The Wake of Bryan Reilly, his last will and testament and an assault on the honour and dignity of King George

For nearly forty years Bryan Reilly carried on his business within the precincts of his sale room for whether the weather was wet or dry the party selling or buying should stand in the street and carry on the business over the half door. (Drawing by Andrew Small)

This week in The Kilkenny Observer, Cois Céim in association with The Saturday Walkers Group, takes a look at the life and times of one of Kilkenny’s well-known characters from Walkin Street by the name of Bryan Reilly

In the 1830s there lived in Walkin Street a man named Bryan Reilly. He occupied the house for over forty years, which was in later years (1880s) a stone cutters yard. No one knew who he was or where he came from as he never claimed a relationship with anyone. He wore a piece of cloth folded like a turban round his head which gave him an Oriental appearance. Indeed it was widely believed he originally had been a Turk, had settled here and assumed the name Bryan Reilly to conceal his origin. His house consisted of two large rooms on the ground floor, the inner one served his domestic needs. The outer one was his ware house or store in which he carried on all his transactions. To understand the details of his stock it is necessary to know the class of merchants from whom he purchased his goods. There was nothing ever offered him for sale that he did not offer something in the shape of money to purchase. As a result of this trade he had on his hands every roughish servant, apprentice, and assistant in the city, as he was sure to offer them something no matter what it was they could pilfer from their masters, mistresses or employers. A result of the merchant’s rule of business was that his stock in trade consisted of the most varied materials ever piled over each other on the floor as there was neither counter nor shelving in the ware room. In this pile on the floor was broken bottles, horse shoes, balls of twine, crockery ware, arithmetic’s, boots, shoes, and brogues without heels, and cobblers lasts. There was Carpenters tools, ‘Reading made easy’ without covers, thimbles, brushes, kettles, tea pots without spouts, pewter plates, candle sticks, bundles of tape, and bags of marbles. In fact his museum was stored with something of everything under the sun. Every drunken tradesman in the city was sure to visit this repository of curiosities on a Monday morning where they deposited their tools for the first three days of the week. The old hedge school masters of the county formed an important part of his business as he always had a large stock of old school books which he readily bought up from the mitching urchins of the city. For nearly forty years he carried on the business. None of his customers were ever admitted within the precincts of his sale room, for whether the weather was wet or dry the party selling or buying should stand in the street and carry on the business over the half door.


No person lived in the house but himself, and he entertained a special regard for the eccentrics of the city. Amongst them was Joe Quigley from Kilmanagh who usually spent the night in a ditch under a black thorn bush counting the stars. Jack Cullen better known as the Lord of the Lough. Peter Bronnach remarkably known for the originality of his curses. Tom Crow the best bootmaker in the city but always bare footed himself. Ned Lanigan an old surveyor but an infidel. Bryan himself was thought to be of the same way of thinking for he was never seen at church, mass or meeting and as he lived so did he die. He usually opened his establishment each day at eight o’clock in the morning but on this occasion it remained closed all day. Bryan, not having made any appearance since the previous day, the suspicions of the neighbours became aroused, the door was forced open towards evening and the poor old merchant was found dead in his bed.


A piece of paper was found on a table near his bed and it purported to be the last will and testament of Bryan Reilly. It stated that £20 would be found in the oak chest, £2 be given to the Lord of the Lough, £2 to Bronnach, £2 to Tom Crow, also that his coffin would be found in the room and that the £14 remaining after the three bequests was to be applied to the expenses of his wake, which was to be kept up as long as the £14 would supply tobacco, snuff and whiskey and he was then to be buried in Saint Riochs grave yard. The money was found in the chest, the coffin was also found standing in an upright position furnished with shelves and appeared to have been used as a cupboard. The report of his death and the nature of his will spread rapidly through the city, when all the eccentric characters who had enjoyed the friendship of the merchant determined to respect his memory by waking him with an unusual degree of fun, frolic and whiskey. The latter being copiously indulged in, the scene soon became boisterous, and attracted the attention of Sam Prince the town constable who lived only a few doors up the street. Assuming an air of great authority he entered the wake room and commanded immediate silence or he would clear the house. There was at that time a street ballad sung through the city on market or fair days. Sam Prince had already made many arrests for the singing of the ballad. The company knowing it to be especially annoying to the constable, the Lord of the Lough, Peter Bronnach and Tom Crow commenced to sing it. Each verse of the song ended with the line “God Damm George King” was taken up by the whole house. The constable hastily retreated but returned with his great sword to the wake. This was the signal for the renewal of the disloyal song, which he interrupted and asserted he would arrest the first person who cursed the King’s name. The Lord of the Lough stood up and said it was George King they were talking about and not King George. Peter Bronnach then stood up and addressing the constable said: “Sam you are a petty Orangeman and I have to inform you that whether Kings name is King George or George King I won’t curse him or bless him but I pray the Holy Father to take him in his arms and pitch him to the devil.”

The merriment of the company rose to boiling point, in the midst of which the constable unsheathed his long sword and made his way to arrest any of the three who had assaulted the honour and dignity of the king. As he made his way to arrest the Lord of the Lough a fellow named Keeffe seized the constable’s arm by the wrist and succeeded in pulling down the arm until he got the blade of the sword flat under his foot when he snapped it in two. The handle of the sword in the possession of the constable. The scene now turned into one of laughter at the sheepish appearance of the constable who retired but swearing vengeance against the enemy. He made his way to the home of his superior officer Billy Williams, Prince stating his case with exaggerations of the attack on himself, Williams immediately ordered out the civic force. With the force marshalled the order was given to march on the wake house, take as many prisoners as possible but not to leave behind, Tom Crow, Peter Broonach and The Lord of the Lough. The three prisoners were dragged through the crowd to the street and taken to the city gaol. Having being secured for the night they awaited their trial next morning.

Sin scéal eile.


History of Kilkenny 1884. John Hogan

St Rioch’s graveyard today. Reilly’s last will and testament stated that he wished to be buried at St Rioch’s graveyard on Walkin Street . Photo jbs photos
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