A Winter murder at a Seaside Village

The seaside village of Enniscrone in west Sligo along the wild atlantic way, has long been a popular holiday destination, going back as far as the 19th century, when the Victorians began visiting the small seaside village, located on the shores of Killala Bay in west county Sligo. It has been a popular destination since the 1850’s, when the local landlord, Robert Orme built the Cliff bathhouse for holidaymakers to enjoy the Atlantic ocean, the old bathhouse building still exists to this very day.

In the winter of 1909, a newly married couple visited the village on a short holiday, while one of the spouse’s planned a short relaxing break, the other had more grisly plans.

On the 10th December 1908, Michael Gallagher a native of Mayo and a Constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary, married Sarah Knox, a 22 year old young woman from Crossmolina in Mayo. Michael was older at 30 years old and had joined the RIC in 1898. He was described as a powerfully built man and nearly six foot tall.  

Michael told Sarah as he was eleven years in the force he needed to have a longer service before getting married and so the marriage was to be kept secret. Sarah remained living at her family home at Cloonkee, Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, unaware that it was after seven years a member of the R.I.C. could marry.

Sarah Gallagher nee Knox


In November 1909, Sarah received the following letter written from the barracks at Aclare, Co. Sligo.

 

R.I.C., Aclare
Dear Sarah – Just a line to let you know I received your welcome letter a few days ago. I am glad to see by it you are well. I will meet you Thursday next, 4th Inst. at Ballina at the usual place. Then we can have a few hours before we start for the seaside. Keep your mind to yourself, and I will get a few days at home about the matter. Excuse haste – post leaving. – Yours as ever.
M. GALLAGHER
x x x

At Enniscrone, Co. Sligo the couple stopped off at a hostelry and Michael asked for two rooms for himself and his “sister”.  There were no rooms available and they secured a room elsewhere as man and wife. Later that day, the couple were observed by the Coastguard as they went for a walk on Saturday evening at 5 pm strolling along the pier.

Enniscrone Pier & Cliff bathhouse – Credit: National Library of Ireland

 

Two hours later, at 7 pm, Michael returned to their accommodation alone and didn’t alert anyone to Sarah been missing. Michael paid the hotel bill and left Enniscrone village and cycled back to the RIC barracks in Aclare in south Sligo, a distance of 19 miles (31 kilometres).
On Sunday morning, the body of Sarah was discovered by two fishermen.  An investigation was quickly launched and it wasn’t long before the woman was traced back to the hotel and walking with a man the previous evening.  When tracked down at Aclare barracks, Michael Gallagher denied being at Enniscrone with a woman. He was allowed to sit at the fire in the dayroom as a search was carried out. Being granted permission to go to his room he “dashed out the back door into the dark night. In a moment all was confusion and alarm. The police abandoned their search and snatching lanterns ran in pursuit of the fugitive. Some jumped on bicycles and rode furiously down the different roads.”
At the Inquest into Sarah`s death, held a few days later, when her brother was being questioned, a jury member remarked

“I suppose he got a fortune when he got married”

“Yes” said witness, “but not all.”

Dowry system in Ireland

Dowry (generally called ‘fortune’ in Ireland; spré in Irish) is money or property brought by a bride to her husband at marriage. It was an important matter in nineteenth-century Ireland.  In the past, many marriages in Ireland were set by financial standing, and by today’s standards it would be nice to think love and compatibility came into the equation, this was not the main reason for marriage in Edwardian times, despite this, in the majority of cases love did grow through companionship and endearment, sadly this wasn’t the case for Sarah and Michael.

Though some brides married without dowries, payment could be substantial for others. The need for dowries helped parents to control their children’s choice of marriage partner. Not surprisingly, dowries were often the cause of disputes, particularly because they were sometimes paid by instalments or full payment was delayed.

The Inquest

The Inquest was opened by Dr J. Flannery and was held at the Enniscrone coastguard building, as the landlady of the hotel was giving evidence, a telegram was received, the fugitive Michael Gallagher, had been found with his throat cut at Harlech’s Lodge in Aclare, Sligo.
“The reading of the wire was received by the Jury with loud applause, which the Coroner promptly suppressed. The Jury found that Sarah Gallagher had been murdered by her husband who drowned her.”

Sarah’s funeral attracted many mourners, “The whole countryside afterwards followed the funeral cortege for miles along the roads home.”, which was in stark contrast to Michael’s funeral.

The funeral of Michael Gallagher took place from Aclare to Bohey near Crossmolina. Practically unanimously all car-owners refused to hire out their vehicles for the occasion. There was vigorous booing as the funeral passed and one woman flung mud at the hearse.  A special force of police from Crossmolina met the cortege as it passed through Sarah Knox`s village. It was quite dark when the body was laid in the grave, and no priest was present.

 

Constable Michael Gallagher was born in Co. Mayo in 1876 and joined the RIC in 1898.

 

Poignantly, on the morning of her murder Sarah had complained to a fellow guest that “she had lost her wedding ring and cried long and bitterly because she thought it was an ill-omen.”
A wedding ring was later found in Michael Gallagher`s possession when he was searched.

An Edwardian lady watches over her children fishing beside the Cliff bathhouse at Enniscrone. Credit: National library of Ireland

 

Possible Motive

The Coroner thought it was money related and Michael had been insane, but it was thought it was premeditated if he took the ring from Sarah in the morning.  Her brother, said Michael had sent 10 shillings on one occasion, that the marriage was known about in Sarah`s parish but he did not know if Michael`s family knew.  Perhaps he married her for money, but did not get all he was expecting, if the marriage became known to his superior’s it would have been a black mark on his career.  He had Sarah coached to call him Tommy at the boardinghouse but she slipped up a couple of times and called him Michael. Her brother said she often complained that Michael did not bring her away, but the excuse about not being long enough in the service was believed by Sarah’s family.

 

 

 

Sarah appears on the 1901 census aged 15 years old, living with her father James, a farmer and her 6 siblings in a house in the townland of Cloonkee, Fortlands, Mayo which is a few miles from the village of Crossmolina.

 

 

Sources:

Newspaper archive - Independent, 14/11/1909
Newspaper archive - The Sligo Champion - 11/1909
Text: Tricia Dillon - Facebook group - Royal Irish Constabulary1816-1922 -A forgotten Irish Police Force
Irish census 1901
RIC rules: http://www.royalirishconstabulary.com/
Dowry System: http://multitext.ucc.ie/d/Dowry_and_Marriage
Dowry endearment quote: http://thewildgeese.irish
Photos: National Library of Ireland

This masonic lodge meeting is no secret

There are lots of events happening around the country for Culture Night, which takes place on Friday 16th September 2016.  You can check out the Culture Night website to see what is on in your area.

I’m thinking of going to the Masonic hall in Sligo, which is only open to the general public on Culture Night. You get a tour of the building and a short talk on both the history of the building and Freemasonry in Sligo and Ireland.  This tour has been really popular in the last few years, I saw on social media in previous years, photos of queues of people, stretching down The Mall, this year thankfully, you can book a free ticket on Event brite.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned the impressive Masonic Lodge, which is perched up on the top of The Mall and has a great view over Sligo town.  It’s a detached 2 storey redbrick built between 1890 and 1900, it features a Belvedere tower above the entrance.  According to Wiki,  “A belvedere (from Italian for “fair view”) is an architectural structure sited to take advantage of a fine or scenic view.   A Belvedere may be built in the upper part of a building so as to command said view. ”

 

Masonic lodge Sligo
The Masonic lodge in Sligo town.

 

The light of evening, Lissadell

 
We visited Lissadell House in May and did the guided tour.  Lissadell House, is a big country house, located in North Sligo.  It originally belonged to the Gore-Booth family, who were Anglo Irish landlords.  They sold it to the Cassidy-Walsh family in 2004, who have since renovated it and use it as their own family home and have also managed to turn it into an interesting visitor attraction, which is open to the public from March until October each year.  This is the family home of Countess Constance Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth and the poet W.B. Yeats was a frequent visitor and he later wrote the poem, In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz, which refers to Lissadell House.

 

 

 

Lissadell House windows
Sash windows at Lissadell House

 

In 6th class, I had completed a history project and chose Countess Markievicz as the subject, later that same year, I visited Lissadell when I made my confirmation back in May 1992! but it wasn’t opened to the public at the time. We started off the tour in the Billiards room, there were lots of interesting old photos on the wall and memorabilia laid out on the table, which had belonged to Henry Gore-Booth, who was an Arctic explorer and the father of Constance and Eva Gore-Booth.

 

Lissadell House
Lissadell House

 

We also saw the oval shaped Gallery room, which was designed as a Music Room.  The kitchen, one of my favourite rooms to visit in big houses, is located downstairs and reminded me of Downton Abbey.

Lissadell House was designed by the architect Francis Goodwin and built in the 1830’s to a neo-classic greek revivalist style, I think the tour guide mentioned how the architecture of the house is similar to that of an ancient Greek temple.

 

Lissadell Court yard
Lissadell Courtyard which houses the Exhibition centre and Tea rooms.

 

There is a large exhibition centre located in the courtyard buildings, with galleries on Countess Markievicz, William and Jack Yeats.

If you are visiting Sligo, it is well worth a visit and this year, they also have a 1916 Easter Rising themed exhibition.

You can check out their website here for visitor opening times and to find out about special events which take place at Lissadell House.

Book the Sligo Secret Scripture Walking Tour

Guided Walking Tour – Sligo Secret Scripture

The Sligo Secret Scripture Trail, is a literary & local history tour based around Sligo town and county.  The tour takes a snapshot of Sligo in the 1920’s and 1930’s from the viewpoint of one semi-fictional family, who lived and worked in the town.  The award winning author Sebastian Barry, set his novels in Sligo town and wrote about his family who resided in Sligo at the time.  This tour will take you through the streets of Sligo where the characters walked, giving you a sense of the local history and architectural heritage of the locations during this time.

Book your tickets today via Eventbrite.

You can also contact me on melcooireland (at) gmail dot com or call 353-87-7775058 to arrange alternative dates or book private group tours.

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The Secret Scripture trail is also available to download as an app from Guidigo.

Walking Tour App available on iOS and Android

Go to the Apple or Play store and search for Guidigo, download this free app, then search for Sligo Secret Scripture trail and sign in with gmail, facebook or email and download the tour to your smartphone.

The app, guides you around several locations, the majority of which, can be reached on foot, the locations further out from the town, have been placed towards the end of the tour. We have suggested an order to explore the places but feel free to take the tour at your own pace, in whatever order suits you best. The map suggests a route of numbered stops but where you start and stop is entirely up to you. Instructions and directions are provided and you can check the map at any time, during the tour.

The tour is loosely based around the books of author Sebastian Barry who set his novels, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, The Secret Scripture and The Temporary Gentleman in Sligo. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have read the books to enjoy the tour and no major spoilers are revealed, as the tour combines the books, social history, fashion and architectural heritage, to paint a picture of Sligo in the 1930’s.

Memory harbour

Over the June bank holiday, I was out at Rosses Point in Sligo and took a walk along by Deadman’s Point.  I wanted to see the old River Pilot Watch house, this old ruin of a cottage, recently appeared on the Bob Geldof documentary called “A Fanatic Heart”, which was commissioned by RTE for their reflecting the rising series.  I knew the Yeats family had an old summer house at Rosses Point, but I wasn’t aware of the exact location and I didn’t know about the Yeats connection to the River Pilot’s old Watch house.  Bob Geldof can be controversial and he’s no shrinking violet and while I didn’t agree with everything he said in the documentary, it was good to get another view point.  I found the documentary very interesting and it was great to see some of the places in Sligo that inspired William Butler Yeats.

When William and Jack Yeats were boys they spent their summers in Sligo and stayed with their Grandparents, the Pollexfen’s, their uncle Henry Middleton owned the nearby Elisnore lodge at Rosses Point, which now lies in ruins nearby, covered in ivy.  They would visit the River Pilots cottage and he would regale them with old stories of ghosts, smugglers and pirates that visited the bay.  Both brothers remembered their time in Rosses Point fondly and used these stories later in life for inspiration in their respective poetry and paintings.  The Jack Yeats painting called Memory harbour, depicts Rosses Point and the River Pilots cottage.