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.

“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.
…………………………

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.

Video “Genealogy of Anglo-Norman Lynches..”

Just click on this link to view a video of my Fulbright Lecture on “The Genealogy of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who Settled in Galway,” presented on 5 March 2015 under the chairmanship of Professor Art Cosgrove, past President of UCD. The video was recorded by Brian Kelly, Media Services, University College Dublin.

The book on which my lecture was based is available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk.

Anglo-Norman Lynch Genealogy

Witchcraft in Mayo

When I researched the history of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who settled in Galway, I never expected to find a story of witchcraft. Of special interest was an 18th century tale in which SIBELLA COTTLE was urged to spellbind her lover, SIR HARRY LYNCH-BLOSSE of Balla, Co Mayo. Guided by a local midwife, the red-haired beauty made a powerful love charm from the skin of a corpse. Known as the spancel of death, she would use it to spellbind the 7th Baronet should he decide to abandon her.

This story has fascinated me ever since its discovery in Legends of Connaught in which Sibella was described as “a professed woman of pleasure.” T H Nally later called her “a governess from Moore Hall” in his 1916 play, The Spancel of Death. Whatever her provenance, Sibella bore seven children by Sir Harry before his death in 1788. In his will, Harry surnamed all his children by her as Lynch, and left substantial bequests to each.

Sibella resorted to witchcraft only after JAMES CUFFE MP of Ballinrobe advised Harry to banish his Catholic mistress and marry a wealthy Protestant lady. Such a union would have eased the financial pressure on his estate of 20,000 acres. Terrified for the future of her children, Sibella approached her midwife, JUDY HOLIAN, who recommended the spancel. Judy guaranteed that the powerful love charm would spellbind Harry to her for life. Although shocked by a process that required the flaying of skin from an exhumed corpse, Sibella agreed to carry out the dastardly deed out of desperation.

She was even more horrified when told that the corpse was that of Ellen Colgan, an illegitimate child of Harry in a previous dalliance. In the ritual that followed, Sibella was required to walk around the corpse seven times quenching a candle after each round, while Judy chanted a spell in Gaelic. A strip of skin was flayed off the young girl. The witch embedded seven hairs from Harry’s head into the skin using animal blood before covering it with silk. Sibella was instructed to place the love charm under Harry’s pillow at night. When the cock crowed in the morning, she was to remove the spancel and hide it in a safe place.

For those who might doubt the authenticity of this story, I would refer you to the Reverend Caesar Otway who recorded the use of witchcraft by three Catholic girls in Belmullet. They had made good matches above their station in life having flayed the corpse of a Trappist monk to produce a love charm. Local people believed that the spell was made more powerful through the use of such holy and chaste skin. Otway was surprised to find that “Protestant females … of the better sort,” also used a practice that had originated in England.

Whether Sibella Cottle actually applied the spancel to Harry is not known. Nonetheless, the existence of the spancel was reputedly confirmed when it was found dangling from the gable end of Balla chapel. It may have been discovered in the thatch of the witch’s cabin and dispatched from there to the chapel.

We know that Harry never married the rich Protestant lady recommended for him, or anyone else for that matter. Instead, he remained loyal to Sibella as his mistress in the Big House until he died – a practice that scandalized the local community. Thereafter, nothing is known of this extraordinary woman. Did she go mad, wracked with guilt, as suggested in The Spancel of Death, a fate prompted by Lady Wilde’s rendition of “The Fatal Love Charm?” Adele Dalsimer, the late Professor of Irish Studies at Boston College, has suggested that Sibella may have survived the trauma of her witchcraft. If true, she must have been a strong and resourceful woman who put the past behind her in order to rear her seven illegitimate children. I have adopted this latter approach in my on-going research into her fate and the fate of her children.

My debut novel published by Club Lighthouse in 2013

My debut novel published by Club Lighthouse in 2013

1776 Election to the Irish Parliament for Mayo

The election manifesto of Arthur Browne, Viscount Westport and James Cuffe MP of Ballinrobe was published in the Freeman’s Journal on six occasions from May 9 to May 21 for the May 23 election in Castlebar. The two candidates appeared irritated by having to endure an electoral contest having been nominated to represent Mayo by the gentlemen of the county on September 4, 1775.

To the Gentlemen, Clergy, and Freeholders of the County of Mayo.
Gentlemen, Having had the Honour to be called upon to stand joint Candidates to represent the County of Mayo in the next Parliament, by the unanimous voice of the Gentlemen of our County at the County Meeting, held at Castlebar on Monday the 4th September last, by Advertisement in the public Papers, the High Sheriff in the Chair, We thought that the Sense of that Meeting would show the Sentiments of the County, and prevent the unnecessary Trouble to Gentlemen removed from Castlebar of attending at the Election; but as we find that an Opposition is intended, we beg Leave to call upon you for the Honour of your Suffrages on that Occasion; and as the High Sheriff has fixed on Thursday the 23rd Day of this inst. May, at the County Courthouse in Castlebar, in said County, at eight o’Clock in the Forenoon of said Day, to proceed to the Election; and as it is probable (as two polls are by the late Law to go on together) the Election will not hold many Days, the early Appearances of our friends will lay a lasting Obligation on,
Gentlemen,
Your most obliged, and most obedient humble Servants,
WESTPORT, JAMES CUFF.
Castlebar May 7, 1776.

When the votes were counted over two days, Browne (709) and Cuffe (613) were re-elected despite opposition from George Fitzgerald Esq (245), and Charles Fitzgerald Esq (149) who were eliminated. The total votes cast for the four candidates were 1716 as recorded in Finn’s Leinster Journal and in the Freeman’s Journal, Sat 1 Jun 1776.

James Cuffe of Ballinrobe, elected Member of Parliament for Mayo in 1776.

James Cuffe of Ballinrobe, elected Member of Parliament for Mayo in 1776.

Turning points in Irish history never tackled in literature

McNulty … by setting his stories against the backdrop of Irish historical events … not only educates the reader but also depicts many important turning points in Irish history which have never been tackled in literature …

I have been flattered by the foregoing comment on my novella, A Rebel Romance, which was reviewed by Bairbre Ní Bhraonáin in the Dublin Gazette on 27 February 2014.

In addition to my novella, her reference to my “stories” includes my debut historical novel, Spellbound by Sibella, which is available on Amazon and at other outlets including Club Lighthouse CLP and the Castle Bookshop, Castlebar.

Book cover for "A Rebel Romance" by Paul B McNulty

Book cover for “A Rebel Romance” by Paul B McNulty

Sibella Cottle and Miss Constable

Would you agree that Miss Constable by George Romney is a good representation of Sibella Cottle in my debut novel, Spellbound by Sibella asks paul.mcnulty@ucd.ie?

Miss Constable (1787) by George Romney, 1734-1802. (Original portrait in Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)

Miss Constable (1787) by George Romney, 1734-1802.
(Original portrait in Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)