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

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.