A murder cover-up most foul

An Irishman’s Diary on the dark secret of a Clones street

A traffic jam in Clones on match day

A traffic jam in Clones on match day

Fri, Jul 25, 2014, 12:18

US readers of yesterday’s diary might be forgiven for thinking that 98 Avenue in Clones, which I mentioned in passing, was part of an American-style grid system, intersecting at right angles with similarly numbered streets.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As in most Irish towns, no two roads in Clones are quite parallel. And insofar as there are neighbouring lines that never meet, this has less to do with geometry than with competing versions of history.

Thus, as a Clones native has since pointed out to me, 98 Avenue used to be known, and still is to many locals, as “Jubilee Road”: the vestige of an era when Queen Victoria was still honoured there.

The conflict of names probably hinges on the year 1897, when the monarch’s 60th anniversary on the throne coincided with an impending major centenary for republicans, so that the key to the name ’98 Avenue is its apostrophe, now often omitted.

A century later, the conflict remains unresolved. As recently as 2007, republican councillors called for planning applications using the road’s old name to be ruled invalid. The call, like the apostrophe, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

But it was while looking up “98 Avenue” and “Jubilee Road” in the archives yesterday that I discovered the address’s association, in former times, with a gruesome murder case: a story worthy, and in ways reminiscent, of the gothic imagination of Patrick McCabe.

The year was 1903, not long after the rival anniversaries aforementioned. But the murder had nothing to do with Ireland’s political conflict. It appears instead to have been rooted in mere money.

And yet it had sufficient drama to qualify, not just for national headlines, but for that ultimate accolade in any Irish murder case: a ballad.

The man who died was an egg-dealer named Flanagan, who visited Clones on market day, buying large amounts of produce to sell on in Belfast. His killer – or at least the man convicted as such – was a butcher by the blackly ironic name of Fee. And it was while either paying, or collecting from, Fee that Flanagan, known to have been carrying £80 in cash, was lured to the slaughterhouse on Jubilee Road where the butcher worked. He was not seen alive again. Nor, except by Fee, was he immediately seen dead. Instead, for eight months, he was missing.

It would later emerge that on the day of Flanagan’s disappearance, Fee visited a local ironmonger’s to buy a spade. It was also noted that soon afterwards, he started paying off debts and buying a better class of livestock than usual. Yet there was no breakthrough in the case between April, when Flanagan vanished, and December, when a large and growing dunghill at Fee’s slaughterhouse was declared a public nuisance. Ordered to remove it, the butcher delegated the job to two local men, who discovered, by the “extrusion of a boot”, the dung’s grim secret.

Fee’s murder trial would hear that he first struck his victim with a “pole-axe” and then cut his throat, like “a pig’s”, before burying him in a shallow grave under quicklime. But this was a bog-gothic tale in every sense, because the peaty soil at the slaughterhouse had counteracted the lime so that the body was remarkably well-preserved. To paraphrase Chaucer, murder would out.

Fee nevertheless protested innocence. And he must have protested convincingly, because twice Monaghan juries failed to agree on his guilt. The prosecution succeeded at the third attempt, in Belfast. But even until his final hours in Armagh Gaol the prisoner maintained a front of innocence, while also affecting resignation to his fate.

His serenity may have rested on a contingency plan. When the executioner, one of the infamous Pierrepoints, arrived to do the job, he learned that a person unknown had already presented, claiming to be the hangman, before disappearing when challenged.

The prospect of a pardon may also have motivated the condemned man. In any case, even Pierrepoint admitted himself troubled by the protestations of innocence until, at the very last moment, abandoning hope in favour of a clear conscience, Fee called out “Executioner! Guilty!”

So there you are. As I was saying, there is no grid system in Clones. And despite what Americans might assume, 98 Avenue, aka Jubilee Road, is not straight. On the contrary, like many Irish streets, it has a big twist in the middle, and in more ways than one.

@FrankmcnallyIT

fmcnally@irishtimes.com

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