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.

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.