The captain and the perjurer

Mary Meehan’s was a dramatic story.

In April 1847 she had gone to the house of William Dwyer at Cuphaunhane [Cappanahanagh?]. She heard voices inside and stopped to listen. The door opened and William Dwyer ran out. She went in and saw William’s wife Mary dragging the seemingly lifeless body of Ellen Dwyer, William’s sister, into the room. Mary Dwyer then ran off and Mary Meehan raised Ellen’s head; she saw blood on the left side of the head.

She went home and told her husband about it; he told her to say nothing. About two hours later she was in the haggard and saw William and Mary Dwyer digging at the brink of the ditch. She gave a deposition to Edward J Bell RM on 8 October 1849, adding on 16 December 1849 that, if Bell were to dig in the field near the Dwyers’ house, or in the nearby quarry, he would find the remains of a human body.

Bell, with Mr Head and the Castleconnell police, dug more than forty times in the field in question, but with no success. They then drained four feet of water from the quarry and found a skull and some human bones in the mud. Constable Swan delivered them to Dr Thomas Travers Riordan at Castleconnell.

Dr Riordan thought that the skull was more likely to be that of an old woman than that of a fifteen-year-old girl. The bones had been in water or earth for much more than two years and belonged to a tall muscular person: the skull and the bones were almost certainly from two different people. The church at Abington was close to the quarry.

On 14 March 1840 Mary Meehan was indicted …

… for that she with felonious intent to injure William Dwyer …

… did swear to an untrue story. She was described as …

… a woman of about forty years of age, […] dressed in a blue cloth cloak, clean white cap, and white woollen shawl, as the wife of a farmer in comfortable circumstances. Her appearance was not unprepossessing, but there was a peculiarly sinister expression about the eyes.

Mr Bell had taken depositions from William and Mary Dwyer; they contravened Mary Meehan’s statements but she stuck to her story. No witnesses supported her.

William Dwyer said that he had sent his sister to England [en route to America?] that April: his wife had accompanied her to Killaloe and seen her aboard one of the [City of] Dublin Steam Packet Company’s boats. He had not heard from her since then.

Mary Dwyer said that she and her sister-in-law had slept at the house of Mary’s father Michael Healy, in Killaloe, the night before Ellen’s departure. The following morning they went to the house of Nancy Preston, who accompanied them to the steamer to help Ellen get a cheaper fare. Michael Healy confirmed that evidence, as did Nancy Preston. Mary Dwyer said that she was on board with her sister-in-law until the boat left.

The final witness was the steamer’s captain, Captain Winder. He said he remembered the circumstances perfectly and had charged Ellen only 4s 3d for the passage to Dublin.

His Lordship charged, expatiating on the enormity of the prisoner’s offence, and the revolting exhibition of the remains of the skull and bones of a human being on the table, and adding that from the evidence they could hardly hesitate in finding a verdict of guilty.

The Jury returned a verdict of Guilty accordingly.

The Limerick Reporter and Tipperary Vindicator 15 March 1850

2 responses to “The captain and the perjurer

  1. Thomas Paul Mc Cann

    I find these little snippets you dig up fascinating.Many thanks

  2. Thank you. bjg

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