and a-half starved mangy dog — some may have a cow, a goat or an ass, which is driven from the wretched abode of its nominal owner, (as it generally happens that the latter is more indebted to the rackrenter or landlord than the animal is worth,) to some barren moor or noxious marsh, apparently sinking as a swamp ready to swallow in its stagnated mire the skeleton, which, from its craving maw and the pangs of hunger, is obliged (not that any thing delicious is in the soil) to feed on its unwholesome weeds.

I don’t impute to the oppressed peasant or rustic that these miseries are solely caused by his not reading extracts from the New Testament; far from it, they spontaneously grow with his growth: he is born in poverty — to comfort he is a stranger; and, inundated in want and wretchedness, he closes his eyes in the arms of death upon a world that afforded him no other soothing consolation but ail the pangs and horror that middlemen, rackrenters, rapacious tithe proctors, and the unceasing demands of the voluptuous absentee, can inflict upon a well disposed people. To these misfortunes the unfortunate Lyons was a stranger, as his parents were in comfortable circumstances, and possessed that state of mediocrity that they neither felt the pangs of keen distress nor the sudden surplus of overgrown wealth. The whole of this infamous gang who murdered the much and justly-lamented Mr. Bellew were executed in the town of Galway, and their bodies hung in chains in the town of Ballinasloe for many months afterwards.

In talking of the horrible murder of eighteen of the Bodkin family, by a step-son and a nephew, near Tuam, which gave to the perpetrators of that massacre the never-forgotten appellation of the “Bloody Bodkins” — the murder of Randal M’Donnell, Esq., by the notorious Captain Fitzgerald of Turla, in Mayo — the murder of Squire Reynolds of Litterfine, by the sanguinary and cowardly Kean of Newbrook, in the County of Leitrim, and many others, my father repeated a few days before his death, in 1812, with as much novelty as on the days they respectively occurred.

“ My children,” said he, “ My days in this world are coming to a close; so far you have made me happy; poverty is no crime, let not your thirst for opulence and comfort ever cause you to be guilty of a base or contemptible action; if you raise yourselves by your industry, as I have very little more to bequeath you than my blessing, I entreat of you never to leave yourselves in the power of your friends, much more your enemies, as many false friends and false prophets are abroad;  therefore, be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves ; don’t disgrace the memory of your ancestors by any ignoble or ruthless action; rather receive an insult than give one. “

These words from an aged and affectionate parent made no small impression on my mind at the time, but from several circumstances that occurred since that period, they have been doubly impressed on it; more so, when describing the barbarous and inhuman murder of my brother, at his residence near Castlerea in the County of Roscommon. [ This is even more of a curiosity, given that Skeffington Gibbon is a pseudonym. Dr. Patrick Melvin, speculates that he (Skeffy) may be either James or Augustus O’Kelly, a brother of Patrick O’Kelly, who was a somewhat eccentric poet. But either way, there doesn’t seem to have been an O’Kelly murder near Castlerea at the right time.]  I recollect one day when living at Fairfield the observations my father made about the Glinsk family. [ These are the Burkes of Glinsk Castle, Galway, and Skeffy will deliver a huge hatchet job in a few pages time.]

Mount Mary, Galway

On walking to the summit of Mount-Mary, he pointed to several green fields that were reclaimed in his time, which he said he seen covered with heath and brushwood ; as also to some deep pits that the late Major Waller of Rookwood sunk to get coals, but failed, by which he lost a considerable sum of money ; and added, that his gambling in London and Paris was the principal cause of his handsome estate being sold, the chief part of which was purchased by the humane and benevolent Mrs. Walcott, the sister of Judge Caulfield of Donamon Castle, who bequeathed the rents of those manors for charitable purposes, and with which the Gaol Infirmary and Charter School of Roscommon are liberally endowed.

When he came in sight of the cottage and garden wherein he was born, he seemed greatly affected and shed tears. After a pause of some time, ” My poor mother,” says he, ” breathed her last on this spot where I now sit : how often my two brothers and only sister, now mouldering in the grave, sported at our innocent amusement round these ruinous walls : but why should I grieve ; what is this world but vanity, and the longest that lives must only consider it a dream. I have no reason to complain : I have good children, and I know if your mother survive me that you will all endeavour to make her happy ; she is a worthy, humane woman, a virtuous exemplary wife, and a good mother. What would I not sacrifice, consistently with my salvation and the character of an honest man, for the welfare of my family; I have laboured incessantly for their support, and would at this moment lay down my life for their happiness.“

“As to the Burke family,” added he, ” the most powerful feudal lords at one time in this country — who possessed that wide district of a beautiful and diversified vale, a land flowing with milk and honey — where is all their pomp and grandeur now? The auctioneer’s bell ringing every other day to sell those manors that they possessed for eight hundred years. Nothing is certain (says he) in this uncertain world.

Let’s meet Skeffington Gibbon

For various slightly complicated reasons, a lot of my recent research has been less online, and has been wrestling with the problems of researching Ireland. It has however narrowed itself down, slightly surprisingly to co. Roscommon. One of the people it has thrown up is the splendidly, and obviously bogusly, named Skeffington Gibbon who published a book privately in 1824, which was then re-published in Dublin in 1829. He very snappily called it

The Recollections Of Skeffington Gibbon, From 1796 To The Present Year, 1829; Being An Epitome Of The Lives And Characters Of The Nobility And Gentry Of Roscommon: The Genealogy Of Those Who Are Descended From The Kings Of Connaught And A Memoir  Of The Late Madame O’Conor Don.

Printed By Joseph Blundell, 187, Great Britain-Street. Dublin : 1829.

It is one of the strangest, weirdest, campest, books I have ever read. It’s 170 pages long, without chapters, and is basically a mixture of gossip, sycophantic fawning, and alleged family history. Sir William Wilde [Oscar’s father] was apparently of the opinion that he [Skeffy]  used his knowledge of family skeletons to make a living from the wealthy. Presumably on the basis of  “If you pay, I’ll keep you out of the book, and if you don’t, I’ll publish.” It would be interesting to know Sir Bernard Burke’s opinion of Skeffy’s work, but possibly his view published in the 1912 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry gives an idea. ” Of course, one knows that every Irishman is the descendant of countless kings, princes and other minor celebrities. One admits it, the thing is unquestionable. One knows, of course, also, that every family is the oldest in Co. Galway, or Co. Sligo, or somewhere else, and that, for some reason or other, every Irishman is the ” head ” of his family.”. For now, I’ll let Mr Skeffington Gibbon introduce himself. The following is the first few pages from the book. [Oh, and, Madame O’Conor Don is the wife of a fourth cousin of (5x) great-uncle Owen O’Conor.]

” The reader will not accuse me of egotism for being candid, when, contrary to the acknowledgment of other writers, I tell him of the obscurity of my birth and the poverty of my parents.

I was born in a rural, but humble, cottage on a small farm called Fairfield, on the Glinsk Manors, in the County of Galway. My father, who was descended from a respectable family in the County of Cork, at one time possessed the chief of that barony, which still retains the name of that ancient family, well known in and about the beautiful Fermoy as the Barony of Clan-Gibbon. In tracing the origin of my ancestors I find that the Province of Gibbelonian in the Italian States is their inheritance, from which some assumed the name of Giblon, a junior branch of which family inherited, about a century ago, the noble seat of Bally- giblon, now in the possession of Wrixon Beecher, Esq., who recently married the beautiful and esteemed Miss O’Neill, of the late Theatre-Royal, Crow-street.

The first of my ancestors who landed in Great Britain accompanied William Duke of Normandy in his invasion of that Empire in the tenth century, and obtained by their valour extensive manors in the Counties of Kent, Middlesex and Northampton, of which their descendants still retain a small remnant. The head of the family is now recognised by the title of that illustrious Baronet of Staines, (Sir John Gibbon,) in the County of Middlesex.

The celebrated Edward Gibbon, so esteemed for his ‘Roman History’ and his ‘Letters to Lord Chesterfield, etc.’ was descended from the same ancestors. He tells us his father was a merchant in the City of London — that he was born at Putney on the banks of the noble Thames — that his mother was a Miss Porten, of the enchanting Richmond Hill in the County of Surrey, and after her lamented demise, which was premature after his birth, he was brought into life by his maiden aunt, who spoon-fed him for nearly nine months. However, I pass by that honourable and revered gentleman for the present, to give an account of the first of my ancestors, who accompanied Fitz-Stevens into Ireland in 1172, and obtained large manors in the Counties of Wexford and Waterford, and afterwards, on the reinforcement of Strongbow, aided by MacMurrough, King of Leinster, took possession of several strong castles in the Counties of Cork, Limerick and Tipperary. Catherine Gibbon, the celebrated Countess of Desmond, who fell by the side of her hoary-headed lord, in the eightieth year of his age, in a sanguinary battle between the Cromwellian Condons of Castle-gibbon, now called Castletownroche, on the banks of the copious and navigable River Blackwater, in the territory of the great MacCarthy, was daughter of the ancient but unfortunate family from which I am descended.

The noble ruin called the ” House of Desmond,” in the town of Mallow, now in the possession of Mr. Jephson, the representative in Parliament for that borough, deserves the tourist’s notice, being one of the most magnificent structures that antiquity can boast of. It is situate in a beauteous and verdant glen, embracing a multiplicity of spontaneous boons, mountain air, a salubrious spa adorned by the River Blackwater, and a country delightfully diversified — besides a town, to the credit of the respected inheritor, much and highly improved.

From the various sanguinary commotions and civil wars that distracted this kingdom during the reign of Elizabeth — the paramount sway of Oliver Cromwell and his rapacious freebooters, under the cloak of fanaticism, and latterly, the unrelenting atrocities committed on the natives during and subsequent to the sanguinary war between the unfortunate James II. and his nephew and son-in-law the Prince of Orange, such of the nobility as were not expatriated took refuge in the woods and forests in the province of Connaught, where thousands of them expired either by famine, an incurable flux, or a contagious epidemic, then called the long scarlet fever. Amongst these was my ancestor Richard Fitzallen Gibbon, for whose head a large reward was offered by Colonel Carew, and General Boyle, ancestor of Lord Cork ; however, by changing his name to MacGibbonne or MacGibbolone, he evaded being apprehended, and got married to the daughter of FitzMaurice, of the noble house of Clare-Maurice in Mayo, a family who only possessed a remnant of their former principality at the time, as the Binghams and the Gores, under the false surmise or accusation of the heads of that puissant and illustrious family being suspected Papists, and outlawed for not joining the ruthless Cromwell and the Saints under his pious guidance, engrossed the chief of their patrimony and that of Burke the Lord of Mayo, and which, except what was sold through the prodigality of those unsought-for intruders, their heirs retain at the present time.

In Mrs. O’Mooney’s “ Sketch of her Own Times,” she observes, in her view from the lofty Crough- Patrick, the wide districts in the possession of the Earls of Arran and Lucan, (the latter title once justly bestowed on the illustrious heirs of Sarsfield) — ” Those demesnes,” adds she, ” ill got, one day or other will be ill gone.” However, to return to the subject of the family from which I am paternally descended : the progeny by the marriage with Miss Fitz-Maurice, by intermarriages, got settled in the Counties of Mayo and Galway. The chief of the Gibbon estates, which was part of the dowry of Miss Fitz-Maurice, was lately in the possession of that great diamond. Big Denis Browne, (recently deceased,) on which he built a family mansion, called ( to immortalize his name) Mount-Browne. My grand-father, who married the daughter of O’Shaughnessy, of Gort Castle, fell in defence of his family and property, where he lived, in a rural villa in the vicinity of Mylough, in the County of Galway. In consequence of the undeserved outrage committed on my grandfather, (at the head of which was a tyrant of the name of Ormsby, well known as Robert Ormsby, of Tubberavaddy, near Roscommon, a notorious partisan with the celebrated Lord Santry, as  Chairmen of the never-to-be-forgotten Hell-Fire Club, in College-green,) the land is now in the possession of an heiress of the house of Netterville, who is (I believe) married to Mr. Gerrard, of Gibbstown, in the County of Meath. Much to the credit of Sir John Burke, of Glinsk Castle, (who married Miss Cicily Netterville, of Longford, in that neighbourhood,) and a few Dominican Friars, who occupied a secluded convent and a few acres of land on the Burke manors, under the west wing of that lofty peak, called Mount-Mary, which separates the wide demesnes of those two ancient feudal Chieftains, (the Baronets of Glinsk Castle and the heirs of Castle-Kelly,) which at one time comprised upwards of twenty miles of the County of Galway, and the chief of the Barony of Athlone, in the County of Roscommon, they took compassion on the forlorn situation ol a destitute widow and her four infant children, and provided the harbourless with a small hut on the verge of this romantic mountain, on the site of a wood, called Cappa Wood. In this desolate wilderness did the unfortunate daughter of the once noble house of O’Shaughnessy and her orphans live on the scanty produce of a barren mountainy garden, mingling their anguish and poignant destitution with their tears, and a multiplicity of privations. I recollect myself having seen this farm ; it was recently held by an opulent grazier of the name of Kyne, who died suddenly at the fair of Fuerty, in that neighbourhood, a few years back.

My father told me that his elder brother, who was a proficient in the common rudiments of education, eloped from his mother, when about eighteen years of age, and sailed from Cork for the United States. How he could get out to that lovely country at that time, without friends or money, as he was not possessed of a farthing when he left his mother’s humble cottage but one guinea, which had been sent her by the Catholic Bishop of Tuam, her maternal uncle, (Doctor O’Kelly,) who lived some time in the house of Ossy, near Glinsk, where a man of the name of Glynn keeps extensive nursery gardens at the present time. The mother’s grief for her husband, their property, and her son was such, that it was impossible for her exhausted constitution to bear it any longer; she fell into a fit of despondency, and in a few weeks after the departure of her son, expired in the arms of her faithful friend, and the participator of her misfortunes — a foster-sister, who never forsook her in all her complicated disasters, till she saw her interred in the Abbey of Kilbegnad, in the ancient vault of the Skeffington family, to whom she was maternally allied through the O’Kellys of Aughrim Castle, so celebrated from its memorable battle in 1689. From this my uncle worked his passage on board as a seaman, to that land of promise. The only account my father had of his arrival in that country was from Doctor Nesbitt, who practised for some time as an eminent physician there, and visited his friends in the County of Leitrim, where he remained but a few weeks, as his wife and family remained in the City of Washington, anxiously waiting his return. The account he gave was that my uncle got married to the daughter of a Scotch merchant of the name of Douglas, who resided some distance from Washington — that he was accumulating wealth, and made a most respectable connexion on his marriage with Miss Douglas — that he heard of his mother’s death from a Mr. Fallon, the kinsman of an ancient family of that name in the Barony of Athlone — and that he intended to assist his friends in Ireland in a short time. My father had another brother, who died at Fairfield, of a malignant fever, in the 24th year of his age. I never knew my poor father to mention this brother without changing his countenance, which he strove to conceal from his auditors or his own family, and his whole frame undergoing that panic of grief that one recognizes in the aspect of those who are suffering deep affliction and sensation for the loss of some worthy friend, which wealth, luxury, or amusement cannot remove. My only sister, adds my father, who married a farmer of the name of Magrath, in the vicinity of Mylough or Mount-Bellew, died, after giving birth to three children. As it would only bring other melancholy recollections to my mind, and as my brother-in- law married about nine months after my sister’s premature demise, I never saw any of that family afterwards. We were obliged, says he, (observing about my uncle, who died unmarried,) to leave our handsome cottage at Cappa, which was surrounded with beautiful shrubs that sprung up on the site of that large wood sold to pay off some family incumbrances, which were weighing pretty heavy on the estate of Sir Festic Burke at the time. Then my brother — that brother, adds he, who was the companion and the participator of my early, innocent and rustic amusements, took the handsome farm of Fairfield, watered by a beautiful river, which proceeds from that deep moor that separates the Glinsk manors from the small patrimony of Mr. D’Arcy, a magistrate, and a respectable gentleman, allied to the ancient family of Kiltulla, in the upper part of this great and populous county. I think Mr. D’Arcy’s rural residence is called Newforest or Blackforest. Mr. James Kelly, a tanner by trade, possessed the house of Fairfield, and some fields adorned with tan-holes of no sweet odour ; when the wind blew westward, we felt it intolerable. James Kelly was uncle to William Kelly, of Buckfield — a farm which they hold from the Earls of Clanrickarde ; as also to William Kelly, now of Gardiner-street, who kept a spirit shop many years in that noble seat that Oliver Cromwell threw into the possession of the Mahon family, called Strokestown. Our residence at Fairfield (considerably augmented since my early days) was delightfully situated on the banks of a murmuring rivulet. My father, a few years before his death, said that the tenantry in the surrounding villages were draining and reclaiming those deep bogs which inundate the adjacent pasturage, the fog of which swamps caused contagion and typhus fevers through the country. The people are getting prodigiously enlightened ; nor do I think that their propensities are so vicious as they were some years back. “

We’ll come back to his father’s views in another post, but let’s leave Skeffy with a soundtrack