The Colleen Bawn – Murder on the Shannon

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Shannon Estuary by John Moylan. Murder location of the Colleen Bawn

Born into a Limerick farming family in 1803, Ellen Hanley’s life was snuffed out in a cold, calculated murder at only fifteen years of age.

Living in the village of Bruree, Ellen’s mother passed away when the girl was no more than six years old and she moved in with her uncle. Ellen grew into a young lady of incredible beauty that was equally matched by her warmth, quick wit and intelligence.

It was not long before she courted the interest of a certain gentleman of distinction by the name of John Scanlan, John himself was in his twenties and very much a socialite of shallow persuasion which would ultimately lead to Ellen’s bitter end.

John Scanlan pursued Ellen relentlessly and begged for her hand in marriage. Ellen had grave misgivings about both the age gap and their different social standing, but John would not take no for an answer. In the summer of 1819, John Scanlan and Ellen Hanley were wed in Limerick city.

True to his form, John grew bored of his child wife within just five weeks of marriage and began to hatch a plot to make her disappear, so he could renew his carefree, lewd lifestyle.

John and his servant Stephen Sullivan schemed and ultimately planned the murder of the new bride.

John Scanlan convinced Ellen to take a boating trip on the River Shannon with his servant, leaving from the shores of Glin Castle. Sullivan boarded the boat complete with loaded musket and murder in his heart, however when the time came he was unable to shoot the innocent beauty.

When John Scanlan saw the boat return to Glin with two people on board he was outraged. He filled Stephen Sullivan with whiskey until he was so drunk he agreed to go ahead with the murder plot. Once again Sullivan rowed Ellen out into the Shannon Estuary and with the threatening words of his master ringing in his ears, the callous servant shot Ellen point blank.

Without an ounce of remorse, Stephen Sullivan stripped Ellen Hanley naked and took her wedding ring, stowing them away in the boat. She was weighed down with rocks and her young, broken body was dropped unceremoniously overboard. Fifteen-year-old Ellen Hanley was enshrouded in the inky black waters of the River Shannon.

Scanlan and Sullivan toasted their successful murder as weeks had passed and they were convinced they had got away with their heinous deed. This was not to be as on 6th September 1819, the porcelain white corpse of the missing Ellen was washed up in Kilrush, County Clare.

So horrific was the discovery of the slain child bride, the people of County Clare and County Limerick became frenzied in anger and dismay and the two guilty men fled.

A huge manhunt was begun and before long John Scanlan was captured. The Scanlan family were a family of high standing in social circles and they were not having their name dragged through the mud. They hired the great Irishman Daniel O’Connell, known as ‘The Liberator’ for his work in bringing emancipation to Irish Catholics in later years.

With his family name and the best barrister in Ireland behind him, John Scanlan sat smugly through his trial fully expecting to be acquitted. He could not have been more mistaken.

Scanlan was found guilty without question of the pre-mediated murder of Ellen Hanley. A horse-drawn carriage was commissioned to take the condemned man to Gallows Green in County Clare. The horse bucked and refused to cross the bridge over to Gallows Green and John Scanlan made his last living steps walking to the gallows to be hanged. John Scanlan was executed on 16th March 1820.

The story does not end here, for just a few months later, manservant Stephen Sullivan was caught, and his Limerick trial made front page news. He also was found guilty and sentenced to execution. In a last-minute fit of conscience, Sullivan recounted the events surrounding the murder of Ellen before the Hangman placed the noose around his fated neck.

In the small, rural Burrane Cemetery near Kilrush the body of the Colleen Bawn, Ellen Hanley is buried. Colleen Bawn is Irish for ‘white girl’.

Ellen lies beneath a Celtic Cross donated by the local community with an epitaph that says:

‘Here lies the Colleen Bawn

Murdered on the Shannon

July 14th 1819. R.I.P’

Over time the curious and the ghoulish have chiselled away bit by bit taking morbid keepsakes until nothing much more remains. The story of the Colleen Bawn lives on almost two hundred years after her untimely death in plays, novels and musical interpretations. It seems that the macabre nature of her demise will never be forgotten.

The Colleen Bawn

Thanks to John Moylan for his outstanding shot of the River Shannon. More of John Moylan’s photographic work can be found here:

https://www.johnmoylanphotography.com/

 

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IRELAND’S 10 MOST TERRIFYING ROADSIDE GHOSTS!

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Driving and walking along lonely Irish roads in the howling wind and rain on a dark winter’s night is scary enough, without thinking about the ghostly figures you may encounter!

Ireland’s 10 most terrifying roadside ghosts – Spooky Isles

 

ROUTE 666 – ON THE TRAIL OF THE DEVIL IN IRELAND

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Of course you can’t have all these dark tales and history without the Devil having contributed, so I took a look at the lasting trail Lucifer left behind him in Ireland. Let’s follow Route 666.

Route 666, On The Trail Of The Devil In Ireland

13 SHADES OF FEAR: IRELAND’S MOST COLOURFUL FEMALE GHOSTS

Red LadyIreland has long been famed for the number of female hauntings across the country and many of them have been associated with colour.  Here I look at thirteen of the most colourful in more ways than one! 13 Shades of Fear: Ireland’s Most Colourful Female Ghosts

DARK HISTORY: Ireland’s top 5 Strangest Murders from 5th to 19th Century

Sometimes the weirdest stories are not the paranormal or legendary ones, but real life.  In a country built on bloodshed it is not the massacres and executions, but the most innocent of locations and seemingly normal events that have lead to some of the most bizarre murders in Irish History.  From a Saint to a Cabin Boy, here are my 5 strangest Irish murders.

http://www.spookyisles.com/2015/02/irelands-top-5-strangest-murders/

THE MOUNTAIN OF TRUTH AND THE FAIRY CASTLE OF DONN FIRINNE

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Knockfierna, Mountain of Truth. Photo by Derek Ryan.

In Ballingarry, County Limerick there is a mountain called Knockfierna and in that mountain is a Fairy Castle.

High above anywhere else in Limerick, some 950 feet above sea level is the top of Knockfierna or ‘Knock Dhoinn Firinne’. It translates as the Mountain of Truth, home to Donn Firinne, the Celtic God of the Dead, also known as the Chief of the Mountain and the Fairy King.

Knockfierna is full of dark history, legend and mysticism and to walk upon the craggy hillside is to take a step back in time and sate ethereal curiosity. 1837 hailed the archaeological discovery of the Ballingarry Ogham Stone, one of only a handful found on Ireland’s shores. Ogham refers to Primitive Irish text dating back to the 4th century and possibly earlier which was carved with sharp implements into the stone as a way of recording personal information such as land ownership.

On the Strickeen lies the Lisnafeen Fairy Fort with a diameter of 100 feet, believed to be imbued with fairy magic. On the northern slope is a dolman known as ‘Giant Fawha’s Grave’ and the Cairn or monument at the summit is believed to be the site of the ancient temple of Stuadhraicin.

But what of the fairy castle? Well let me tell you a tale – a tale of the Devil Daly…….

Carroll O’Daly was a blackguard and a rogue from the Province of Connaught. He had no work and roamed from town to town without a care, a man of no respect, no fear and no consequence. He would walk through churchyards and over fairy ground at any time of day and night without protection or blessing, believing himself to be untouchable.
Finding himself in Munster, O’Daly began to head for the trading town of Kilmallock and before long found himself at the foot of Knockfierna where he met a man riding a white pony. They sauntered along in silence together and after a while Carroll ventured to ask where the man was heading.

The man told O’Daly that they were not going the same way, as he and his white pony where heading up the hillside. Carroll asked what would take him there and the reply he received was ‘The Good People’.
O’Daly said ‘The Fairies?!’ to which the man furiously hushed him in the event he would be sorry for his words. With that Carroll O’Daly was wished a safe journey and the man began his ascent. Having been up to so much mischief himself, Carroll did not believe his companion and stopped to watch. The mountain was lit fully by the full moon and he could make out the silhouette of a man and a pony. His curiosity piqued, O’Daly made the decision to follow and tethered his horse to a nearby thorny tree. Cursing as he went Carroll traipsed and climbed through rugged and boggy terrain, finally stepping out into green pasture where the white pony freely grazed.

O’Daly looked around and could not see the absent rider. What he did see was a black gaping orifice in the mountainside known as the Poulnabreine or Poul Dubh, the entrance to the Fairy Castle. Carroll had heard a story as a child, of a surveyor called Ahern who decided to gauge the depth of the hole with a line, only to be drawn into the hole and never seen again.

Dismissing the story and his devilish side taking over, O’Daly decided to knock and see if the Fairy King was home. He picked up a nearby boulder with both hands and threw it with all the force he could muster into the hole. The angry sound of the rock bouncing through the mountain echoed through the night and Carroll leant in to hear it reach the bottom. Only it didn’t. Before he knew what was happening a rush of air came from the opening and the very boulder he had thrown hit him square in the head so hard he was sent tumbling down the craggy hillside to the bottom of Knockfierna. The following morning he was found alive, but severely battered and bleeding. Carroll O’Daly had his cough firmly softened and was trouble no more. The fairies were able to come out at night and dance in a ring undisturbed, the only sign of their activities being the circular beaten grass still visible in the daylight.

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In later years Knockfierna became a place of protection and refuge. A Mass Rock still plays host to religious gatherings, originally created so that the Catholics of the 1700’s could take Mass in secret following the outlawing of religion during the Penal Laws under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Famine victims sought a haven on the rugged hillside and lived in tiny hovels of stone, the foundations still remaining today. In memory of them all a Holy Cross stands tall, protecting Knockfierna and all who fall within its shadow.

With leprechaun sightings documented as recently as 1938, and the talismans for Irish curses known as Piseogs found nestled in the thorns and moss, Knockfierna will always be home to ‘The Good People’. My advice? Do explore the history and folklore of this wonderful place, the Mountain of Truth, but don’t go knocking for entry to the fairy castle…..you might never be heard of again!

Thank you to Derek Ryan of http://thetipperaryantiquarian.blogspot.ie/ for the use of his beautiful photo!

HAUNTED LIMERICK – 5 PLACES TO VISIT

Desmond Castle and Hellfire Club

Desmond Castle and Hellfire Club, Askeaton, County Limerick

The county of Limerick in the of Munster has stood since the dawn of time.  Legends, gods and goddesses, heroes such as Brian Boru and a medieval history without parallel, Limerick is home to the supernatural, ethereal and downright spooky!   In my article for The Spooky Isles I looked into five haunted, historical and heinous locations you can visit!

Five Haunted Places to Visit in Limerick

 

 

Barnagh Railway Tunnel

Barnagh Railway Tunnel and the Witch of Barnagh