William Sydney Clements, 3rd Earl of Leitrim (Lord Leitrim)
The Fanad Patriots
Full Authentic Story of the Killing of Lord Leitrim April 1878.
Letterkenny: Printed by McKinney & O'Callaghan, Main Street
And organised by Organising Committee led by: Chairman Patrick Doherty; Secretary, Edward Doherty; Asst Secretary, Dan Cannon; Treasurer, John Sweeney.
This little volume is offered to the public as a commemorative record in prose and verse of the ending of the tyranny of landlordism in Fanad and Ros Goill in 1878.
It is intended also as a tribute to the patriotism and gallantry of the men, who at great peril to their own lives were responsible for the death of the third Earl of Leitrim, whose cruel oppression of the tenantry earned for him, the detestation of all fair-minded people.
As a salute to their memory and a perpetuation of the story of their valiant deed, a Committee is having a Celtic Cross erected at Kindrum.
During the intervening 80 years, speculation has been rife as to the identity of the men commissioned to kill Leitrim. For long there was silence on this point.
Now the full story can be told, and the actors in this tense drama named, not in obliquoy [sic] or shame but with pride and elation.
A first-hand account
Three men were chosen to end the reign of tyranny and oppression of this landlord, namely, Nial Shiels, Doaghmore, Michael McElwee, Ballywhoriskey (locally known as Mickey Rua), and Michael Heraghty, Tullyconnell.
Nial Shiels, a tailor, was always reluctant to give many details, but from time to time, related to his son, Nial Shiels accounts of the events which took place. From these, the son pieced together the following story.
On the night before that arranged for the shooting, April 1st, Michael McElwee came to the home of Nial Shiels in Doaghmore at 10 o'clock to make arrangements for the following day.
Both left Doaghmore at 11:30 and picked up Heraghty on their way. The three were armed with the muzzle-loading guns of the time, charged with heavy slugs.
The proceeded to that part of Muineagh, locally known as Bog, and from the seashore took a boat and crossed to the Rossguill side where they changed boats. They again put to sea and arrived at Cratlagh Wood about 7 a.m. where they took up positions on the shore side of the road to await the arrival of Leitrim. While waiting a pedestrian passed. Suspecting that he noticed something extraordinary and would give information to the authorities in Milford, it was decided that Heraghty `shadow' him. Heraghty left, leaving his gun behind.
Shortly after Heraghty's departure the car containing Lord Leitrim, Buchanan, his driver, and Makim, the Court Clerk, arrived. McElwee opened fire and mortally wounded the driver. Makim next fell and both died on the roadside. Lord Leitrim was next fired upon but as the car had proceeded about fifty yards, he seemed uninjured. The attackers sprang out from their positions and McElwee and Lord Leitrim got into handgrips. Both were powerful men and though Leitrim was over seventy years of age he seemed to be getting the better of McElwee having seized him by the beard. Seeing this, Shiels picked up Heraghty's gun, and with a blow on the head left Leitrim lifeless on the roadside, the impact smashing the gunstock.
They then took to sea, leaving the stock of Heraghty's gun behind, and arrived at the Hawk's Nest, a short distance below Milford Quay on the Fanad side. They proceeded over Ranny Hill above Kerrykeel, round the base of Knockalla and finally arrived at Dan Sweeney's of Dargan where Shiels was employed in his profession of travelling tailor.
McElwee continued through Kindrum Hill, Ballyhiernan, and arrived home in Ballywhoriskey. He died soon after of the Black Fever.
Heraghty, hearing of the death of Leitrim in Milford, went towards Doon Well and from thence returned through Cranford, passing Lord Leitrim's Castle on his way to Mulroy Ferry where he crossed and returned home. Shortly after, he was arrested and lodged in Lifford Jail. He was accused of being owner of the gun found at the scene of the shooting and put on trial. He died while awaiting trial.
Shiels continued in his profession and never was apprehended. He died in 1921.
The only way
The death of the Earl of Leitrim was nothing more than the culmination of a long considered and carefully planned expedient to give the harassed tenant some semblance of security in his holding - something denied him for so long as to drive even the least militant of these sorely oppressed people to the borders of desperation.
This villainous and avenging landowner personified the worst in cruel landlordism, of which the tenants of Donegal, in common with other parts of Ireland, had more than enough of bitter experience.
Leitrim's death was seen to be the only way of escape; the only remedy available to a down-trodden persecuted tenantry who could stand the strain no longer.
The time and place were decided upon after long and anxious thought. Those chosen for the deed of extermination were a handful of rough-hewn mountainy men, who knew they were taking their own lives in their hands. One hitch; even the slightest miscarriage of plan, and they and not Lord Leitrim would come to a violent end. But rock-solid in their determination and courageous in a cause they knew to be just, they never flinched.
[Leitrim's death] on a lonely secluded roadside, excited little feeling of horror, but rather of exultation. The deed, bloody and deliberate, signalised a significant milestone in the agitation to end this form of serfdom, and the emancipation of the people. It was an occasion for joy and celebration.
Only in the case of a man of Leitrim's strange character could death violent and swift evoke feelings akin to elation. There were no regrets; no mourning.
The Cratlagh Wood killing, in the early forenoon of a raw April day in 1878, was but the climax of earlier attempts on his life. These had failed, and one mishandled attempt at Manorhamilton resulted in Leitrim capturing his assailant, who earned a life sentence for his foolhardiness.
Here was a man not only intoxicated by his own power and authority; one whose cruellest decrees were executed under the protection of police and bailiff, but a muscular bull of a man, without fear, whose strength and sharp-shooting prowess made him a weighty proposition for any would-be assassin.
For twenty bitter years, his poverty stricken tenants lived in constant dread of his unpredictable whims. He gloried in evictions, and nothing satisfied him more than the heartless operations of the `crow-bar brigade', with mothers and young families thrown callously on the road-side. Of human feeling he seemed to have none; persecution of the poor and helpless was something to delight his heart. Before long, the laying waste of the country-side had become an obsession with him. He was reputed to have boasted to a fellow landlord, Stewart, of Ards, that the Gaelic stock of Fanad and Rosgoill would become as rare as the Golden Eagle on the slopes of Muckish.
Early in 1878, he ordered wholesale evictions - the Gaelic stock was to be liquidated in one fell swoop. Leitrim's lust for power was now at its strongest. There was no doubting his avowed intentions. Tenant right was made a mockery. The plain people, whose ancestry in Fanad went back for generations, were to be left homeless to die of hunger and neglect or flee to the fastness of the mountains. Already, the first rumblings of revolt were reverberating across the hills and plains of Fanad. Leitrim's orgy of cruelties must be halted. Long and anxiously (and always in the strictest secrecy) it was discussed and debated how best and when it could be done. Killing, it was realised, was the only answer. To suffer him to live on meant a likely aggravation of his infamies.
In the autumn of 1877, a migratory harvester home from the Scottish cornfields had concealed on his person, a muzzle-loading shot gun. This was meant to be the instrument of Leitrim's destruction.
But the planners must bide their time. The long dark months of a hard winter were not likely to make easy the hazardous mission of the liberators of the Fanad tenantry. But all the time, the many details of the plot were gone into; revised, amended; made less likely to fail. The men who volunteered to confront the tyrannous Earl and send him to his death were carefully briefed and rehearsed by those who knew best how the strategic side of the intended ambush should be organised.
Meanwhile, Leitrim, unaware of the plot to strike back, went his fiendish way. Evictions were a daily happening. Always conscious that his life was in peril, he went around heavily armed and with a strong escort. All the time, he was fearless, defiant, provocative.
Owner of 100,000 acres, he had been a soldier, and sometime Liberal M.P. for County Leitrim. As a young man he was known to be of a pleasant and generous disposition. In the light of his later attitude towards the common people, it seems hard to credit - but it is true - that he played an active part in relief projects during the decimating famine of '48.
The change in Leitrim's nature seemed to come about after he fell foul of the then Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carlisle, who repaid his insults by depriving him of his Commission of the Peace.
From that on the autocratic Earl respected no law but what he proclaimed himself. He became embittered, imperious, bad-tempered, vengeful. Everyone, not excluding his own relations were deemed his enemies, and he vented his spleen on those of high and low station alike regardless of creed.
He held his tenants in thraldom. Only the Parish Priest of Fanad at the time, Fr. Boyle, had the courage to stand up and denounce him. Leitrim was the last of the tyrant landlords and when he rode out that misty April morning to his doom, he had 80 more eviction processes served. Now a bachelor of 73, he still thirsted for revenge on those who would lift their voices to oppose his rule.
What sparked off the ambush plot was the fate of a young girl, who under duress, had gone to work in the Earl's Castle home. After only a few days in service, she was found drowned.
The ambush was planned by Neil Shiels and Michael Heraghty. The killing was sensational news all over Ireland, and the general reaction was one of quiet relief and satisfaction that the Leitrim regime was over.
Tempting rewards were offered for the identification of his killers but they were to go unclaimed. The family bribe was £10,000; the British Government's a mere £500. The body of the Earl was brought to Milford. There was little evidence of sympathy or sorrow. When it was taken by rail to Dublin for internment in the family vaults, under St. Michan's Church, there was a near riot by an unsympathetic and infuriated gathering mostly of womenfolk. An attempt was even made to upset the hearse, and throw the coffin into the Liffey. It took all the resourcefulness of a body of 50 police to avert Leitrim's body finding a watery grave. The few relatives summoned to the funeral were all but crushed in the general melee and some could not reach the Clements' vault where the coffin was to repose.
In other chapters, there are accounts of the killing, as given at the Inquest and later during the Court proceedings, when four men were indicted on the capital charge.
It is a testimony of the staunch undivided support which the perpetrators of the deed had all over the peninsula that police efforts to trace them were to prove fruitless.
“The Fanad Patriots” - the men who gave effect to the people's will - were to wait many years before their names could be brought to light.
Arrests and detentions were frequent and many in the weeks following an event which was front-page news all over these Islands.
The people were in no mood to cooperate in the widespread police hunt to have these men brought to trial. Those whom outraged authority were out to condemn as murderers had already won the accolade of heroism in the hearts of their deliverers.
Scapegoats had to be found, however, and found quickly. And so within weeks of Leitrim's death, four men were arraigned and returned for trial to Lifford Assizes.
The history of the proceedings after that can be written briefly. All four accused were lodged in Lifford Jail, and were kept there for 12 months, save one Heraghty, who became ill and died in October. Eventually, the Crown had to admit failure to substantiate a case against the remaining prisoners and they were set at liberty.
A note on the family history of the Third Earl would not be out of place in this commemorative volume. He was one William Sydney Clements, and at the time of his death was in his 73rd year.
He had succeeded to the Earldom from his father Nathaniel Clements in 1854. A brother of his, who had acted as agent for their father in the running of the Donegal estates, was the Hon. Charles Clements. He was a likeable, sympathetic type of man, and despite the unpleasant duties which his office carried in dealing with the tenantry, won a remarkable degree of popularity with the people generally. Another brother was the Rev. Francis Nathaniel Clements. Both predeceased the third Earl, but successor to the title was a son of the clergyman, the Hon. Robert Birmingham Clements.
Dramatic inquest evidence
First accounts of the facts of the killing were officially disclosed during the Inquest proceedings, which took place on the following afternoon in Milford Courthouse.
There had been intense police activity in the intervening 48 hours and the countryside was agog with expectation as to what would happen next and whether or not anyone would be taken into custody as an accomplice in the killing.
The small Courtroom housed an over-flow gathering for the Coroner's Inquiry, which was conducted on the Wednesday by Mr. Robert Ramsay. Those present included, in addition to high-ranking police officers, Capt. Smyth, J.P., John H. Swiney, J.P., Crawford McCay, solicitor, and Capt. Dobbing, agent for the dead Earl.
Mr. John Mackay, Ramelton, then one of the best-known solicitors in Donegal, held a watching brief for the next of kin of Leitrim's driver, Charles Buchanan.
It will be of interest to recount here the names of the jury men, who after several witnesses had been examined brought in a verdict in the following terms: “That the Earl of Leitrim and Buchanan came by their deaths by gunshot wounds inflicted by some persons unknown, and that Lord Leitrim's death was further hastened by blows on the head inflicted by some heavy weapon.”
William Blackwood, John Stewart, John McDevitt, John Hemphill, Andrew Young, Andrew McIlwaine, William McIlwaine, John Graham, Anthony McNutt, Owen Sweeney, William Shields, John Watters, Thomas Love, James Morrow and William Roddy.
William Kincaid, one of Leitrim's personal staff, and a member of the party ambushed at Cratlagh, told a dramatic story. Here are some extracts.
“We left Manorvaughan in the morning on our way to Milford, from where his Lordship was to travel to Co. Leitrim. The car being used by his Lordship belonged to a Mr McDevitt, of Milford, and was in front. Along with the Earl were his clerk, John Meekham and the driver. The other car on which I travelled, belonged to Michael Logue. I had the luggage. Both cars left together. The horse in my car was lame and so we could not travel fast, as did the other. On the way, we passed two carts but no other traffic.”
“The first thing I heard was the report of a shot. Two others were fired immediately afterwards. At this time I was in sight of the Earl's car. I could then see that Meekham and the driver were off the car. I saw no flash, but there was smoke, coming from the trees on the side next the car. Buchanan was lying on the roadside. I saw Meekham getting to his feet and coming towards me. I told Logue to drive on, but the horse would not stir, although it was whipped. I jumped off and ran to Meekham. As we came together he put his arms around me saying he was shot. He asked be to return to Manorvaughan, as otherwise we would all be murdered. I did not go back.”
Describing the death of the Earl, Kincaid testified: “I saw Lord Leitrim get off the car and two men with him. Meekham caught me a second time and said: `I am done'. He then got weak and never spoke again. After the Earl got off the car there were two more shots. I saw him struggle with two men. I don't know where they came from. I saw his Lordship raising up his arms, and then two more shots were fired. During the struggle one man picked up a weapon. I did not hear his Lordship say anything. I could not say if he was knocked down by the blows he got. I asked Logue to get back on the car and go on. He refused, and told me not to attempt to go and that any person who did so would be murdered. The men on the road disappeared and I could not see which way they went. I did not see their faces and could not say if they were disguised. Then minutes elapsed from the first shot until the men disappeared. I saw two rowing a boat across the water (Mulroy)”.
The only other material witness was Dr. J.A. Osborne, local M.O. who had conducted a post-mortem.
The exciting happenings in Cratlagh Wood, not to speak of the notoriety of the central actor in the drama, were soon to arouse world-wide interest. As was to be expected there were the usual conflicting viewpoints. Was the killing of Lord Leitrim a justifiable act? Was his attitude to the common people over whom he wielded such authority such as to antagonise them to the point of engendering a determination that his life must be ended? And even granting that the Earl was as black as he is painted, was his death in such a violent fashion, condign punishment for his many misdeeds?
In Donegal, however, where his notoriety was greater than anywhere else, there was a strong feeling that those who brought his regime to an abrupt and bloody end were more to be praised that condemned. That the same attitude obtained further afield was demonstrated by the scenes of indignation and bitter hostility associated with his burial in Dublin.
There were of course those who reprobated the act of the perpetrators and could see little or no excuse for the method adopted to end his tyranny. Amongst these were naturally a number of his fellow landlords some of whom had also experienced the antipathy of their tenants when confronted with treatment which they considered unfair or unreasonable.
Within two weeks, while feeling was still running high, some of the noble Lords had outspoken comments to make. Lord Oranmore and Brown for example expressed himself in these terms: “Until the Legislature affords protection to the tenants, landlords will from time to time be consigned to a bloody doom, like that which overtook Lord Leitrim.
In the Commons, where the killing was also raised, one of the speakers was Mr. Parnell who warned the House that the manner in which Irish tenants were abandoned to the worst caprices tended to destroy all hope in Constitutional agitation amongst the Irish people. He described the motives for the killing as private vengeance rather than agrarian trouble.
Mr. Frank Hugh O'Donnell, M.P., brought a motion before the House: “That the action of the Government, following the killing, was unsuited to promote the ends of justice and calculated to foster disbelief in the impartiality of the law”.
He asked members what the reaction would be if say the people of Cumberland had been for years at the mercy of one of iron will and ruthless passion. “The relations between the landlord and the tenants had never been stained by one excess of an agrarian character on the side of the unfortunate tenantry, and that the only case in which the landlord had been exposed to outrage, was his attempted assassination by the uncle of the humble girl he had dishonoured”. (Shouts of “Shame”).
Following interruptions, Mr. O'Donnell explained that he had presented an imaginary case, from which the House might be able to ascertain if there was a parallel “capable of application elsewhere”.
He added: “If it is found that this man, known as the Bad Earl, had carried on this practice of debauchery, only by means of his authority and power of eviction, what would the reaction be”?
When Mr. O'Donnell attempted to speak of the fate of the peasant girls on the estate, Mr. King Harmon, M.P. moved that further discussion be in secret session.
Reaction outside Ireland, was reflected in comment in some continental journals, including “La Commune Affranchi”, a French publication (copies of which containing the following were confiscated by the Government).
“There are no longer any wolves in England, but instead there are Lords, some 300 of whom have framed laws to protect themselves in the possession of land which their ancestors acquired either by force or by fraud.
“But it is Ireland that suffers most from these carnivorous animals. One of these beasts of prey is Lord Leitrim, who was the owner of 200,000 acres of land has just been `knocked over' together with his clerk and coachman, while driving through one of his properties”.
Following widespread inquiries directed by the Inspector General of the Police, there were wholesale arrests. Those taken into custody included Neil McGranaghan, Bernard, James and Thomas McGranaghan (three brothers), Michael Herrity [sic], Manus Trainor, Charles McTaggart, Anthony and Michael McGranaghan (cousins of the first named McGranaghan).
Trainor and McTaggart, who were arrested as they were about to board a boat in Derry were soon released. It was discovered that McTaggart had booked passage to Australia a considerable length of time prior to the date of the killing, and that Trainor was merely going to work in England. No evidence could be found to connect them with the killing.
Assize trial put back
Three of the accused were sent forward in custody for trial at the County Assizes, sitting at Lifford.
The Trial Judge was the Hon. Baron Fitzgerald, and the foreman of the jury was a Col. Montgomery.
Prosecution council [sic] was Mr Hugh Holmes, Q.C., and his application for an adjournment to the Winter Assizes (granted) meant that a trial which would have excited country-wide interest and lasted several days, was disposed of in a matter of minutes.
Mr. McLaughlin, Q.C. appeared for Bernard McGranaghan and Michael Heraghty, and Mr. McDevitt, Q.C., (instructed by Mr Mackey) was retained for Michael McGranaghan.
That other celebrated Donegal lawyer and orator, Mr. Isaac Butt, M.P. was also briefed for the defence, but as the trial never came off his services as an advocate were unnecessary.
The adjournment application was grounded on an affidavit by County Inspector Peter Carr. In this it was set out: “I have found greater reluctance amongst the people of the district where the crime was perpetrated to give any information which would lead to the detection of the guilty parties or to the discovery of material evidence. From information which I have received from various sources, I have reason to believe that such evidence is in existence, but I was unable to trace it by reason of the reticence from everyone from whom inquiries could be made, and the evasive manner in which such inquiries were answered”.
Death in prison hospital
The prisoner, Heraghty died while on remand in Lifford Gaol. It was on the 12th October, 1878, and it was disclosed at the Inquest that he had been ill with typhus fever for 14 days, and succumbed in the prison hospital.
During the Inquest, every member of the jury raised strong objection to having to view the body as laid down by law. They pleaded that as deceased was a victim of a contagious disease, there was a risk of its being passed on to themselves or their families by any contact with the body. The Coroner (Mr. John A. Weir) however, was adamant, and sorely against their wills, the jury trooped in a body to the mortuary where the remains reposed.
An interesting bit of evidence as to prison dietary at this time came out. It was stated that a prisoner's food for the day was made up thus: Breakfast - 8 ozs of meal and a pint of butter milk; Dinner - 14 ozs of bread and a pint of sweet milk; Supper (at 5:45pm) - 6 ozs of bread and a half-pint of sweet milk. They were locked in their cells from 6 pm until six the following morning.
Heraghty's remains were brought home for the burial, which took place on the 14th. The funeral has been described as one of the largest ever seen in the Fanad Peninsula, large concourses of mourners joining in the cortege at many points en route from Milford onwards. Many came long distances on foot from such places as Melmore to meet the sad procession. They were headed by the local curate Fr. O'Flaherty. Another contingent joined in at Tamney, and was in charge of Fr. O'Boyle, the parish priest. At Rossnakill, the well ordered procession halted so that all could be supplied with green armbands.
A large number of police were on plain clothes duty and mingled with the mourners at different points as the hearse travelled between Milford and the burial ground.
The following appeal appeared in the “Derry Journal” from a Scottish group shortly after the killing.
“We beg to remind our fellow countrymen in Coatebridge that four men are at present in Donegal awaiting trial on suspicion of being concerned in the shooting of the Earl of Leitrim. Strenuous efforts are being put forth by the Government to secure their conviction, and it now devolves upon you to assist as far as you are able in securing for them at least a fair trial.
“This can only be done at enormous expense, which the relatives of the persons are unable to bear. A large Committee has been formed here which has volunteered to make a house-to-house collection and we trust that when they call upon you, that you will contribute as generously as you can afford”.
C. O'Neill, Chairman
D. Murray, Secretary
W.J. Fields, Treasurer
In the Derry Journal of July 19th 1878, there appeared the following appeal for funds to meet the cost of defending the prisoners:-
The LEitrim Murder Case
An Appeal, 19/7/'78
“In a few weeks from this four persons, our relatives, will stand in Lifford Courthouse on trial for their lives, charged with having murdered the Earl of Leitrim, his driver, and clerk.
“Against them will be brought all the resources and all the legal ability of the Government. Immense rewards have been offered and ingenuity has been exhausted to make a case against them. Defence of the prisoners, under such circumstances, is a task of no ordinary responsibility. It will be necessary to retain the first counsel at the bar to meet the extraordinary ability of the Crown Counsel, and in all respects the case, involving as it does the lives of four men, is one of the greatest magnitude. We, on whom the duty is cast of undertaking the defence, are without any means, and have no resource but to appeal to our charitable and generous fellow countrymen.
“We only want a fair trial for our imprisoned friends. We ask no man to prejudice the case in their favour. We shall gratefully accept anything given, as given to have justice fairly administered, and we are convinced that all classes of our fellow country-men will support us in this. Surely when subscription lists have been opened and thousands of pounds contributed by a class for the purpose of procuring evidence it is only reasonable that the prisoners should appeal to the people for help to thoroughly sift any evidence thus procured.
“In the name of justice, therefore, and fair play, we appeal for immediate and generous assistance.”
Subscriptions are to be sent only to the following:
Rev. J O'Boyle, P.P., Tamney, Fanad.
Rev. P. Daly, P.P., Carrigart.
Joseph Gallagher, Esq., Letterkenny.
Rev. J. Doherty, P.P., Donegal.
Charles McDonagh, Esq., Derry.
Chas. J. Dempsey, Esq., “Ulster Examiner”, Belfast.
The “Derry Journal” Office.
Signed at Fanad, this 13th June, 1878
Note on copyright.
The text above is a transcription of the book. The book does not list any author or publisher, except as described above. It is not my intention to infringe any copyright by reproducing the text here. Any claim to copyright will be acknowledged and acted on immediately.