The Bodkin Murders by Paul B McNulty

David Burke’s Bookshelf, Tuam Herald, page 45, 4 May 2016.

Library Corner – a look at some of the books in your local library.

Fiction mixed with local murders makes for a gripping read.

In second place only to the notorious Maamtrasna Murders in the annals of truly shocking Irish crimes are the ‘Bodkin Murders’ of 1741. That they happened only a few short miles from Tuam makes a recently-published novel by Paul McNulty all the more interesting. The story, as it has been handed down, is known only through a few references in the Dublin newspapers of note of that time, and through the memoirs of the Headford barrister Oliver J. Burke in his Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit (1885).

This account of the murders claimed that John Bodkin Jr., the dissolute eldest son of Oliver Bodkin of Carrowmore House in Belclare orchestrated the violent murders of his own father, his heavily-pregnant stepmother Margery Blake, and his seven year old stepbrother, Oliver Jr., along with the servants and others unfortunate enough to have been in Carrowmore on the night in question. In all eleven people were murdered. They were purportedly killed as revenge for John Jr’s disinheritance, in favour of the infant Oliver Jr., his father’s other son, by his second marriage. In carrying through the plot, John Jr. was helped by one of Carrowmore’s tenants, John Hogan, and his father’s embittered brother, ‘Blind’ Dominick Bodkin of nearby Carrowbeg. Justice being swifter in those days, all three were apprehended and hung at Claretuam within a matter of days of the murders.

As if all this was not enough, John Jr. made a dramatic confession from the gallows, in which he implicated a cousin (also John Bodkin) of having suffocated his own brother (another Dominick) to death, a number of years earlier, in what the resident magistrate Lord Athenry had at the time judged to have been a natural death. This John was then hunted down and executed in Galway some months later. There have always been problems with the account that Burke gave in 1885; the role of the tenant Hogan is ambiguous to say the least. He was purportedly chief murderer on the night (including of the child), in spite of the fact that he and his wife had fostered Oliver Jr. as a baby. There is moreover an apparent lack of motive in the case of John Bodkin’s fratricide, his brother Dominick being the younger of the two, and therefore no threat to John’s inheritance (of the neighbouring Carrowbeg House in their case).

Without wishing to provide any plot ‘spoilers’, in his latest novel Paul McNulty provides a thrilling tale, which attempts to grapple with some of these discrepancies; its protagonists, the tragic John Bodkin (Dominick’s accused brother) and his fiancée Catherine, daughter of Lord Athenry. Part romance, part thriller, McNulty beautifully evokes the period and has researched the time and its events thoroughly. What comes shining through are not the gory details of an appalling crime, but the human cost to those left behind. A gripping read!

(A Review by Ruairí Ó hAodha.)

A bloody slaughter — a tainted inheritance — a dark secret.

A bloody slaughter — a tainted inheritance — a dark secret.

Book available at Charlie Byrne’s, Club Lighthouse and Amazon

“1798: A Rebel Romance,” a stage play by Paul B McNulty

When Cecilia Lynch falls in love with John Moore, a United Irishman, she finds herself drawn into the web of revolution. The illegitimate daughter of the late Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse stands by her fiance when General Humbert routs the redcoats through Castlebar. Cecilia is jubilant when the Frenchman appoints Moore, formerly of Alicante and the Sorbonne, as President of Connaught in 1798 within the declared Irish Republic. Their hopes for the future are unrestrained, unless powerful forces may conspire to destroy their dream.

The Races of Castlebar. (Courtesy of Stephen Dunford of Kilalla.)

The Races of Castlebar. (Courtesy of Stephen Dunford of Kilalla.)

UCD Dramsoc has scheduled my stage play for 18-22 April, 2016 in a state-of-the-art theatre in the Student Centre (adjacent to the new Sport’s Centre) at Belfield, Dublin 4. Shows commence at 7 pm and are open to the public. Admission is €5 payable on the night. Advance bookings by emailing info@ucddramsoc.com

A 1741 Primary Source for the Bodkin Murders

A 1741 report in Pue’s Occurrences was the only primary source cited by Oliver J Burke in his 1885 Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit… dealing with the Bodkin murders that occurred in the village of Belclare, Tuam, Co Galway, Ireland. No editorial corrections have been applied to this historic report in the twice weekly newspaper, apart from substituting the letter “s” for its antiquated form similar to the letter “f”. I have also used this report and other undiscovered primary sources in writing my 2015 historical novel, A Story of the Bodkin Murders.

Country – News, Tuam Oct. the 9th 1741

On Monday, Oct. 5th Mr. Justice Rose sat here, to hold the Assizes Pursuant to his Adjournment from Galway, on the 24 Aug. last, some prisoners who lay in the County Jail at Gallway, were sent for by Thomas Shaw, Esq., High Sheriff.

Tuesday the 6th, John Bodkin Fitz Oliver, Domnick Bodkin, commonly called blind Domnick , and John Cagane (a Shepherd) commonly called Shane Ryeevagh, and also John Bodkin Fitz John, commonly called John Counsellor (in Contra Distinction to his Cousin Germain the said John Oliver) were brought from Galway Jail hither, and on the same Day the Solicitor General came here.

Wednesday the 7th the Grand Jury found 30 Bills of Indictment against John Oliver Bodkin, Blind Domnick Bodkin, and Shane Ryeevagh, for the murder of Oliver Bodkin father of said John Oliver, of Margery Bodkin his Wife, of Oliver Bodkin the younger, their Son, and Brother by the half Blood of said Oliver Bodkin, of Marcus Lynch a merchant from Gallway, who on the 18th Sept. (the Night said Murder was committed) went to the said Oliver’s House at Carrowbane (where the Tragedy happened) for a Bed and Retirement from the Hurry of the Races of Tuam, and for the Murder of five other Persons, on which Indictment the said several Prisoners being called on to the Barr, were arraigned and they pleaded severally Guilty, whereupon the usual Sentence was pronounced, and they wou’d be executed from the Dock, but that it was then towards Night, or very late in the Evening, and the Gallows was not erected, but they were executed next Day. John Oliver and Blind Domnick are to be hung up on Gibbets near the place where the Murder was committed, and Shane Ryeevagh was quarter’d and his Bowells burned he being then alive, his Head is to be hung over the Court House, or Market House of this Town. These barbarous malefactors were in the Dock, in the Jail, and at the Gallows very sensible of their Crime, and behaved very penitently, and declared their Punishment was too Mild for their Offence.

John Oliver and Blind Domnick while in Court, and at the Gallows persisted in a charge of another Murder, which they alledged was committed on the 3rd of May 1739, in manner following.

Domnick Bodkin the son and heir of Councellor John Bodkin being seized by descent of an Estate of 800l. per Ann. had several Brothers, but particularly his second Brother John, (or the above named John Counsellor) and Francis Bodkin, lately deceas’d his fourth Brother, these 3 Brothers lay on said 3rd May 1739, at their Uncle the said Oliver Bodkin’s House at Carrowbane, where lay also the said blind Domnick Bodkin. Domnick Bodkin lay in an inner Room, & all said other Persons on 2 Pallads in another Room, and the Family lay in the further end of the House, blind Domnick and John Counsellor lay on one Pallad together, and Frank Bodkin and John Oliver in another. John Oliver (who was not in the secret) being a sleep, his Bedfellow Frank Bodkin and the other two, blind Domnick and John Counsellor, got up, went into the inner Room & there they strangled the Unfortunate Domnick Bodkin which pass’d for a sudden Death, by which an Estate of 800l. per Ann. fell to the Murderer (as is charged) John Bodkin Counsellor, his Brother. The said John Oliver and blind Domnick further declared they and Frank Bodkin intended soon afterwards to Murder John Counsellor and one Patrick Bodkin, his brother, elder than Frank Bodkin, whereby the Estate of 800l. per Ann. would come to Frank, all this the executed murderers insisted till they were cast off.

The said John Oliver also declared that the aforesaid Murder proving so successful and undiscovered, encouraged him to commit this horrid Paracide and said he had often laid poison for his Brother and Mother, which had not the desired Effect.
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Note: The more severe punishment applied to the shepherd, John Cagane commonly called Shane Ryeevagh, may be occasioned by his lower social status as compared to the landed gentry Bodkins even though he may have been a reluctant participant as suggested in A Story of the Bodkin Murders.

A bloody slaughter — a tainted inheritance — a dark secret.

A bloody slaughter — a tainted inheritance — a dark secret.