A drunken fight and first Irish murder trial in ‘The Irish Times’
Farrelly, a ‘repulsive’ looking man, started a brawl after a funeral in Kilquade in 1859
St Patrick’s Church in Kilquade Co Wicklow: Kilquade was the site of an incident that became one of the earliest murder trial reports in ‘The Irish Times’. Photograph: Google Street View
Farrelly was a man of “repulsive appearance”, according to the court report in The Irish Times. On March 13th, 1859, he became involved in a drunken fight that would become the first complete Irish murder trial covered in the newspaper.
“Murder” pops up quite a lot in the archive, regularly dotted throughout its pages from the debut issue on March 29th, 1859. The first mention of the word appears to be a case aboard the British steam ship Bogota, where a young fireman named Thomas Lander was tied to a ladder in front of the ship’s boiler and roasted to death.
A search for “death” throws up even more results. In the paper’s first edition, it appears in one of the first coroner’s inquest reports about a young man named Edward who fell beneath the horse and cart he was driving on Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street.
Other murders from various British courts can be found, but Farrelly’s case – a short, 350 word report published on April 7th, just over a week into the paper’s existence – appears to give the first complete Irish case with the crime, murder trial and verdict all accounted for.
On the day, Farrelly and a man named Edward Chapman were among a group of mourners from Kilquade, a village and parish in north Co Wicklow, attending a funeral. Though the name of the church is not specified, it could have been St Patrick’s in Kilquade, which is listed as the only church in the parish open at the time of the report.
Nothing is said of the funeral or relation of the men to the deceased; the trouble began afterwards, when the party left the church and arrived at a pub owned by a man named Reilly. After drinking together, the group set out for home.
“On the way the prisoner (Farrelly) became quarrelsome and challenged any of his companions to fight him,” the court heard. “The deceased approached him and inquired if he was the person he wanted. The prisoner replied he was.”
News reports in the 19th century had a frankness of description that has been toned down along the way, as indicated by the reporter’s early nod to Farrelly’s ugliness. The same directness can be read in the play-by-play of the fight.
“A struggle ensued and the deceased cried out that the prisoner was biting his eye. They were then separated and the prisoner rushed into his own house and locked himself up, followed by his adversary (the deceased man), from whose chest blood was freely flowing, and his left eye hanging out on his cheek.
“He exclaimed – ‘Oh! Could he not fight me fairly?’ and then fell down and expired in ten minutes.”
The police searched the area. On the ground near where the men fought, a knife was recovered and it was later confirmed that the accused had been seen with the same blade earlier in the evening, during his stint in the pub.
Farrelly was charged with Chapman’s murder and the jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. In passing sentence, Baron Greene, presiding, said the jury “had taken a very-merciful view of the case in acquitting the prisoner of the crime of murder”.
“It was a very grievous case of manslaughter,” reads the report.
“The prisoner inflicted an injury on the deceased man which terminated in his death. The law always looked upon the use of the knife as greatly increasing the enormity of an offence.”
The judge declared he would not be performing his duty to the public if he did not pronounce a sentence “to mark the enormity of the offence of which he was convicted”.
Farrelly was sentenced to four years’ penal servitude.
This story is part of the ‘Lost Leads’ series - a revisiting of lesser-known stories that have made the pages of The Irish Times since 1859. What can you find? Let us know on Twitter: @irishtimes. For more information on subscribing to the archive, see here: www.irishtimes.com/archive