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The Delahunty Family History:
From Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland to Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
by Catherine Delahunty
Chapter 6: The Murder near Ennis: More Details

The following is an extract from an essay written by a great grandson of John, who died so tragically in 1882.

“In considering the Doolaghty assassination it is important to realise that what occurred was not an isolated incident, but in the wider context of agrarian unrest and national self determination. In the late 1840’s, during a four year period, 700,000 people died of starvation, and more than 800,000 left Ireland in emigrant ships called ‘floating coffins’. The census of 1851 showed the population had fallen by two million.

Famine is seldom the scourge of fate and in the case of the Irish famine the rule of landlords was a more likely cause than poverty of soil. High rents forced the peasants (removed from ownership of the land) to pay their dues in wheat. As a result potatoes and poverty became the lot of the masses. While this temporarily crushed the spirit of rebellion, in the long term new men emerged to found newspapers (“The Fenian”, “United Ireland”, “The Nation”), create political movements (The Fenians), or seek redress of wrongs through political activity (Parnell).

Parnell had to fight on two fronts - for land and for political emancipation. Supporting this was the Land League, founded by Michael Davitt in 1879 with the slogan, “Land for those who work it.” England’s Prime Minister Gladstone favoured plans for repurchasing the land. Many, however, opposed the repurchase scheme because they saw it as means of saving the landlords from ruin, and we must presume there was little sympathy for them in Ireland or England. In the meantime, landlords continued to evict tenants regardless of their circumstances or the national misery it was causing.

The epidemic consequence of this quarrel between landlord and tenant can be illustrated by a review of the statistics. In 1880 10,457 men, women and children were evicted from their homes. In 1881 17,341 followed them, and in 1882 (the year of Doolaghty’s murder) the numbers were 26,836. Further, in that same year there were 26 murders and 58 attempted murders in Ireland. The oppression of the farmers, the tyranny of the landlords, and the stupidity or malice of the English were consistent themes in national newspapers.
When tenants were evicted for non-payment of rents, they received both local and national assistance, though judging by the enormous numbers, that help must have been minimal. The Land League had a fund for assistance and would erect huts on wasteland near a road where the homeless could shelter. Local support took the form of a boycott. Landlords retaliated by calling in strike breakers known as ‘emergency men’ whose duty was to protect the property. It was the duty of the police to protect the strike breakers. Nevertheless, on some estates, there were wholesale evictions, and fields, on either side of the road, were forests of weeds.

It is clear the Hynes were unable to keep up the rent on Drumdoolaghty and Francis was deeply aggrieved at the loss of the property in 1880 to James Lynch. He wanted a boycott and had local support for it. John Doolaghty a herdsman who had worked for James Hynes continued to work on the property when James Lynch took it over, and thus stood in the way of a boycott. As a man with a wife and seven children to support he obviously had no wish to see his family on the roadside and homeless. He, Doolaghty, had not taken over the tenancy, nor had he come on to the farm to break a strike. Local feeling however was against him and in the context of Ireland’s problems we can understand this.

A meeting of the Land League was held in Ennis and a decision taken to put pressure on Doolaghty. Following this a representative called at the cottage and told Doolaghty he must go. Doolaghty refused to move. A few months later, three masked men broke in, forced him to kneel, and put a gun at his head. After threatening him by firing shots and smashing dishes they left with a grim warning - move or else. It was Hobsons’ choice, the roadside for his family or continue to work on in fear of his life.”

From another source some detail has been written about Francis Hynes and the comments of those who watched him following his arrest are most favourable. Francis continually protested his innocence, although on the morning of his execution he remained silent. When he was taken into the RIC Barracks in Ennis, he was confronted by one Hannah Byrne who asked him, directly, if he had murdered Doolaghty. He denied that he had and maintained his story throughout the trial. The case for the defence hinged on the fact that Hynes was drinking in Hassett’s public house at Barefield at the time John Doolaghty was dying on the roadside at Knockaneane. Nobody, the defence contended, could run the four miles from the murder scene to Barefield in the time between Doolaghty’s shooting and Hynes’ arrival in Barefield. The government decided to test the alibi by getting a runner to run the distance. The runner, Fitzmaurice, covered the distance in a time span which, the prosecution concluded, the defendant, Hynes, could easily have equalled. It is not insignificant that the reports of the day described Hynes as “about 23 years of age, 6 foot 3 inches in height, handsome and of athletic appearance”. Much to the detriment of the defence a notion of Hynes as an athletic “runner” was conveyed to the public and the jury.

One cherished anecdote emerged from the Barefield area concerning the famous run. It was that Maggie O’Dea, the postmistress in Barefield, put her clock on by ten minutes in an effort to save Francy Hynes. This story is as much indicative of the general attitude to the laws of the land and the agents of the crown as it is to any public concern for the fate of Hynes.

An RIC man stationed at Ennis at the time did not believe Francis Hynes was guilty and many years after the event this man admitted to his son-in-law his doubts about the whole affair. The story tallies in general with the official version but adds a new and disturbing element concerning the evidence on which the charge was based. After Doolaghty was found on the roadside, he was transferred to the County Infirmary. (Author’s Note: This information contradicts newspaper reports of the day which state that Doolaghty was taken directly to his home.) There he was visited by Colonel Turner, County Inspector of the RIC. Doolaghty was unable to speak but was conscious. Colonel Turner told him that he would name several suspects while he held the dying man’s hand. He suggested that Doolaghty squeeze his hand if he named the assailant. At the mention of Francis Hynes’ name Doolaghty squeezed his hand and the Inspector took this as confirmation of the killer’s identity. In the RIC man’s opinion the real killer was a man who worked in the Railway Station in Ennis and lived in the Turnpike for many years after. Two other people were suspected of being the possible killers. One was a harness-maker in Ennis, the other, on whom the greater suspicion fell, was reputedly paid £5 for killing Doolaghty. Shortly afterwards the latter emigrated to the States where, it was reported, he fainted on hearing of the execution of Hynes.

Who had most to gain by the murder of John Doolaghty? According to a radio documentary produced by Pat Feeley, of Radio Eireann recorded 24.5.91 (B3733) it was William Hynes not his brother Francis, who hoped to inherit Drumdoolaghty. A common story circulating at the time was that Francis, who was single, gave his life for a married kinsman. Against this we have the testimony of a dying man who had already complained to the police about the threatening behaviour of the Hynes boys.
Returning to the essay:

“Doolaghty and the Land League had common cause - survival. John had to reject the common cause for the wellbeing of his family. This required immense courage and determination in a hostile environment. The morality of his decision should never be questioned.”

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Chapter 5: Exeution of Francis
Hynes, Limerick, September 1882
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Chapter 7: Leaving of Ennis, Co.
Clare, Ireland c. February 1883