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THE FATE OF THE SHEEHYS IN 1765 AND 1766. The maternal grandfather of the Countess of Blessington, a Roman Catholic gentleman of an ancient family in Tipperary, and in comfortable circumstances, Edmond Sheehy, Esq., was one of the victims of the murderous spirit of religious rancour which prevailed in Ireland about the middle of the eighteenth century. Young Mr. Sheehy was persecuted to the death by the Terrorists of Tipperary of those times, on a charge of Whiteboyism, and executed at Clogheen, near Clonmel, on that charge, the 3rd of May, 1766. A cousin of his, the Rev. Nicholas Sheehy, was likewise sacrificed at the same period, on a charge of Whiteboyism, with one of murder superadded.
The Rev. Mr. Sheehy was a man of unblemished character; a pious, zealous clergyman, earnest in his endeavours to promote religion and justice in his parish, and to protect his parishioners from the extortion of tithe proctors and churchrate collectors. In the parish of Newcastle, he had denounced soine rapacious proceedings of the extortionist farmers of these imposts; and for this crime of interference between the people and their exacting masters, he was soon a “ marked man," and in due time a persecuted one
“ The Dublin Gazette,” March 16, 1765, announces that, “ About eight o'clock on Wednesday night, Nicholas Sheehy, a popish priest, charged with being concerned in several treasonable practices to raise a rebellion in this kingdom, for the apprehending of whom, government offered a reward of £300, was brought to town guarded by a party of light horse, and lodged by the Provost in the Lower Castle Yard.” It was not till the 10th of February, in the following year, that he was brought to trial in the Court of King's Bench. The
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, then, was the Right Honourable John Gore; second Justice, Mr. Christopher Robinson; third Justice, William Scott, Esq. The indictment charged the prisoner with acting as a leader in a treasonable conspiracy, exercising men under arms, swearing them to allegiance to the French king, and inciting them to rebellion. The witnesses produced were, a man of the name of John Toohy, a prisoner in Kilkenny gaol, committed on a charge of horse-stealing—a woman of the name of Mary Butler, and a vagrant boy named Lonnergan.
It would be difficult to comprehend the nature or extent of the wickedness exhibited in these proceedings, without referring to the circumstances which rendered Sheehy and others more obnoxious to the magisterial conspirators than the persons of his persuasion in the neighbourhood, who had the good fortune to escape being similarly implicated. The enclosing of commonage in the neighbourhood of Clogheen, in the winter of 1761-2, had inflicted much injury on the parishioners of Father Sheehy.
About that time, the tithes of two Protestant clergymen, Messrs. Foulkes and Sutton, in the vicinity of Ballyporeen, were rented to a tithe proctor of the name of Dobbyn. The tithe farmer instituted in 1762, a new claim on the Roman Catholic people in his district, of five shillings for every marriage celebrated by a priest. This new impost was resisted by the people, and as it fell heavily on the poor of the parish of Father Sheehy, it was publicly denounced by him. The first “risings” in his neighbourhood were connected with resistance to this odious tax.
The various informations and indictments framed against the obnoxious priest, show plainly enough, differing as they do, in the most material particulars, yet concurring in one point, the influence of Sheehy over his parishioners, that his prosecutors were casting about them at random, for evidence of any kind or character, that might rid them of the annoyance of a man of an independent mind, and by his implication giye additional colour to the pretended Popish plot.
For several months previous to Mr. Sheehy's surrender, he had been in concealment, flying from house to house of such of his parishioners as he could confide in. He had been frequently obliged to change his abode, to avoid the rigorous searches that were almost daily made for him. At length, terror and corruption had exerted such an influence over his own flock, that he hardly knew whom to trust, or in whose house to seek an asylum. Indeed, it is impossible to wade through the mass of informations sworn to against him by persons of various grades, without wondering at the extent and successfulness of the villany that was practised against him. His last place of refuge at Clogheen was in the house of a small farmer, a Protestant, of the name of Griffiths, adjoining the churchyard of Shandrahan, where his remains now lie. The windows of this house open into the churchyard, and there Father Sheehy was concealed for three days, hid during the day in a vault in the latter place, and during the night in the house, when it was necessary to keep up a large fire, so benumbed with cold he used to be when brought at nightfall from the place that was indeed his living tomb. The house is still standing, and inhabited by the grandson of his faithful friend, and one not of his own creed, it is to be remembered.
The last service rendered to him at Clogheen, was likewise by a Protestant, a gentleman in the commission of the peace, Mr. Cornelius O'Callaghan, and to whom he surrendered himself. This gentleman gave him one of his horses to convey him to Dublin, and the sum of ten guineas to bear his expenses.
Mr. O'Callaghan's high rank, his character for loyalty, his position in society, were not sufficient to secure him from the
malignity of the magisterial conspirators. Mr. O'Callaghan was denounced by Justice Bagwell as a suspected person ; Lord James Cahir, the ancestor of Lord Glengall, was likewise declared to be on the black list of this gentleman, and of his associate, the Rev. J. Hewetson. Both these gentlemen had to fly the country to save their lives; and the noblemen who are their successors, would do well to remember how necessary it is to keep the administration of justice in pure hands, that rapacious villany may be discomfited in its attempts to promote its interests by the inculpation of men, who have broad lands and local influence to be deprived of by convictions and confiscations.
One of the earliest charges of Whiteboyism brought against Father Sheehy, stands thus recorded in the indictment and information book in the Crown Office :*
Nicholas Sheehy, bailed in £2000; Dennis Keane, £1000; Nicholas Doherty, £1000. A true bill. Clonmel General Assizes, May 23, 1763, before Right Hon. Warden Flood and Hon. William Scott. Nicholas Sheehy, a popish priest, bound over in court last assizes, trial then put off by the court, indicted for that he, with divers others, ill-disposed persons and disturbers of the peace, on the second day of March, in the second year of the reign of George III., at Scarlap, did unlawfully assemble and assault William Ross, and did wickedly compel him to swear that he would never discover anything to the prejudice of the Whiteboys, &c. William Ross bound over in £100, estreated; James Ross, £100, estreated."
At Clonmel Summer Assizes of 1764, Nicholas Sheehy was again indicted, and seven other persons, out on bail, were included in the same indictment, wherein it set forth, “ That they on the 6th of January, in the fourth year of the king's reign, at Shanbally, did assault John Bridge, against the peace.
* The above document, and all the others of a similar kind, which are here given, were collected by myself, and copied from the original official documents in the Crown Office of Clonmel, many years ago.
At the same assizes, a true bill was found against Edward Meehan, Nicholas Sheehan, Nicholas Lee, John Magan, John Butler, and Edmund Burke, charging them with a compassing rebellion at Clogheen, on the 7th March and 6th October, second year of the king, and unlawfully assembling in white shirts, in arms, when they did traitorously prepare, ordain, and levy war against the king ;” and bound to appear as witnesses, Michael Guynan, Thomas Lonergan, and Mary Butler.
On the 19th November, 1764, Denis Brien, of Ballyporeen, was bound over before Mr. Cornelius O'Callaghan, to appear at the following assizes, “to answer all things brought against him by Michael Guynan, John Bridge, or any other person, concerning the late disturbances."
The number of informations sworn to against all the leading Catholic gentry of the county, by the Lonergans, Guynan, Toohy, a horse-stealer, and two abandoned women, of the names of Butler and Dunlay, between the years 1763 and 1767, would fill a good-sized volume. The names of the magistrates before whom these informations, in almost every instance, were sworn, were John Bagwell, Thomas Maude, and the Rev. J. Hewetson.
At the General Assizes held at Clonmel, the 16th March, 1765, before Chief Baron Willes and Mr. Justice Tennison, the following bills found at the former assizes, were brought before the Grand Jury. Some of the trials were put off, all the parties admitted to bail, or allowed to stand out on heavy recognizances ; and the names of the persons who bailed the prisoners are deserving of notice; for it will be found, that to enter into sureties for a man marked out for ruin by the Clonmel conspirators, was to draw down the vengeance of these conspirators on those who dared to come forward as