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.
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.




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

Click on the contact form on the blog or send a mail to melcooireland (at) gmail dot com to book private group tours.


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.

A stay in the Cranmore hotel

Last weekend we attended a talk on Sligo Gaol and the women involved in the Irish revolution and got the opportunity to visit inside the old Sligo jail.

(Click on any of the images to enlarge and to close click outside the image)

Prison corridor in Sligo Gaol
Narrow prison corridor at Sligo Gaol

Sligo Gaol is located in Garavogue villas in Sligo town, next to the Sligo Fire station.  It was opened in 1818 and closed in 1956.  It housed men and women and also had a debtors prison.

Inside Sligo Gaol
Tour Guide and old photo of Sligo Gaol

The talk was held in the morning in the Riverside hotel in Sligo town. We heard first from Gary Burke, a local historian, he gave an interesting presentation on women prisoners in Sligo Gaol in 1916. Many of the women, incarcerated in the prison were convicted on charges of drunkenness and petty larceny, prostitution also occurred in Sligo but was tended to be eluded to, under a vagrancy charge called found wandering abroad in the prison record books.  In 1916, many Sligo men were fighting in the war and there wives received a separation allowance, which according to local press at the time was spent on alcohol and led to many of the drunkenness charges.

Sligo Gaol Talk
Audience listen to Dan Scannell, a former Prison Governor

Women in the Revolution

We also heard from Liz Gillis, who is a published author and has published a book entitled the Women of the Irish Revolution, Liz talked extensively on several of the women involved in the Easter Rising, such as Belfast woman, Winnie Carney, who occupied the GPO for the week and worked as a secretary with James Connolly, who he viewed as his equal.

Also, Liz talked about Linda Kearns, who was a nurse from Sligo who set up a temporary medical station from a store during the week of the Rising.  We also heard from a relative of Linda Kearns who was in the audience, that Linda had inherited a large sum of money at the time, which enabled her to buy a car and act as a messenger and courier, transporting men and arms during the War of Independence.  I only heard of Linda Kearns last year when I read an article about Liz’s book and I had recently read about Linda’s work during the War of Independence, from the military statement she gave to the Military bureau in 1950.   It’s a fascinating read, you can check out Linda’s statement here, (opens as a Pdf link).

The bureau of Military Archives website, militaryarchives.ie is a great resource and worth checking out.  I also read the statement from Sligo man, Charles Gildea from Tubbercurry, who details his escape from Sligo Gaol alongside Frank O’Beirne and Tom Deignan on the 29th June 1921.  You can read about Charles’s escape from prison here, (opens as a Pdf link).

Pigeons behind bars - Sligo Gaol
Two prison inmates about to make an escape from Sligo Gaol

In the afternoon, we watched a short documentary on Linda Kearns, you can watch a short clip below from the TG4 Ealu documentary or here.

After the documentary, we walked the short distance from the hotel to the prison and got a guided tour inside.  I was a bit bemused to hear, when the prison was first opened, local people referred to it as been located in the countryside, as the St Anne’s and Cranmore roads did not exist and prisoners on been convicted in the Sligo Courthouse, would have been transported to the prison via Corcoran’s Mall now Kennedy Parade and over the Riverside road, passed the Sligo distillery (you can read a previous post about it) now the site of the Riverside hotel and the cottages on Armstrong’s row and up the Gaol road.

Outside the Prison Governor's House
Group tour outside the Prison Governor’s House

While on the tour, our lovely guide Chantal Doyle, told us how the prison was very modern and got the nickname the Cranmore hotel as it was heated and had piped water, which was pumped up from the nearby Garavogue river using a large treadmill wheel which each of the male prisoners had to spend time on each day.

Prison cell lever
Prison cell shelf and a lever for the prisoner to pull to get the Prison Guard’s attention.

We were able to explore several of the cells and walk the narrow corridors with high arched ceilings.  There are a team of volunteers involved in Sligo Gaol and there are doing great work locally to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of the prison building, along with Sligo County Council, you can check out their website here.  You can also sign up to a mailing list and Facebook page and find out when they will next be planning a tour of the prison.


Vaulted prison cell
Vaulted prison cell ceiling


Funnily enough, they mentioned at the end of tour, to tell all your friends about Sligo Gaol as many people aren’t aware it exists, which I was a bit surprised by, as having grown up nearby I’ve always known it was there and even got to sneak in when I was 11 years old. I’d assumed most Sligo people were aware of the buildings existence, later that day, I mentioned to my cousin from West Sligo where I had been and she wasn’t aware of the prison building at all! So there you go, tell everyone you know.

Sligo prison cell window
Prison cell windows and doorway – Sligo Gaol


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Benbulben Mountain Gortarowey

On a clear day when you arrive into Sligo town, you will be welcomed with stunning views of Benbulben mountain.  It forms a beautiful backdrop to the town.

Benbulben Mountain Gortarowey Walk Sligo (26)

If you want to get up close to the iconic Benbulben, but don’t fancy having to climb, you can do the Benbulben Gortarowey walk, it is an easy looped walk, that runs around the base of Benbulben mountain in north County Sligo.

Benbulben Mountain Gortarowey Walk Sligo
Gortarowey Walk Sligo


Gortarowey is an all weather trail with a hard surfaced finish, so you can wear old runners or hiking boots,  and it’s suitable for all ages and abilities, you can even take a buggy and your dog on a leash.  The trail begins in a forest area before opening out to provide beautiful views of Benbulben mountain and you can also view Donegal bay, as you walk around the other side.  The walk is about 4 kilometres and takes about one and half hours.

Benbulben Mountain Gortarowey Walk Sligo (18)

If you are visiting Sligo for the day, you could also visit W. B. Yeats grave in nearby Drumcliffe Church and then do the Gortarowey walk with lunch afterwards in Henry’s restaurant on the N15 at Cashelgarron.  Other scenic locations close by worth visiting, include the Gleniff Horseshoe drive, Mullaghmore and Lissadell House.

Directions to Gortarowey Walk:

Take the N15 road north of Sligo for 8km.  Continue for 1.6 kilometres after Drumcliffe village.  Take the right-hand turn signposted Barnaribbon up by a thatched cottage.  Follow the road straight ahead, and keep left where the road veers right. This will bring you to a car park on your left under Benbulben.


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Sligo Town Walking Tour Video

A few months ago, we did a self guided Sligo town walking tour, it took us several hours as we stopped to take lots of photos and read the tour booklet I had, it was interesting to read about the buildings and places and get the background.

Then during the Fleadh Cheoil last week, we got a guided walking tour with the Sligo Tourist office.  It was engaging and informative and our guide John Ryan, was very knowledgeable and passionate. If you are a tourist, it’s a great way to get the lay of the land and a good summary of Sligo’s history and how other Irish and world events affected Sligo.  It’s a great way to find out about a place, even if you have lived there all your life, you will learn something new about the town.



Contact Sligo Tourism office for dates and times of tours.