Kilkenny’s deadly years

Then she heard Meally say “Let you begin, and I’ll be down on him, by the flames I will”. From ‘Mayhem in the Meadows’. Victim: James Brett

Murders, trials and executions in Kilkenny 1823-1923

A recent discussion on an RTE panel show discussed crime in Ireland .The panel was made up of social workers, a prison Governor, a clergyman and a representative from the Garda association.

It seemed that all accepted that crime was rising year in year out. And, added one panellist, month by month.

The reason behind the rise in crime was mind blowing with a Dublin based shopkeeper saying that crime in the capitals city had spiralled out of all proportion.

If you weren’t listening carefully you might have missed one comment as John (a panellist) said: “God be with the days when there was little or no crime in Ireland.

As the conversation in the programme developed, it eventually turned to murder, types of murder and those unsolved ones.

Crime, it would seem, is all around us, these days. One can barely turn on a television, or open a newspaper but we are faced with a murder of one kind or another.

This week, in The Kilkenny Observer we take a look at Murders in Kilkenny.

To be more exact, we take a look at a recent publication by Donal Cadogan ‘Kilkenny’s Deadly Years’, which looks at murders, trials and executions in Kilkenny from 1823 to 1923.

To say this is a different direction of research and writing by the author is fairly obvious when you consider his previous work includes ‘About Kilkenny-A guide to Kilkenny city and county’, ‘99 Lives-Kilkenny Connections’, ‘We are Kilkenny Cats’ and ‘A Little book of Alice Kyteler’.

Having read all four aforementioned books, one thig is certain, and that is that Cadogan leaves no stone unturned with research and production. His books are the epitome of quality and his historical accuracy would appear to be beyond reproach.

In his latest project Donal travels back to Kilkenny of the 19th century and discovers that life wasn’t all about fancy houses, nights at the theatre and busy market places. The author tell us that ‘Ye Faire Citie’ was a turbulent place to live where the county suffered from Whiteboy outrages, tithe wars and faction fighting. Cadogan told The Kilkenny Observer that : “There were many ways and opportunities to kill and be killed for a cause.” The author continued: “It was a horrid time really, when wives killed husbands, people killed neighbours and brother killed brother”

In its two hundred and thirty plus pages Cadogan concentrates on the years from 1823 to 1923 and introduces us to thirty four true crimes and explains that while some of the killings were caused by the ‘great public problems of the age’, most were caused by the very causes that are at play today-human nature.

Of course there is one thing in delving through reams and reams of work at the local library and in Rothe House and gathering the material that is to be reproduced in book form.

It is quite something else to collate it and transform it to a readable, exciting publication.

And this, Cadogan achieved with aplomb and panache. And some.

Alas, dear reader to start giving details of each crime and its outcome would be to let the cat out of the proverbial murder bag.

Suffice to say that each story and subsequent trial carries a great deal of intrigue and at times one is left in wonder at the outcome and decisions taken by the particular magistrate.

As the author has given a sneak preview on the books Jacket, I suppose this could act a good teaser as to what the reader can expect.


For example , the book deals with Edmund Hart who murdered his mother; Mary Maher, Ireland’s youngest recorded serial killer; Michael Walsh a convicted murderer who walked free from Kilkenny Gaol on the date he was to be executed and Pat Kearns , killed by the help of his loving parents to rid him of the fairy that was taking him over.

One other item worth noting is a necessary knowledge before reading the book and explained by the author, and that is how an inquest took place.

On the death of a person, an inquest took place if there were suspicious circumstances. It happened as soon as the coroner was able to get to the scene. It was held the next day if possible. A jury was selected locally (all men) and they went to examine the body at the scene. Mortuaries were far in the future. The body would be laid out in the house or outhouse of the deceased. The injuries would be inspected by the jurors. The jury would call witnesses, and once they reached a verdict the body was released for burial as soon as possible.

The reader is brought on a wonderful journey and though some stories are hard to fathom, they are told in such a way that it is nigh on impossible to put the book down.

The blood sweat and tears that went into this publication is obvious and one wonders what the fly on the wall of the Cadogan house would reveal, especially when the author thanks his wife for ‘allowing our home fill with murderers and executioners while the book was being written’.

It is a wonderful book that would sit nicely on any reader’s bookshelf and great credit is due to Donal Cadogan for this publication, both as an historical lookback into Kilkenny lives and also for a damn good read.

Available in Kilkenny bookshops.


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