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Saturday, 29 September 2012


My 4x great uncle Richard Chadwick was murdered in circumstances remarkably similar to those surrounding the death of his cousins Austin Cooper and Francis Wayland twelve years later. Do such things run in families? In a sense yes – all three men were killed in their inherited roles as members of the hated ruling protestant class in Ireland.

Richard worked for his uncle Billy Sadleir as a land agent for the township of Rathcannon in Tipperary (Rathkennan on some of today’s maps), west of Holycross. Billy was a major landowner in the county and a leading Orangeman in Tipperary town, and Richard was according to one account “firm” in his dealings with Billy’s tenants.

Rathcannon, near Holycross, Co Tipperary
scene of rebellious acts in 1827 and 1848 which led directly to at least two murders,  eight hangings, and eight transportations

For “firm” read “ruthless.” Rents at that time were paid in the form of tithes to the protestant Church of Ireland, something which stuck in the craw of Catholic tenants. The Catholic Association was formed in 1823 to agitate for change, and its members did so through non-payment of rent. In 1827, two years into the job, Richard met such tactics by simply evicting tenants; they in turn responded by setting fire to houses and haybarns.

Richard was also the local magistrate; and his next move in the so-called Tithe War was to arrange for the building of a police barrack at Rathcannon. If he hoped that this would deter the Association’s activities or help to monitor them, he had badly misjudged the mood (just as Francis Massy, another cousin did, eleven years later). At noon on 30th June 1827 he oversaw the cutting of the first sod for the new building. On his way from the site to Holycross with his building foreman Philip Mara, his road was blocked by two gunmen. One ordered him to “give yourself up, you rascal,” and the other, favouring actions over words, shot him twice at close range.

“Oh Mara, I’m shot, I am killed,” Richard cried, and died. As Mara ran off, he saw the second gunman searching Chadwick’s clothing, from which he stole promissory money notes and Richard’s gun. He used this to fire a third shot into the lifeless head of his victim.

Paddy Grace was hung on a portable gallows at the site of his crime, the last man in Ireland to be so executed

Mara identified the gunman as Paddy Grace, a popular local activist already known to the authorities as a troublemaker. When Grace was arrested at dawn the following morning, and the stolen notes were found in his possession, his fate was sealed. He was tried and convicted in Clonmel on 17th August before a jury of Orangemen and the sentence of death by hanging was carried out with great haste only three days later.

Of course the gunmen were not acting in isolation. Other men walking with Richard Chadwick as he left the site withdrew before the shooting, leaving him alone with Philip Mara; and after it, no one came running from either Rathcannon or the next village Bohernacrusha, although both were well within earshot. It was as if they all knew what had just happened. Mara himself, as Chadwick’s foreman, may have tipped the assassins off about his boss’s movements, then turned informer on Grace when he realised that he would come under suspicion.

Piery Grace, who had held his dead brother in his arms at the gallows, began to gather a gang of heavyweights to take revenge on Mara (the key witness to Paddy’s act, and now under protective custody) by killing his three brothers. They murdered one, Daniel Mara, in a house at Bohernacrusha, on 1st October 1827; the other two only escaped the vendetta when the authorities spirited them out of the country for their own good. The gang of twelve was eventually caught: six, including Piery, were hanged, and six more transported to Australia.

A cartographical footnote to the story:

The sentencing of Thomas Meagher, Terence McManus and Patrick O’Donohue after the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 – death was commuted to life transportation

Twenty years later, when the Dublin-Cork line of the Great Southern and Western Railway was laid through the area, a bridge over it was built on the road (the modern R661) and at the very place where my 4x great uncle was shot. A year later, messrs Meagher, Leyne and O’Donohue, three leaders of another secret society, Young Ireland, were arrested on the bridge after a failed uprising. Meagher and O’Donohue were transported in 1849; and Leyne was eventually hung in 1854. The crossing is known to this day, perhaps surprisingly, not as Grace’s, Meagher’s, Leyne’s or O’Donohue’s but as Chadwick’s Bridge.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting though rather horrific account of a not uncommon incident in 19th century Ireland


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