A Story of the Bodkin Murders

On Saturday, 20 March 1742, John Bodkin of Belclare Co. Galway was hanged drawn and quartered having been found guilty of the murder of his brother Patrick on Thursday, 3 May 1739. On the gibbet on Gallows Green (now Eyre Square) in the city of Galway, he refused to acknowledge his innocence or guilt of this crime. Instead, as the noose tightened around his neck, he proclaimed I forgive Mankind implying that he was innocent.

I have investigated the possibility of his innocence through the medium of a historical novel in which John Bodkin and Catherine Bermingham, the third daughter of Lord Athenry, are the principal characters. Both are real people but their romance is fictional.

The delay in John Bodkin’s trial was occasioned by the belief of the local Justice of the Peace, Lord Athenry, that Patrick Bodkin had died of natural causes. It was not until the aftermath of the Bodkin Murders in 1741 that John Bodkin was accused of fratricide. These events have been described in Pue’s Occurrences on 10-13 October 1741, later amplified by Oliver J Burke in his 1885 Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit (p 86-92). Three members of the Bodkin family, Oliver Bodkin (John Bodkin’s uncle), Oliver’s pregnant wife, Margery, his son, Oliver, a visitor, Marcus Lynch of Galway and a number of unnamed servants were murdered in a family feud.

The Bodkin Murders occurred in Carrowbaun House, Belclare, a village, about four miles west of Tuam in County Galway. I have fictionalised Carrowbaun House as Liscarrow House to avoid confusion with the other Bodkin residence of nearby Carrowbeg House. Recent reports of the massacre include those by Jarlath O’Connell, Martin Dolan and William Henry. These adhere closely to Burke’s version.

Burke took some licence with the primary source, a practise I have accepted in the interests of clarity. The most obvious licence is that John Bodkin had three brothers rather than one, namely, Dominick, the aforesaid Patrick and Frank. It was Dominick rather than Patrick who was reputedly murdered by John. I presume that Burke substituted Patrick for Dominick as the eldest son to avoid confusion with his Uncle Dominick, a convicted participant in the Bodkin massacre. Burke removed the youngest son, Frank from his narrative because he had passed away by the time the Bodkin massacre occurred.

Six servants have been chosen to represent the other unnamed victims whose number varies from four to seven in the various sources. These are fictionally named as Henry Burke, Mrs Agnes Burke, James Fallon, Michael MacDonagh, Thaddeus MacHugh and Nora O’Brien.

I wish to thank my son, Dara, who reviewed a 50,000-word draft of my novel written in the month of November as part of the National Novel Writing Month. I am indebted to the members of a writers group, The Corner Table, who reviewed drafts of individual chapters. I also acknowledge the assistance of Dr A J Claffey, Tuam, Co Galway; Frank Canavan, Belclare, Co Galway; John Courtney, Kilconly, Tuam; Frank Higgins, Carrowbeg North, Belclare and Ger Hoade, Carrowbeg House, Carrowbeg North, Belclare both of whom suggested locations for the now destroyed Carrowbaun (fictionalised as Liscarrow) House as being near Polldarragh, Belclare or near a cattle crush close to the Bird Hide, Pollaturk, Belclare; Sean Murphy, for expert advice on family history; Patricia O’Reilly, who introduced me to creative writing; and members of my extended family.