The use of Nux Vomica in the Bodkin Murders

Background

I discovered the story of the Bodkin Murders when researching The Genealogy of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who settled in Galway. That encouraged me to write a historical novel, A Story of the Bodkin Murders, that dealt with the trevails of this Anglo-Norman family. More recently, I have drafted a stage play based on the hanging of young John Bodkin in 1742. He had been found guilty of the murder of his elder brother, Dominick, whose death in 1739 was originally deemed a natural event. I had always felt that young John was innocent of fratricide because he refused to acknowledge his guilt, and because his last words on the gallows, I forgive mankind, implied innocence.

Archive Search

To further prove the point, I contacted the National University of Ireland at Galway to inquire if the Liber A On-Line Galway Corporation Statute Book 1485-1712 extended beyond 1712. I had hoped it would contain a record of the trial and hanging of young John on 19/20 March 1742 that occurred in the Tholsel building and at Gallows Green, Galway. Archivist Kieran Hoare responded to my inquiry but found no relevant record in the Liber Book of the period. However, he extended his search to uncover reports of the Bodkin Murders and related events in the London Evening Post and in the Daily Post. These confirmed the reportage of the Bodkin Murders in Pue’s Occurrences but also featured some interesting differences in detail.

Differences in Reportage

  1. The London papers suggested that the natural death of Dominick Bodkin in 1739 arose from the washing down of a surfeit of salted pork with milk or buttermilk. [1]
  1. John Oliver Bodkin, a first cousin of young John, was reported as about 26 years when executed in 1741 for his role in the Bodkin Murders. However, his age should have been about 20 because his mother, Marie Lynch, married Oliver Bodkin in 1720.[2]
  1. The killing of guard dogs had been reported on the night of the Bodkin Murders but not the killing of cats.[3]
  1. O J Burke maintained that young John Bodkin had been found under a heap of straw on a farm, whereas, I am now suggesting an attempted escape to France. The Evening Post took another line by placing him in a hole in a mountain or in a turf-bog covered with straw.[4]
  1. Redmond Burke of Clonevadoge, horse-rider, was allegedly one of the conspirators in the Bodkin Murders. However he disappears from the story, possibly confused with Roger Kelly, the highwayman, who withdrew from the conspiracy at the last minute.[5]
  1. It was well-known that John Oliver Bodkin had tried to poison his step-mother, Marjery Blake. He, apparently, had used Nux Vomica (strychnine) which had not been reported elsewhere.[6]
  1. The Evening Post suggested that young John Bodkin got a fair and full trial. I feel this is inconsistent with his refusal to plead guilty at his trial. It is also inconsistent with his refusal to acknowledge his guilt at the gallows, and with his last words I forgive Mankind.[7]

Conclusion

These variations in detail will help me to conclude a stage play about an apparent miscarriage of justice that led to the hanging of a young man in 1742.

Acknowledgment

The author wishes to gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Kieran Hoare, Archivist National University of Ireland, Galway, who provided the reports dealing with the Bodkin Murders in the London Evening Post and in the Daily Post. I also gratefully acknowledge Marie Boran, Special Collections Librarian, who facilitated the interaction with her colleague.

The Tholsel building, 1639 – 1822, where young John Bodkin (c.1720 – 1742) was imprisoned (1741) tried and convicted of the murder of his elder brother, Dominick, on 19 March 1742.

The Tholsel building, 1639–1822, Galway, where young John Bodkin (c.1720–1742) was imprisoned in 1741. There he was tried and convicted of the murder of his elder brother, Dominick, on 19 March 1742. The trial resulted from a disclosure by John Oliver Bodkin prior to his execution for his role in the Bodkin Murders .

[1] London Evening Post (London, England) October 1-3, 1741, 17th -18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers; Daily Post (London, England) Saturday, October 3, 1741, 17th -18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers; London Evening Post, October 10-13, 1741,

[2] Daily Post, Saturday, October 3, 1741; A Story of the Bodkin Murders by Paul B McNulty, Club Lighthouse CLP, Edmonton, Alberta, 2015, 186 pages.

[3] As in footnote 2.

[4] Burke, Oliver J, Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit Dublin, 1885, pages 86-92; London Evening Post, October 1-3, 10-13, 1741.

[5] London Evening Post, October, 10-13, 1741; A Story of the Bodkin Murders, Paul B McNulty, 2015.

[6] As in footnote 5.

[7] London Evening Post, March 27-30, 1742.

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

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.
…………………………

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.

Bodkin Murders: Innocent Man Hanged?

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

After one of the bloodiest massacres in Irish history, John Bodkin is accused of fratricide in an earlier conflict fuelled by a row over inheritance. At an infamous trial, John refuses to plead guilty or not guilty to the murder of his brother, Patrick. Only his betrothed Catherine Bermingham, the beautiful daughter of Lord Athenry, knows why. She is the keeper of a dark secret, which John insists must be kept hidden, even if it costs him his life.

Based on a true story, my third historical novel explores a tale of treachery, greed and romance in 18th century Ireland. The Story of the Bodkin Murders is available from Club Lighthouse as an e-book, and from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats.

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

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

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.