The Colleen Bawn at Killimer

If you find yourself in Killimer with time to spare — if you’ve early for the ferry to Tarbert or you’ve just got off it — go and visit the grave of the Colleen Bawn.

OSI map (~1900) of the Shannon Estuary with Killimer marked

It’s funny that someone who was sufficiently well known to have her grave marked on the Ordnance Survey map should now be largely forgotten.

OSI map (~1900) showing Killimer and the grave of the Colleen Bawn

On that map, incidentally, the modern ferry terminal is located where “Quay (Disused)” is shown. There is a memorial to the Colleen in the village.

The memorial

The Colleen Bawn (from cailín bán, fair girl) was Ellen Hanley, aged 15, who eloped with John Scanlan who, after a few weeks, had his servant Stephen Sullivan murder her in a boat on the Shannon Estuary.

Close-up 1

Close-up 2

Her body was washed ashore near Money Point on 6 September 1819. Scanlan and Sullivan were tried, found guilty and hanged for her murder, although Daniel O’Connell defended Scanlan.

Close-up 3

Perhaps the best account of the case is in William MacLysaght and Sigerson Clifford Death Sails the Shannon: the tragic story of the Colleen Bawn; the facts and the fiction (The Kerryman, Tralee 1953; later editions and reprints Anvil Books, Tralee). Clare Library has a short account from the Clare People here.

If you want to visit the grave, park in Killimer and walk up: it’s a narrow road with no parking spaces at the graveyard. Actually, there are now two graveyards, with a new one on the seaward side of the road.

The new graveyard

As the graveyards are on a small hill, there are superb views of Tarbert and of the ferry going back and forth.

The old graveyard 1

Even were it not for the Colleen Bawn’s presence, the old graveyard would be worth visiting.

The old graveyard 2

Every inch seems to be used …

The old graveyard 3

… and I can’t recall seeing any other Irish graveyard with such a high proportion of stone to grass.

The old graveyard 4

The old graveyard 5

Gerald Griffin reported on the trials of Scanlan and Sullivan and based his 1829 novel The Collegians loosely on the events. The actor and playwright Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot (Dion Boucicault) based his melodrama The Colleen Bawn even more loosely on Griffin’s novel and Sir Julius Benedict based his opera The Lily of Killarney (featuring “The moon hath raised her lamp above“) on the play. Then there were the films ….

The old graveyard 6

Such was the fame of the Colleen Bawn that folk came and chipped bits off her gravestone and (according to the Clare People) chipped away a celtic cross that had been erected to her memory.

She was actually buried in the family grave of the scholar Peter O’Connell.

The O’Connell grave

A modest plaque commemorates both of them.

The plaque

The Colleen Bawn

2 responses to “The Colleen Bawn at Killimer

  1. capture3Randal Howlett

    Thanks for that. Must have a look

  2. Found this whilst looking for my ancesters from County Clare, the Addys. An interesting story!

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