The Murder of Patrick Hanlon

The events leading up to the death of Patrick Hanlon in Youghal on March 8th 1887 are complex and require some background. The outcome though is clear: Patrick Hanlon, a 30 year old fisherman from Ballymacoda was bayoneted to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during a riot.

Death Record of Patrick Hanlon, listing cause of death as ‘wound inflicted by sword bayonet

There are contemporary sources listing Patrick Hanlon as being a native of Ballymacoda, such as the ‘The Little Book of Youghal‘ (2016) by Kieran Groeger, and sources from the time such as The United Irishman.

However, his birth year of 1857 makes that difficult to find evidence of. Census fragments survive for 1821-51, which is too early to record Patrick, and the 1901 and 1911 census records are of no use as they occurred after his death. Consulting the available Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Parish Baptismal records also yielded no Patrick Hanlon baptized in 1857, at least in the entries which are still legible.

A few possibilities exist here. One is that Patrick Hanlon was born or baptized outside the parish. The 1901 census records show two distinct families with the surname Hanlon living in Knockadoon and Ballyskibbole (but both record a living Patrick Hanlon in each household). Another possibility is that the records have been lost over time. Leaving aside the fact that there is not much evidence that can be found of Patrick Hanlon in Ballymacoda, nonetheless he came to be in Youghal on March 8th 1887 and was brutally murdered.

The so-called ‘Plan of Campaign‘ had been devised in 1886 by the Irish National League. This was founded by Charles Stewart Parnell to succeed the Land League after that had been suppressed. Simply put, the main aim of the plan was to protect tenant farmers, especially if there was a poor harvest which impacted the tenants’ ability to pay the rent on the land they were farming. In the case of a poor harvest, the tenant would offer the landlord a reduced amount of rent, and if the landlord refused, the money would be put into the care of a trustee, generally a trusted member of the community. This money would then be used to help evicted tenants.

The ‘Plan of Campaign‘ measures were to be put in place on 203 estates across Ireland, and the estate of Charles Talbot Ponsonby at Park in Youghal became one of the first to be targeted with the new measures. This estate was on the outskirts of Youghal town, and when substantially reduced rent was offered, Ponsonby refused, and started to evict tenants. As directed by the Plan of Campaign, the reduced amount of rent was then paid by the tenants to the trustee.

Park House, the home of Charles Talbot Ponsonby in Youghal

The curate in Youghal at that time was Father Daniel Keller. Authorities strongly believed Keller was a secret trustee of the Plan of Campaign fund, and in early March 1887 he was called to Dublin to testify about his involvement in the fund. When Keller failed to appear, a warrant was issued for his arrest. This issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Fr. Keller caused outrage in Youghal, and street protests and a riot ensued. During the riot, the RIC charged the crowd with fixed bayonets, and Patrick Hanlon was killed.

Fr. Daniel Keller (1839-1922)

The coroner in Youghal recorded a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ in the death of Patrick Hanlon, and the news was reported widely, as far away as New Zealand.

Excerpt from the Ashburton Guardian, March 25th 1887

Based on the verdict, Constable Garrett Ward and District Inspector Somerville were arrested for the murder of Patrick Hanlon, and taken to prison in Cork. There was significant pressure for both to face justice. The events at Youghal were mentioned in the House of Commons many times in the following weeks, and on March 24th 1887 MP for Cork East William Lane asked Arthur Balfour, Chief Secretary for Ireland (and future British PM) if justice would be served:

Whether, as the inquest at Youghal terminated in a verdict of wilful murder against District Inspector Somerville and Constable Ward, he will take measures to have these prisoners brought to trial at the next Cork Assizes.

Question from Mr. William Lane, MP for Cork East to Chief Secretary for Ireland, Arthur Balfour, Thursday March 24 1887.

Balfour’s response indicated that both Ward and Somerville would be dealt with in the same fashion as anyone else accused of a crime.

I am advised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland that the case of the prisoners referred to will be dealt with in the ordinary and usual course.

Arther Balfour’s response, which in time was proven to be false.

Both Constable Ward and Inspector Somerville were eventually acquitted, with the crown entering a nolle prosequi in the case, essentially meaning they were unwilling to pursue any charges against the defendants.

Father Keller, having been arrested on March 18th 1887 and brought to Dublin, continued to refuse to cooperate with the authorities and was jailed for 2 months in Kilmainham jail, until an appeal in May 1887 found no legal grounds for his continued detention. After his release, he continued to support tenants on the Talbot Ponsonby estate, where the plan of campaign survived until 1892. Keller remained the parish priest of Youghal until his death on November 8th 1922.

Patrick Hanlon was buried in the Hill Cemetery in Ballymacoda. The Morning News on Friday 11th March 1887 carried a description of the funeral.

The Morning News, Belfast, Friday 11th March 1887

The United Irishman, the newspaper owned and edited by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, published in New York for the week ending April 20th 1889 (over two years after the events), carried a story about a monument to Patrick Hanlon being unveiled in Ballymacoda. The article as written suggests that the monument was in the churchyard at Ballymacoda, but could well have been in the Hill Cemetery based on that being where Patrick Hanlon was interred.

The United Irishman, Week Ending April 20th 1889

If any readers are aware of such a monument to Patrick Hanlon, I would love to update this post with the details. If for reasons of time that such a monument existed, but has been forgotten, it is surely something that should be addressed so this tragic event in the history of Ireland and Ballymacoda is never forgotten.

References and Further Information

Dictionary of Irish Biography, Entry for Daniel Keller

The Little Book of Youghal, by Kieran Groeger

Historic Graves, St. Peter In Chains Church Ballymacoda

Papers Past, The Ashburton Guardian, March 25th 1887

Law And Justice—Riots At Youghal—District Inspector Somerville And Constable Ward

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958, Death Record of Patrick Hanlon

The Morning News, Belfast, 11th March 1887, Paid Records

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