Notorious Cork murder transformed into a new musical

Philip Cross was convicted of poisoning his wife in a case that shocked Victorian Ireland

It was a murder that shocked Victorian Ireland and now, more than a century later, the story of how a Cork doctor poisoned his wife before marrying his family's governess has been turned into a musical starring Patrick Bergin.

Murder at Shandy Hall is being produced by The Briery Gap Theatre Group in Macroom, with Bergin playing the role of the doctor, Philip Cross.

“This is a wonderful, mysterious story in a wonderful setting with wonderful people involved,” said Bergin.

Bergin said he first heard of the murder from his friend, writer Michael Sheridan, who chronicled the entire story in his 2011 book Murder at Shandy Hall.


“And it is indeed an extraordinary story, as are all non-random murders - there’s always insight into humanity and the passions of men and woman and the social setting adds colour, repressed sexiness - and that’s not to mention the wardrobe.”

Born in Co Cork in 1823, Dr Philip Cross had served as a surgeon with the British army in both the Crimea and India, seeing the horrors of war at first hand, before marrying a wealthy 29-year-old English woman, Mary Laura Marriott, in 1869.

The couple lived initially in Canada, where Dr Cross was stationed and where their first four children were born.

However, upon his retirement from the army, they returned to the Cross ancestral home at Shandy Hall in Dripsey near Coachford, midway between Cork and Macroom.

It was at Shandy Hall that the 21-year-old Scottish governess Effie Skinner entered their lives.

Skinner was hired to teach their youngest daughter, but Mrs Cross became suspicious that her husband may be harbouring romantic intentions towards the attractive young woman and dismissed her.

But within six months of her dismissal, Effie Skinner was back at Shandy Hall - this time as the new Mrs Cross, marrying Dr Cross within a month of his wife’s sudden demise on June 1st ,1887.

Dr Cross registered his first wife’s death with the local medical officer as due to typhoid fever.


However, suspicions were aroused and local RIC district inspector Henry Tyacke began an investigation.

An exhumation and post-mortem revealed subsequently that Mrs Cross had been poisoned with arsenic.

Dr Cross was charged with murder, much to the shock of Irish society.

His trial in December 1887 - during which the new Mrs Cross gave birth to a son - even attracted international coverage.

Following his conviction, he was hung at Cork Gaol on January 10th, 1888.

Michael Sheridan has adapted his 2011 book for the stage, with music and lyrics by Alan Kiely and Kevin Connolly, with support from Briery Gap artistic director Anne Dunne.

The musical premieres in Macroom on October 13th, before later moving to Cork Opera House.

For further information on Murder at Shandy Hall, please visit www.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times