Castlerea Workhouse Stone

The stone dated 1841 comes from the original workhouse structure that was built around this time on a six acre site south of Castlerea town. Constructed using the design laid down by Poor Law Commissioner architect George Wilkinson it was one that was repeated to a great extent across the country as places to house the growing destitute Irish. Long thought lost to history the stone was located in recent times and enclosed by a local mason into a standing stone structure on the site of Bully’s Acre in Knockroe. (This term has been used regularly to describe famine or workhouse mass graves with the origin possibly stemming from the Irish word “buile” which can be used to describe someone who is insane)
Initially built to accommodate 1000 paupers the Union Workhouse was completed in 1842 but long running financial issues meant it would be four years until it was finally used to receive the poverty stricken. Running costs for the complex were dependant on the collection of Poor Rates from local landholders but as the famine gripped the country they were less inclined to pay causing lengthy delays and postponements. Furthermore the original cost of rates were set before the famine years and were later seen to be inadequate especially as inmate numbers exceeded capacity.
It was into this environment that the workhouse finally opened it’s doors to the starving masses waiting outside. Quickly the numbers became unbearable with the paupers huddled together in dormitories that became a breeding ground for disease, hunger and death.
Once inside inmates were separated from their families, often not seeing them again, with those that were capable being given menial manual jobs for the sustenance that they would receive. Men were tasked with breaking stones in the workhouse yard which were to be used as gravel for the many pointless famine roads being built while woman regularly worked at domestic duties and caring for the sick indoors. Even the older inmates were put to work with many mending clothes, spinning wool or picking oakum.
The work available however could never cope with the sheer numbers of destitute hungry and for many who entered the workhouse in Castlerea they would not leave alive.
Reports from the period describe in harrowing detail how when a person was near to death they were moved to an area at the rear of the building called the black room. Here they were allowed to die before their corpse was lowered from the window into a vast pit where it was covered with lime.
Details of the exact number of deaths at the workhouse and subsequent burials in Bully’s Acre are unclear but considering that Castlerea and Roscommon as a whole suffered such widespread losses during the famine years the figure is undoubtedly high.
During the Great Famine the population of Roscommon was particularly badly impacted with a population loss of 31% making it the worst hit county in the country

James Young Esq. of Harristown, Castlerea

Castlerea Petty Session Court on 17 Feb 1877 saw a case come before the magistrates that seemed almost routine at the time but had grave and unforeseen consequences. Malachy Fox and his brother John along with their friend John Flynn were charged with assaulting Timothy Finneran and Patt Morris in the town eight days previously. A guilty verdict promptly followed with the men being sentenced to two months hard labour – a considerably harsh judgement for the offence and it was duly appealed to the higher court.
During the appeal process two months later one Thomas Weldon began his attempts to influence proceedings. Outside the court he publicly met with the O’Conor Don, one of the ruling magistrates, where he appealed for leniency. He stated that an agreeable deal had been arrange between the parties and asked for the trial to be postponed.
O’Conor agreed to do all that he could to help however another magistrate, James Young of Harristown, was of a different opinion. He was adamant that the ruling must stand setting a precedent that such crimes would not be allowed to go unpunished in the town.
The judgement stood and an outraged Weldon departed the scene incensed.
In early June of that year James Young was dead. He had been shot twice on the grounds of his estate a short distance from Castlerea train station.
Investigations by the authorities eventually settled their attention on Weldon and his accomplice Bernard McHugh. On the day of the murder the men had been spotted in a car speeding away from the town towards Ballenagar as if in a panic. Further inquiries revealed that Young had recently fired McHugh’s father-in-law in a bitter dispute that caused great anguish to the family.
McHugh himself was strongly rumoured to have been one of the leading members of the Fenian Brotherhood, an underground republican movement seeking to unite Ireland and to sever links with England. One way of severing these ties was by removing the landlords putting Young directly at odds with the organisation and it’s ideology. When he raised bog rents earlier in the year it seems that he effectively signed his own death warrant.
The prosecutors for the murder trial reiterated all these facts in their opening address and then called their main witness, a man named Launcelot Clark. This man had been an associate of both Weldon and McHugh for many years but contrariwise he had also been supplying information to the authorities about their activities. He began by stating that it was a known fact among people that McHugh was a prominent leader of the Fenian movement that he held great authority in the district.
McHugh had himself told him that he was the armourer for the whole of Connacht and a great many guns went through his hands. Clark said that he had attended many Fenian meetings with the two accused and heard men discuss overthrowing British rule beginning with the landlords.
However the most damning evidence he offered occurred a few weeks before the murder was ever committed.
He had been in a store managed by Weldon in Castlerea when Weldon said they it had been arranged for Young to be shot. They had cast lots and it had fallen on McHugh to do the shooting using a revolver that Weldon had given him. Just days after the shooting Clark said he received a message from Weldon to meet him in Carson’s Hotel in the town. They talked for a while and Weldon asked him for his contribution to the shooting. He paid £1 and this was given directly to McHugh who acknowledged that he had shot Young.
The defence case then began with them going to great efforts to belittle Clark and his testimony. They portrayed him as a man of low ethics who should not be trusted and consequently his description of the accused, themselves upstanding members of the community, must be discounted.
The jury retired to consider its verdict.

After just 25 minutes the jury had come to a unanimous decision. They had found both Thomas Weldon and Bernard McHugh totally innocent of the murder of James Young Esq. and they were free to go. This ruling was met by loud applause from the gallery that the police tried to suppress but failed. Family and friends of the co-accused carried the men from the courtroom held high on shoulders with much cheering and delirium.



Irish National Schools


The English Parliament in 1826 commissioned a report to investigate the state of district schools in Ireland. It was in fact only one of a number of such investigations that had taken place in the preceding decades that sought to tackle the terrible literacy and numeracy levels of the Irish. Each time the results were offered, debated and then rejected as parties with vested interests opposed any wholesale changes. The report on this occasion though was to have a more desirable and inclusive outcome.
Education, particularly Catholic education, in the country was profoundly affected by the Penal Laws of the previous century. These laws, in part, made it an offence to send a Catholic child to school or to be educated as one. This led to the illegal teaching of children in secret countryside locations known as hedge-schools, the name being more of an indication of the rural setting then the external aspect of the school. Instruction here varied greatly, depending on the capability and knowledge of the resident teacher, with some totally unsuited to the task. Formal training was impossible, leaving the sole route into teaching being in effect an apprenticeship with the local hedgemaster. Furthermore, a casual approach taken by families to education, when farming needs were of greater concern, meant that even the best teachers could never expect to receive adequate payments. Many were forced to live in squalor. Contemporary reports from the time show that in some instances, after lessons finished, teachers were forced to accompany a pupil to their home to receive food or shelter – in part payment for their fees.
At the start of the 19th century Protestant schools opened across the country offering free education for all, including the young Catholic children. In the absence of any state sponsored system these appeared to have filled the needs, but it was at great cost. With the free education came an inevitable religious influence on the children that caused great concern particularly to the families forced to send them there.
Daniel O’Connell, with the help of Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, advocated for change and with The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 the landscape was transformed forever. With this Act laws were passed to address the problem of the existing religious biased education. Two years later The National School System was established that looked to create nation-wide standards in the educational structures. Among other things that was examined was the subjects taught, and a structure that paid teachers based on ability. A major and controversial sentiment also being that any schools seeking funding must be managed by joint Catholic and Protestant guardians. In the early years this proved successful but gradually, each religious group petitioned the government to allow grants to be given to schools under the care of individual churches. This pressure was so effective that in the next 30 years the numbers of schools under joint management had dropped to just 4%.
The 1826 report covered the whole of the country and included the schools name, schoolmaster or mistress, wages paid and the number of students attending. Of particular interest though may be the description of the sometimes hovel-like buildings that were the common places of education in the years leading up to the famine in Ireland.



Jim Coffey – The Roscommon Giant

Big Jim Coffey disembarked onto the busy Boston docks in April 1910, with grand dreams of prosperity and possibilities. He had finally arrived at his destination having travelled from his home in Roscommon, detouring through Cobh before a week long voyage across the Atlantic aboard the Cymric.
Born in 1890 in the townland of Tully near Gortaganny village, Jim was the sixth child of eleven born to John and Ann Coffey. Here in Tully he grew up quickly working hard on his struggling father’s farm where the daily physical exertions saw him develop into a big and strong youngster. The small family farm though was never going to keep the Coffey boys in work and when Jim and his brothers reached a certain age they took advantage of the seasonal manual work on the vast farms of England. Likely it was here that they began to dream of a life in America and as Jim reached his twenties he left his home in Roscommon clutching the ticket that his sister Bessie had sent for him.
Once in America he worked for a stint as a labourer, but later found much better paying employment as a trolley motorman carrying passengers around New York suburbs Manhattan and the Bronx. In 1913 by some great stroke of luck he happened to pick up a passenger that would change his life and fortunes forever. The passenger was Tom Shaw, a local traffic cop moonlighting as an amateur boxer, and as the streetcar waited in New York traffic Coffey was convinced to try out at the local boxing gym. Here he discovered a natural flair that, coupled with his 6 foot 4 inch powerful frame, gave him a distinct advantage against his sparring partners. Over the next four years he gradually moved up the reins of the profession, fighting many established fighters while at the same time developing a large following especially among the growing Irish diaspora in the States. By early 1915 he had fought in, and filled out, the boxing Mecca that was Madison Square Garden several times and he was inevitably mentioned as the new “white hope”.
For years the African American, Jack Johnson, had dominated the heavyweight division and this never sat comfortably with the influential white fight-goers or media commentators. After every Johnson victory the newspapers cried out for a white challenger to dethrone the Galveston Giant, as they named him, and every time the new “white hope” succumbed to his might.
By early April 1915 though the king was finally dethroned but sadly not by Coffey. A young working cowboy from Kansas named Jess Willard had finally beaten Johnson and was instilled as the new champion of the world. Jim Coffey though would still have his title shot at the new champ but first he had to deal with another rival, Frank Moran, to get this chance.
The night of the fight saw huge crowds gather inside The Garden in numbers higher than ever before seen for a boxing event. Coffey’s time had come and he climbed into the ring with his fans chants shaking the very roof of the venue as their anticipation reached frenzied level.
The fight proceeded as expected with Coffey comfortably using his reach and far greater skill to effect. He pounded his opponent relentlessly for the first round and into the second with very little coming back at him. Moran it seemed was about to be outclassed but as he swung his roundhouse aimlessly near the end of the round he connected with Coffey’s chin and sent him staggering around the ring. The bell ended the round but Coffey’s senses could never return sufficiently in time for the next one. He was caught again and the fight was over.
In the aftermath of the fight Coffey played down the loss, only his first official one in 44 contests, calling out Moran and the lucky sucker punch that he caught him with. He and and the newspapers demanded a rematch. Meanwhile Moran soaked up the acclaim and with tongue in cheek christened the punch “Mary Ann” while at the same time agreeing to the fight.
The rematch, when it came, went somewhat along the lines of the first with Coffey dominating the first 7 rounds and was well ahead on the judges scorecards. Unfortunately as the fight entered the final phase he let his guard down and again he was caught by one of Moran’s “Mary Ann” specials that finished the fight as a contest.
After this loss Coffey continued to box for a number of years with some degree of success but he never again came close to a World Title fight albeit he did return for a bout in Castlerea’s Hanley Hall in 1919. He returned to Roscommon for good in 1923 along with his boxing payouts and married a local schoolteacher Kate Kenny before settling down to a life of farming.
In 2017 a plaque was unveiled in his native Tully townland to commemorate “The Roscommon Giant”, Jim Coffey.


The Los Angeles Herald

The New York Times

Loughglynn Castle


Loughglynn Castle, of which only one tower remains was built on the banks of Lough Glinn by the Fitzgerald’s of Mayo in Norman times. Once an impressive structure in later years the castle was used as a temporary prison before convicts were transported to appropriate holding facilities.
The Dillon family, including Viscount Dillons, have long association with the castle as well as the nearby Loughglynn House

Ballenagare House

Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland on the mid 17th century many lands of former great Catholic families were confiscated and handed to Protestant settlers. The O’Connor family, who through all adversity had always retained a Catholic faith, were inevitably in Cromwell’s firing line. Their property, lands and power were all taken leaving them literally destitute for a generation.
It was only through the courts in 1720 that Denis O’Connor found justice with a moderate proportion of their ancestral lands restored – including that of Ballenagare. Here he built the modest Ballenagare House which became a meeting point for Catholic families in the area as well as the famed blind bard Turlough O’Carolan. O’Carolan’s harp can nowadays be found at Clonalis House, the ancestral home of The O’Conor Don and home to the direct descendants of Rory O’Conor – the last high king of Ireland.

George French of Innfield


As the present political landscape sometimes illustrates the sheer antipathy of opposing parties to each other it is often interesting to note how these campaigns were fought out in the past

Take the Roscommon election campaign in 1770 when George French of Innfield offered his candidacy for the seat alongside an adversary in the shape of Edward Crofton. George had come from a political dynasty stretching back to his grandfather, John French who in 1695 represented Carrick-on-Shannon in parliament; his father Arthur having been elected to Knights of the Shire for Roscommon in 1722.

Crofton’s own ancestral stock appears to have descended from the Lawder family of Scotland who settled in Leitrim county in the 16th century but the election campaign involving George French was his first foray into the Roscommon political scene. This race for election though was one that would be remembered for the intense emotion and hatred that the two candidates had for each other. During a particularly animated debate between the two a vicious aspersion was slung from the hustings by Crofton, alleging fraudulent behaviour of a previous French administration while treasurer of the county. Such was the perceived insult to the family name felt by George that a peaceful resolution was not possible and he sent word of a challenge to Crofton. A duel was duly arranged to take place at the rear of Roscommon Castle ruins with pistols being the weapon of choice. When the time came Crofton fired the first shot striking his rival in the thick part of the thigh. George suffered a vicious wound with the blast nearly blowing off his leg which couldn’t be saved. The leg, once amputated, was carried to a nearby church and buried with George joining it just days later from massive blood loss.

This loss to the French family was great but further misfortune was to follow in the coming years. Georges, brothers John and Robert were both to drown during a crossing of the Irish sea in 1775, and in doing so left the estate in the hands of the unprepared Arthur.

The deceased George French left behind a widow bride and a young daughter, Sarah, who would become the great grandmother of Douglas Hyde, the first President of the Irish Free State.


A genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry and commoners of Great Britain and Ireland Burke 1838

John D’Alton, Memoir of the family of French De la Freyne, De Freyne, Frenshe, Ffrench etc, Dublin 1847

Skeffington Gibbon, The Recollections of Skeffington Gibbon from 1796 to the present year, Dublin 1829

Janet E. Dunleavy, Douglas Hyde- A Maker of Modern Ireland, Oxford 1991

From Bootmakers to Gunshots

john and elizabeth holding

John Holding bordered a ship in Liverpool in the early years of the 1880’s along with his young family, surely with the giddy images of the new world flitting through his mind. But what brought him to leave behind the land of his birth?

Shropshire at this time was experiencing a ‘depression’ of sorts with prolonged spells of wet weather ruining cereal crops across the county. Consequently a shift in agrarian practices saw farmers leaning away from tillage and towards livestock farming. This brought about an inevitably increase in the costs of any businesses using cereals, such as bread making, as it primary raw material. It is possible that the increased costs effected this income to such a level that a departure from England and a move to a more favourable settings was the only outcome. Obviously the lure of a life in an urban environment far removed from his country-side background would also have appealed to him as would the idea of boundless opportunities which may have seemed limitless. But what he could never comprehend the tragic circumstances that would hang over the family for a generation.

Boarding the boat on that fateful day was his wife of eight years Elizabeth, nee Wylde, along with their four children John Henry, Amy, Frederick and Etheldreda. The family had left England to begin a new life in Massachusetts where John promptly found himself returning to the skills learnt back in his fathers business. Initially in the City Directories for Boston, John was listed as a baker working out of Albany Street, but presumably this baking business didn’t take off as by 1885 he has reverted back to his other skill, that of shoe-making.

This change in business structure would appear to have been more of a success with John continuing in this trade up until 1892 by which time he had become a naturalised citizen. Furthermore another son, Frank, had been born. Around this period the family returned to England and Shropshire once again for reasons that are unclear. It would appear that a short return was not planned which could have involved for instance a parents death, and instead a full repatriation to England was planned. By the 1890’s Shropshire’s local landlords, in an attempt to alleviate effects of the past decade of depression had provided a temporary relief to tenants. This relief in many cases now became a lasting reduction in rents with grazing rates reduced by 15% while arable rates were reduced by as much as 20%. These recent changes in relief may certainly have persuaded John to leave the States and return home and it is clear that he considered himself a farmer at this stage. This is in fact the occupation that John lists for himself in a ship manifest showing travellers arriving into Boston in the summer of 1895.

Once again the family had returned to the States after a period of just 3 years and John resumed his shoe-making business, this time working from Pleasant Street in Suffolk. A relative calm now prevailed as John expanded his business over the next few years to include his son John Henry within a new company under the title ‘John Holding and Son- shoe and bootmakers’. In 1907 John seems to have left the business in the capable hands of his son John Henry and took a retirement of sorts and moved to the outskirts of Boston where he worked as a farmer in some capacity at Poplar Street. It was here that misfortune truly began for the family.

Etheldreda, the youngest daughter of John, was admitted to hospital with an abscessed appendix in mid August of that year. Within two weeks she would be dead having suffered an acute dilatation of the stomach and heart. This stretching of the linings of both organs was brought about by the appendix infection and this in turn effected blood flow to the heart. The rapid decline of the young lady would indicate that heart failure was the final cause of death.

The following year police were called to the home of Ethelreda’s older brother Frederick in Folsom Street. Inside they found his lifeless body – the result of a gunshot wound to the head, self-inflicted during an episode that was described as a moment of insanity.

Burying his two children obviously affected John and Elizabeth greatly and in an attempt to escape this grief they moved further away from Boston with John even purchasing a farm in the suburbs of Canton where he employed Frank. But the tragic grip that death held on the family could not be escaped. 1911 saw John’s beloved wife Elizabeth pass away having suffered from Bright’s disease, or nephritis, for two years. This affliction involves a gradual inflammation of the kidneys, effecting the bodies ability to remove urea from it’s system. Over time the high levels of nitrogen causes uraemia which untreated can cause heart failure which was what Elizabeth died from ultimately. The psychological impact of this loss exacerbated that which had already befallen John, and just over a year later the police department were once again called to his residence with a similarly grim discovery awaiting the unfortunate policemen on duty. Like his son before him John had shot himself in the head with instant death the result. He was laid to rest alongside his wife Elizabeth and daughter Etheldreda at Hope cemetery.

With the loss of both of his parents Frank left the family farm and once again started working as a leather cutter closer to the city. In the intervening years he had lost his parents, and two older siblings. His other brother and sister John Henry and Amy were living and working in the central parts of the city with their families but he himself was alone in the world. If only he had married, he may have thought, on the balmy summer night in 1914, things may have been different. He mind may also have drifted back to the time over three decades previously when his family excitedly stepped onto the lands of America for the first time. Their innocent minds untainted as yet of the tragedy that would befall the family. Later that evening the neighbours heard a lone gunshot coming from Frank apartment as he became the family’s final victim of temporary insanity causing suicide.


US and England Census Returns for the years 1871-1940

Boston City Directories

US Naturalization Records

Manchester passenger and crew records, 1820-1963

Massachusetts Death Records 1841-1915

R. Perren, ‘Effects of Agricultural. Depression on English. Estates of the Dukes of Sutherland, 1870-1900’ (Nottingham Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1967)

D C Cox, J R Edwards, R C Hill, Ann J Kettle, R Perren, Trevor Rowley and P A Stamper, ‘Domesday Book: 1875-1985’, in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 4, Agriculture, ed. G C Baugh and C R Elrington (London, 1989 )

Diary of Thomas Keher of Ballyglass

civil guard

The following is an almost direct transcription of an autobiographical account of the early life of the author Thomas Keigher formally of Ballyglass and his arrival and subsequent life in the States.

I was born in County Roscommon in Ireland around 1903 and I was educated at Caddlebrook National School, a very small school. When all the registered children were in school, they would number about 60. Some days we had only about 20. I lived about a mile from the school or less. I started to go to school before I was 3 years old. No doubt my mother wanted us out of the way so she could do her work at home. I was the 7th of 10 children born. There were six boys and four girls in our family. The girls were the oldest.

>Ella, Marion and Elizabeth were the three older girls. Then came John, Henry, James, Tom and Dominick. Winifred and Austin were the youngest. For a while we all went to school together. What a time it was for Mother getting ten children ready for school in the morning. One day, my fathers sister, our Aunt Ann sent Ella my oldest sister the passage paid to Boston. Ann lived in Dorchester and was a Mrs. Romer. Her husband was born in Prussia in Germany, and was a building inspector in Boston. He seemed to come from a nice family, was a gentleman all through. Like all men there may have been a time when he was difficult but Aunt Ann had a grand way, she never seemed to be angry or loose her temper. She was a real nice person never spoke loud would always smile and would never, agitate anyone. So that was where Ella came to Romers.

The Romers children were all grown up. One son was a building commissioner at Boston and a daughter was married to an attorney at law. Their one remaining daughter Charlotte taught school in Jamaica Plain. Aunt Ann And Uncle Edward were alone but for Charlotte in their house so they had lots of room. That was the start of the trek of our family to Boston. We all cried until we got sick when Ella left home. My Mother said that it was the first break up of our family. Ella was very young to face the world though my father depended a lot on Aunt Ann, he had no fear that his child would be safe. But still it was like a wake, at home. Mother never stopped crying and praying but at last a letter came and Ella was alright. Then one by one the children started to leave.

My sister Elizabeth died. Marion went to Boston and trained to become a nurse, graduating from Lynn Hospital. She worked all of her life in the city as a school nurse. John became a clerk in a dry good store in another town while Henry went to Dublin to learn the grocery business. James came to Boston where he had little luck and died young leaving behind a wife and two children. At home in Ireland. we were getting better off. I sent home a lot of money from England and my brother Dominick used this to extend the farm.

The trouble with England was getting more complicated each day and all the boys in the villages were on the run whether members of the IRA or not. It was unsafe to get caught by the military or auxiliaries known as the Black and Tans. Because they wore Khaki pants and Royal Irish constabulary black tunics they got the name Black and Tans. It was an awful time for the people of Ireland but then came the truce and the establishment of the Irish Free State. The people were happy to have peace again.

My brother Dominick and I joined the Civic Guard – the new Irish Police Force where we carried no arms. Sadly trouble again descended on the country. The IRA sought to brake the treaty and renew the struggle with England for the freedom of the north Eastern counties. For its part the Free State fought to maintain order and peace with England. The smouldering fires still goes on. Neither side wanted to part with the Ulster counties and that is the way I left it when I resigned from the Civic Guard and came to the USA.

I had learned the plastering trade in England and I thought in a few years I would have enough money to go home marry my girl and even to bring her to America. But the worst depression in the history of the USA was waiting for me to arrive here. I got a few weeks work after coming but then the bottom fell out of everything in a few months and no one was working. People that had money in the banks lost everything. All the banks closed with only Government controlled banks staying opened. My girl wrote to me many times to know why I wasn’t writing and I had to tell her that I couldn’t find work and couldn’t bring her out here and couldn’t go home either. My sister told me to find new lodgings. She had a young family and couldn’t afford to keep idle brothers – there were John, James and I and we were all out of work. So with 25 cents in my pocket I left my sisters house in Malden and went into Boston. I was searching for a place to board and couldn’t find any without a weeks pay in advance but I had no money. Then I met John Driscoll. I had worked before with him plastering and I told him how I was fixed. He gave me some money and found me a room. On the next Monday morning I got a job at the General Electric Plant at Everett. My luck had changed. From then on I found one job or another. I wasn’t particular anymore. Any kind of work I grabbed it and I gave up the idea of plastering.

My Kathleen married a farmer at home. I felt very lost for her and always will.


The information was transcribed from Thomas Keigher’s own biography with permission to use this account gratefully received by his family members

An extension of this account concerning Thomas Keigher’s older brother James has been appended here

<James Keigher>

Thady Kearns and son

ballinasloe lunatic asylum

courtesy of

11 May 1898 the Castlerea Petty Session courts saw a case brought forward by Thady Kearns of Lissergool against his own son Thady jr. The charge levied focused on events at their home two days previously, in which the accused threatened to ‘do away with himself’ and at the same time threatened his father with assault. A returning verdict was reached by the attending magistrates that Thady jr was a dangerous lunatic and was to be committed to Ballinasloe Lunatic Asylum (BLA).

Considering the swiftness at which the case was heard after the row it is safe to assume that the threat was serious enough but just how afflicted was Thady jr and did it warrant institutionalisation. With little other information it is obviously difficult to decide either way but it is worth remembering that very little actual evidence was required in these cases. The Dangerous Lunatics Act of 1838, gave tremendous power to accusers and contrariwise little to the accused. Anybody could in effect make an accusation against another, for instance a troublesome son, who could be arrested and charged. It was then up to the medical attendant to decide if they were actually insane, where the all-encompassing term could conceivably include those suffering from common ailments such as epilepsy and the psychiatric symptoms associated with it.

The time period that Thady Kearns Jr. was being placed into care, corresponds with an era of great increases of mentally ill patients being admitted to the expanding number of mental care facilities being built around the country. In fact Ireland at this stage displayed ‘the most rapid proportionate growths in asylum admissions in the world.’

So what became of Thady Kearns jr? Once convicted it is likely that he would have been placed in a prison until such time as a place became available at Ballinasloe, with some writers estimating that this period could have lasted up to 12 months.

Though great strides had been made in medical health in the preceding century still the patients would have undoubtedly experienced archaic care in this overcrowded facility. This care inevitably still involved electro-therapy or even contemporary instances of the controversial psycho-surgery, where the connective tissue between the two frontal lobes was severed. Opiates were also in widespread use as ways of ‘relaxing’ particularly psychotic individuals who commonly found themselves restrained for considerable periods.

An inmate that found themselves released from any Lunatic Asylum would however have found themselves inexorably linked with the building. A.J. Saris article of 1996 states that you aught to ‘very careful of putting someone in a psychiatric hospital, because once it’s done, you’ve done something to him that can never be undone.’

Consequently if Thady ever found himself being released from BLA, he would have found ridding himself of the stain that he was an inmate hopeless and this same stain would furthermore have fallen on the Kearns family. The prospects of him marrying now would be gone and also the possibility of inheriting anything meaningful from his father.

A search for Thady in the Irish census returns in the years following his admittance into the institution of BLA proves sadly inconclusive. Like all healthcare facility, BLA list the patients simply by initials and so the closest to placing Thady here would be a T. K. (for Thady Kearns) or possibly T. C. (for Thady Cairns) of which there are many.

A civil death certificate listing Thady Carins death on 13 September 1898 while resident at the District Asylum at Ballinasloe certainly refers to Thady Jr and offers up some further information. Cause of death in this instance indicate that general wasting occurred as a result of ‘phthisis’- a disease characterised by wasting away of the body, possibly through Tuberculosis. Sadly this infectious disease was almost certainly picked up in his short four months stay at Ballinasloe where the close quarter of all patients meant any infectious disease was rife.


Electricity: a history of its use in the treatment of mental illness in Britain during the second half of the 19th century
A W Beveridge and E B Renvoize, British Journal of Psychiatry (1988), 153, pg 157-162

Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish: Historical Studies, 1800-2010, Pauline Prior editor, Irish Academy Press, July 2012

Saris, A. J. (1996), Mad Kings, Proper Houses and an Asylum in Rural Ireland. American Anthropologist vol 98 issue 3

Oonagh Walsh, ‘tales from the big House’ the Connacht District Lunatic Asylum in the late nineteenth century, Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th – Century History, Features, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2005), Volume 13.

Civil death record of Thady Kearns 1898

Native Ireland