The informer who disappeared in 1856, and has shown up again

After Donegal schoomaster Patrick McGlynn betrayed the Molly Maguires, he fled to Australia ...

Central to The End of Outrage, the Irish Times Irish Nonfiction Book of the Year for 2017, is the story of a schoolmaster, Patrick McGlynn, who turned informer on the Molly Maguires, the nationalist secret society, in 1856. The following year Dublin Castle sent McGlynn to Australia– and, there, after 1862, the author Breandán Mac Suibhne lost sight of him. Now, with Jonathan Wooding, a historian and a direct descendant of the informer, he picks up the trail


The “Old School” in Beagh, 3km outside Ardara, in west Co Donegal, is a single-roomed building, 3.8m by 7.3m, with a thatched roof and a mud floor. Here, in 1856, the master was 24-year-old Patrick McGlynn, a native of Glenties. He had been appointed to Beagh in 1853, having been dismissed, in 1850, from a school about 30km away, in Letterbrick. The grounds for his dismissal are not known. He did not know, he would say, if it was on account of his good character.

In Beagh, McGlynn proved himself a fine teacher, receiving favourable reports twice yearly from inspectors. But then, in March 1856, now married with a child, and another on the way, he contacted a resident magistrate, Daniel Cruise, offering to betray members of a secret society, the Molly Maguires, who for the previous decade had been violent redressers of grievances for the rural poor. Mealmongers and land grabbers, land agents and rent collectors: all lived in fear of Molly Maguire.

McGlynn knew that cropped ears and a severed tongue were the stigmata of the informer, grotesque reminders of a golden rule: You have not heard and you never tell

McGlynn knew that cropped ears and a severed tongue were the stigmata of the informer, grotesque reminders of a golden rule: “You have not heard and you never tell.” “The people”, he told Cruise, “hate the very name of informer.” Why, then, did he betray the Mollies? He claimed that it was to protect James Gallagher, the occupant of the largest holding in Beagh, whom the Mollies had targeted for mistreating his father and threatening to evict his subtenants. Still, finances were a factor: McGlynn had decrees hanging over him for debts to shopkeepers. And so too was fear: McGlynn himself was a Molly, and he feared betrayal.

In early-morning raids on June 9th the constabulary, acting on McGlynn’s information, arrested 22 men, mainly around Ardara but also in Carrick, Killybegs, Glenties, Fintown and Dungloe; more were taken up in the weeks that followed. Five men were convicted at the assizes in March 1857, when McGlynn testified against them – for his trouble he had his drinking, debts and dishonesty cast up to him by defence lawyers. But the case caused concern in legal circles. Three of the men, sentenced to 20 months with hard labour, had been convicted solely on the evidence of McGlynn, a fellow conspirator. The only additional evidence against the fourth was a statement that he had given when arrested, only to think better of becoming an informer, while “handwriting evidence”, considered suspect by lawyers and laymen, helped to convict the fifth.

Aware that the case was an embarrassment for Dublin Castle, the seat of the British government’s administration in Ireland, the parish priest of Glenties cut a deal with Cruise: at the next assizes, in July, the rest of those named by McGlynn pleaded guilty to membership of a secret society, and they were released on bail. The priest’s resolution of the affair was long remembered. A century later, in the 1950s, Séamas Mac Amhlaigh, born in 1879 in the hills north of Glenties, could remember hearing from his father that the priest slung the Mollies out of the courthouse with his crook, and that as the last of them was going out, he gave him an almighty kick up the arse and told him to go away home and not to be joining every silly society that was got up in the country.

Born in 1969, I belong to the first generation of Beagh people to enter this world not at home but in a 33-bed district hospital, established in 1958, 30km away, in Dungloe. And in childhood I picked up a shard of that story: there had been a schoolmaster named McGlynn in the Old School who had turned informer on the Molly Maguires – that much I heard.

I heard too that “in the time of the Famine” a family in Beagh named Mulhern sold their holding (correctly, their “good will”) to James Gallagher, the man whom McGlynn claimed to be protecting, in return for a passage to the United States. And I heard that Gallagher acquired land in sordid circumstances from my paternal grandmother’s people. Pat Kennedy, it was said, “mortgaged” his holding to get money for whiskey – and he lost two thirds of it. But none of these things did I, as a child, connect to McGlynn. Nor did I hear that my paternal grandfather’s people also transferred land to Gallagher. In 1855, the same year that Kennedy relinquished the greater part of his holding, Widow Nancy Sweeney sold him half her land to clear arrears. And, although I had heard of the Mulherns (tenants) selling land to Gallagher during the Famine, nobody ever made mention to me of that man having evicted four families (subtenants) in 1856.

I would, in time, learn those details from newspapers and the correspondence of magistrates and policemen, from land valuations and rent rolls. In 1990, when researching sheep stealing in Gweedore in the 1850s, my eye fell on a newspaper report replete with the surnames of Beagh: it was the court case in spring 1857 at which McGlynn gave evidence. Later, in the registered papers of the chief secretary's office, I came on Cruise's file on the case. It was a good file, containing McGlynn's letters to the magistrate and his "informations", and Cruise's reports on the investigation. An ancillary file included a receipt for Tommy Maloney's taxi, which brought constables out from Ardara to take McGlynn into protective custody.

I did nothing with those files for 20 years. In truth an awkwardness attached to the case, for, in living memory, the Gallaghers, Sweeneys and Kennedys have been good neighbours to each other. Still, I came to understand that the living descendants of those who lost land to Gallagher had more in common with him than their own forebears: he had simply bought land when land was cheap; he had done with his property what he saw fit, which is what we do today. The case, for me, became a portal through which I could illuminate not simply McGlynn’s act of betrayal but “an era of infidelity”, in John O’Donovan’s phrase, when the rural poor dismissed as worthless much that had been dear to their dead.

McGlynn's occupation appears as 'miner' on the ship's manifest. But if he mined he did not mine for long. Within a year he was master of a Church of England school

After the priest and the magistrate cut their deal in July 1857, McGlynn's days in Ireland were numbered. Dublin Castle arranged for him, his wife, Kate, and their two daughters, two-year-old Anne and nine-month-old Mary, to go to Australia. They sailed from Liverpool on the Carrier Dove on August 15th. Mary, who had been born in protective custody, died on October 8th – she was buried at sea off the Cape of Good Hope.

Patrick, Kate and Anne disembarked in Melbourne on November 2nd. It was the time of the “diggings”, the gold rush, and McGlynn’s occupation appears as “miner” on the ship’s manifest. But if he mined he did not mine for long. Within a year he was master of the Church of England school in Beechworth, 285km north of Melbourne. Here, on the frontier – Ned Kelly would do a stint in Beechworth jail in 1870 – he styled himself Herbert Patrick McGlynn, a hint, along with the school’s being Anglican, that he had converted. As in Beagh, inspectors considered him to be a good teacher. He was active in civic life, too, establishing an association for teachers. But old habits died hard: in 1860 he was declared insolvent, and then, in 1862, for reasons that remain unclear, he was fired.

And there the trail went cold. There was a report, just after his dismissal, that he already had a new post in Sandridge, the rough-and-tumble port that served Melbourne, but I could not find him. In truth I was not overly concerned: again, if McGlynn's act of betrayal is central to my book The End of Outrage, its subject is the change that came over west Donegal in the century after the Famine. And so, when the book went to press in summer 2017, the informer was last seen leaving Beechworth. Then, in late April an email arrived from an Australian revenue official, Graham Whyte, who had read it hoping to find information on a forebear, Robert Hamilton, who like McGlynn was a native of Glenties and a schoolmaster, who also emigrated to Australia.

Intrigued by McGlynn, Graham had done some searching on – which I had scoured in vain – and found, attached to a family tree compiled by McGlynns in Pittsburgh, a letter dated 1861 from McGlynn to his father, then living near Glasgow, offering to take him out to Beechworth. His father never went to Australia, opting to live out his life in Scotland; a brother who emigrated to Pennsylvania took the letter across the Atlantic.

A penny dropped: taxmen make sharp genealogists. And so, with Graham’s help, I renewed the hunt for the informer. In short order Graham established that Herbert Patrick McGlynn had become Hubert Patrick Macklin in Sandridge. I had missed him. But now we had a name. And soon we had a grave, that of a son, also Hubert Patrick, who died, aged 15 months, in 1863. And then we had another grave. Macklin had died in 1904 in Macksville, New South Wales, where he was living with Anne, his Irish-born daughter, and his remains had been brought back to nearby Kempsey, to be interred with those of his wife, Kate, who had died in 1889.

Her gravestone, which Macklin erected, and to which his own name was added, was unlike any put up in west Donegal in the 1800s – two lines of it were in Irish. The first, if in standard spelling, would read Lámh Láidir Ultach Abú, or Up the Strong Arm of the Ulstermen. It seems, to me, a faux armorial motto to go with his made-up surname. The second, La Raid Mara na Gahran, seems an equivalent of Rest in Peace, but the spelling invites several interpretations. And there is another turn in the tale. A note in the newsletter of the Macleay River Historical Society revealed somebody else to have taken an interest in that gravestone: Jonathan Wooding, professor of Celtic studies at the University of Sydney, and the great-great-grandson of Patrick McGlynn. – Breandán Mac Suibhne


Early in May 2018 I was at work on a book on Irish nationalism and Australian monuments, including a chapter on the grave of my great-great-grandfather, when an email popped up from Breandán Mac Suibhne. Hubert Patrick Macklin, he explained, figured prominently in The End of Outrage. In its pages I found Hubert as a younger man, with a slightly different name, yet all the later traits were there, either in full or in embryo: the great enthusiasm, the constant indebtedness, the significant intelligence, the lurking self-regard.

The Australia I was born into in 1961 was a new country, little concerned with the past. Macklin was only a very dim figure of family memory. My mother knew he was a big man – “a 16-stoner”, a contemporary said – from the north of Ireland, who perhaps bore a scar on his head from a fight long ago. At university I studied Celtic languages and histories (mostly medieval). Strangely, I later became interested in Irish nationalist inscriptions on Australian monuments and through this research developed an interest in the history of Irish rebellion. When, in 2005, I visited Kempsey and saw the gravestone, with its remarkable Irish-language inscription, it all seemed too good to be true.

That visit put me in touch with the genealogist Kay Morris, who was then tracking Hubert through Victoria (1857-69), New Zealand (1869-81) and New South Wales (1881-1904). Hubert’s colonial career is a rollicking, if not exactly edifying, tale. He was hopeless with money, being bankrupted at least four times – in Beechworth in 1860, in Geelong in 1868, in Blenheim in 1881 and, finally, in Kempsey in 1890. And he had a penchant for getting fired – from Beechworth in 1862, from Blenheim in 1881, and from a school near Kempsey in 1885.

Half-truths and downright fibs perhaps became a habit for a man with many secrets

Yet for all that he was undaunted, an expert on everything, giving lectures on subjects such as hydrology and agriculture. He was also a wannabe journalist who wrote regularly to the press and hung around newspaper offices. He may have been a subeditor on the Melbourne Age in the mid-1860s. Certainly, in New Zealand, in the 1870s, he "haunted" the offices of the Marlborough Express, and later, in Kempsey in 1885-90, he edited the Macleay Chronicle. Wherever he went Hubert was in the centre of things, joining clubs and societies (including the masons and local militias) and dabbling in politics. He was the recipient of warm praise as well as scathing criticism. He figured in libel cases in both New Zealand and Australia, in the former case being accused of having falsely claimed an MA from Durham University. Really, there was no reason for him to do so – he was, in 1879, ranked among the top seven (of 901) teachers in the country. Half-truths and downright fibs perhaps became a habit for a man with many secrets.

Kay Morris and I managed to piece his colonial career together, but most of his Irish background was a mystery. Last year, however, Kay found that the Macklins had arrived in Australia as McGlynns. We also found that, when editor of the Macleay Chronicle, he had published an article mentioning his origins in west Donegal – unfortunately, the particular issue is lost. We sensed that we were getting closer to Macklin's origins. And then overnight Breandán Mac Suibhne brought him vividly to life, albeit as Patrick McGlynn.

For some, in McGlynn-cum-Macklin, there may be a story of self-fashioning on the colonial frontier, a man reinventing himself but never entirely letting go of the old country. I probably see this reshaping less dramatically. For sure, in Australia, Hubert still professed a commitment to Irish nationalism, as he had done as a Molly Maguire in Ireland. In the 1880s he raised funds for the home-rule campaign, and in 1898 he spoke at a meeting commemorating the 1798 Rising – “the Nonconformist Protestants”, he insisted, “were as much concerned in it as their Roman Catholic brethren”. And what should we make of the Irish inscription he put on Kate’s grave? Breandán suggests the first line is a faux armorial motto. As Hubert was no unionist, however, I wonder if its advocacy of Ulster points to concurrent events in west Donegal, where the land agitation was then at its height and tenants bravely resisting eviction?

If there is a story of colonial refashioning here, then there is, for me, also a parable of modern historical writing. In writing my own book I have equivocated about telling Hubert's story – not because I am reticent about the faults of an embarrassing ancestor but because I hesitated to conflate a formal research "output" (the professional) with a family story (the personal). I should not have felt so; history is about stories, and detail from genealogy is essential for microhistorical studies. And if I was shocked by my great-great-grandfather's actions, my reading The End of Outrage, where the raw, fraught and personal conflicts of a small parish are revealed in all their complexity, has made me ever more conscious of how easy it can be to view events such as these only in terms of the codes of honour of a more recent nationalism.

In both Australia and New Zealand Macklin's name appears in histories of the towns where he taught. Far from Beagh, Hubert and his family still continued to teach in one-room schools, in remote communities, for which they were fondly remembered in obituaries. In 1935, in a lecture on the history of Presbyterianism in the Kempsey district, the Macklins, who had been Catholics in Ireland and Anglicans in Victoria, were remembered as "staunch people". Two years later, in 1937, an old photograph printed in the Macleay Chronicle identified "the tall-hatted tall man" as HP Macklin. A letter in the following week's edition remarked that there was no mistaking HP Macklin. I think most people who knew him, in Ireland and in Australia, could have agreed with that. – Jonathan Wooding


A tall-hatted tall man craves attention, and this self-regarding fellow would not have wanted to be forgotten at home. Certainly, in 1876, he wrote home, to the Derry Journal, providing banal advice to would-be emigrants to New Zealand. The Journal was widely read around Ardara, and one can but wonder if anybody figured out that he who signed himself "Hubert P Macklin, Head Master, Borough Schools, Blenheim" had been Master McGlynn of Beagh: as if a tease, the letter twice mentions the year (1857) that he had left the north of Ireland for Australia.

In the end, McGlynn, or rather Macklin, died respected among those who thought they knew him. In nearly 50 years out of Ireland had anybody ever cast up to him that he had betrayed the Mollies? For sure, in the late 1800s, there were many west Donegal people around Kempsey. Still, if people ever vocalised a notion that the tall-hatted tall man had been an informer he may have disabused them of it. After all, even in death he shook off two historians; one missed his end, the other his beginning. It was a revenue man, alert to the dodges of the dishonest, who realised Hubert Patrick Macklin was the reviled Patrick McGlynn. – Breandán Mac Suibhne

Breandán Mac Suibhne is associate professor of history at Centenary University, in the United States, and fellow of the Moore Institute at NUI Galway; Jonathan Wooding is professor of Celtic studies at the University of Sydney

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