The Toll – Man’s Tale

A Story of Old Dublin

Turnpike

Some of you may have heard about the ‘Turnpike Roads’ that ran through Ireland until the middle of the nineteenth and they were always accompanied by a toll-bar, something similar to the modern toll-bars on the various motorways that fan out over Ireland. At one toll-bar on the western side of Dublin there was a ‘Keeper’ who lifted the tolls and was known to all in the neighbourhood as ‘Posh Paddy’. The prefix was given to him because of his pure and polished dialect, which was unusual in a man social status. He had been, however, from childhood until his hair had turned grey,  in the service of an English family, who had inherited and constantly resided in a handsome estate in his native County in Meath. It was through their good offices that he had been appointed to this important office of trust, where Jimmy Hollis made his acquaintance and wrote this story.

“Posh Paddy was one of my earliest friends, though I never knew nor asked what the man’s surname was. His toll-house stood alone on the country road outside Dublin, which was expanding at great speed. But when I first met him there was no building in sight but the school, at which I, and some forty other local children were supposed to be educated in the ways of the world by the elder brother of our parish minister. Although he was a kind and conscientious teacher, the toll-house was much more attractive to our young minds than a strict church school. Paddy had proved himself to be a great friend and confidante to all the boys, settling disputes among us, made the best bats and balls for us, and taught us a wide variety of new tricks in how they could be used, occasionally bestowing upon us boys good advice that were soon forgotten. He told us that he had chosen not to marry, because he was convinced that all women were nothing but trouble to a man. But Posh Paddy was a man with a sense of rustic piety, and was both fearless and self-reliant, and he was a man who enjoyed solitude or company with equal measure. Never had I seen him look downhearted, or walk with his shoulders sagging, and he was never sick, or in any way out of sorts. Everyday he could be seen performing his own his own domestic duties with a thoroughness that was practiced by few  housekeepers, while still faithfully carrying out his duty as the guardian of the toll-bar, allowing no man to pass without paying his fee. I can recall the sadness I experienced when I had to leave that particular area and begin employment in my uncle’s law practice in the port of Waterford. It was only a few years later that I received the startling news that ‘Posh Paddy’ had resigned his office and had left, but no one knew where he had gone.

 

Dublin Turnpike Toll Booth

Hard years of work had passed, which saw me successfully complete my own law studies, and I was requested to visit a gentleman landowner outside Wicklow to conduct some work on his behalf. This gentleman was well known for his kitchen-garden, and was famed for growing fine ‘Jerusalem Artichokes’ that I had a great desire to see for myself. It was while he was escorting me through this large kitchen-garden that I noticed an elderly gardener, who was at hard at work with rake and hoe, and as I looked closer I recognised the man to be my old friend ‘Posh Paddy’. The years since I had last seen him had caused his hair to grow quite grey and his face was much more grave in its expression. Undoubtedly, the years had altered my appearance, but Paddy immediately recognised me. It was clear from his expression, however, that he had no wish to be recognised in the presence of the gentleman landowner, who was one of those men who enjoyed supervising every area of his estate. It was while he was explaining everything about his famous artichokes that he was brought a message, which summoned him back to the house. Excusing himself politely he left me to admire the rest of the garden on my own and in my own time. He was scarcely out of sight, however, until I was by the gardener’s side. “Paddy, my old friend,” I said as I warmly grasped his hand, “I am glad to see you once again. How has the world been treating you these last years?”

“They have treated me pretty well, Master James,” said Paddy as he returned my handshake with equal warmth. “I am glad to see you once again, and salute your very good memory. On many occasions the other boys have passed me on the street without acknowledgement. I have often wondered how the others all turned out?” Paddy immediately began to ask about my schoolmates and old neighbours, and I was able to answer that some had gone to pastures new, that some had married and that, sadly, some had died.

Finally, I plucked up the courage to ask him the reason for his sudden resignation. “Paddy, now that you have exhausted all my news and we have had an opportunity to renew our friendship, will you tell me the reason for you leaving the toll-house? Surely, that was better paid and more comfortable employment than this?”

“Ah, sure, Master James, you know what the old proverb says – ‘A Change is as good as a rest.'”

I knew that he was just trying to put off having to explain his reasons to me, but I was not to be evaded. “Now, Paddy, that’s not an answer, and you are much more steady than to depart on a whim. Tell me the truth as a friend and be sure that if there is anything in your story that you wish to remain confidential it will remain so. You know that I am a person that can keep a secret. Was it a woman, Paddy? Are you married yet?”

“Not at all, Master James,” my old friend said with a sigh of relief. “But it is an odd story and one that I don’t really want to tell. It has, however, been pressing-in on me this last while, and I always found you to be a discreet person. Now, the master will be away for a while checking the food and the drink that has been chosen for the dinner, especially when there are several notables invited, as well as yourself. While he is gone, then, I will tell you why I chose to leave the toll-house, but never mention one word to anyone of what I am about to tell you.”

So, the following is Paddy’s story in his own words, or as well as I can remember them after all these years –

“The family, in whose service I was raised, lived on their estate in County Meath, which had been inherited by the mistress of the place, Lady Catherine. She was a proud woman, whose line stretched down from a branch of Scottish nobility through her father, and from old French nobility through her mother, whose family had been refugees from the ‘Revolution’. When she first came to the estate Lady Catherine’s husband had been dead several years and she came with a boy about the same age as myself and two fine, grown-up daughters. The house was large, partly old and partly new, and it stood in parkland with tall trees, and red deer grazing in its grounds. The previous owner had been a miserly old bachelor, who had paid a little attention to the fabric of the building. But, after Lady Catherine came there were great changes, with a retinue of English servants and the continual arrival of company. It was about that time that my poor mother died. She had been a widow woman, living in a small cabin close to the wall of the parkland with only myself and a grey cat for company, and her old spinning wheel to keep us. Sadly, I was only a child when she died and, having no kin in the district, Lady Catherine took me in as a servant to run errands and help in the garden, eventually being promoted to footman. Her ladyship was admired by the country gentry because of her noble breeding, fashionable connections and her almost boundless hospitality. The tenants of the estate admired her also, for there was no better managed estate in the county and her agents were instructed not to mistreat or eject any of them.

 

The Toll Gate

It was said that Lady Catherine was a well known beauty within London society, and the local people thought her to be very grand because of the beautiful dresses and rich jewels she wore. These things were, most likely, cast-offs from the previous season since, every spring she would take the family to London, where they owned a fine house and kept the best company. Lady Catherine was a large, stately woman with a dark complexion whose manners to her equals was graceful, and to her inferiors, gracious. Nevertheless, there was a look of pride in those dark grey eyes, and a stern resolution showed in her lips, and she struck a certain fear in me as a child. Her daughters, Florence and Agnes, were pure copies of their mother in both pride and beauty, and they were greatly admired as flowers of the county. Their inheritances were substantial, but they would have been co-heiresses but for their brother Arthur, who was the youngest and so much different from his mother and sisters that you wouldn’t have thought he was a member of the same family. His complexion was fair, and he had clear blue eyes, curly brown hair and a merry look about himself. Although he may not have resembled them, Arthur, carried himself and spoke in a very similar way, and at eighteen years there was no finer young man in the county. He was a frank man with a kindly nature, which made the tenants happy at the prospect of Arthur becoming their future landlord.

Not far from the mansion house stood a farmhouse, which was occupied by an old man whose great-grandfather had cultivated the same fields. Although he was not a rich man, he was much respected by his neighbours for being an honest and upright person. The old man’s wife was as old as he was, but they had always been an easy-living couple who had only the one child, a daughter called Marie, a delicately pretty girl, who was a little spoiled since both her father and mother made a queen of her in their home. They never allowed her to do any rough work, but was always well-dressed and kept in the better rooms of the house. Marie had many admirers among the young bachelors of the county, but her parents thought her too good for everybody and believed that she was destined to make a great match, becoming a lady in her own right. They appeared to be not too far from their notion,  for we servants on the estate began to see for ourselves the frequency with which young Arthur was seen coming and going from the farmhouse. We thought that the old farmer and his wife encouraged the young master, for they were themselves said to be descended from some great Irish chieftain and had proud cousins that still lived in the mountains in the west. So, the relationship continued between the prettiest girl in the parish and the most eligible young man in the county. But, just as Arthur turned nineteen years, there was a great row erupted that had never been heard before in that building when Lady Catherine discovered what was going on. I believe it was the minister who told her, believing that it was his duty to let her know what the servants and the rest of the Parish knew, but would not talk about in her presence. Maybe the disturbance his actions had caused were more than Arthur could stand, or maybe Lady Catherine had angrily said something derogatory about Marie, but something caused the young man to take the action that he did. The next morning Arthur was absent from the house and, later that afternoon, I brought a letter from the village post-office to Lady Catherine. The reading of this letter quickly sent the young ladies into hysterics and caused Lady Catherine to retire to her room, because it announced that her heir and the farmer’s daughter had left to get married in Dublin.

The young ladies quickly recovered, and when Lady Catherine reappeared she immediately began to prepare for a journey to Paris. The preparations were quickly completed and within twenty-four hours of receiving Arthur’s letter she and her daughters set off in the family carriage. The majority of servants were sent to live at the town house on reduced wages, all the good rooms in the house were locked up, and other than the gardener, a kitchen-girl, and myself there was no other person left at the estate. The next we heard was that the old farmer and his wife had sought out their daughter and new son-in-law, bringing them both home to live with them until the day arrived when the estate would finally be Arthur’s. It was this news that made Lady Catherine so bitter in later days, but the young Master and his bride came to the farmhouse where they were given use of the best bedroom and the parlour, and the poor old mother and father were happy to serve and entertain them.

They were a very young couple, for he was in his nineteenth year and she was in her seventeenth. They were, however, a handsome couple and more alike than you would have supposed from the difference of their birth. Marie had a quiet and genteel nature and looked every bit the lady in the church pew beside the young master, whom we seldom saw except from a distance, for he never came near the mansion house and any visit by us to the farmhouse could well have cost us our jobs.

It had been autumn when Lady Catherine left the estate and she spent all the following winter in Paris. When spring came we heard news that she was opening her London house with even more than the usual lavish preparations. It proved to be exceptionally good season for her ladyship as during its course she married one of her daughters to a baronet, and the other to a right honourable gentleman. But the newspapers had scarcely announced his sisters’ wedding breakfasts and honeymoon arrangements when Arthur was seized by a sudden illness. He had been fishing at a mountain-lake and had been drenched to the skin in the rain brought by a sudden thunderstorm. In his hurry to get home, Arthur overexerted himself and caught pleurisy. Over the following days, his condition worsened and many of the locals visited the farmhouse to ask about him, but within the week Marie was left a young widow. 

Toll Gate

Meanwhile, at the close of the London season Lady Catherine had returned to Paris, while one of her married daughters was in Italy, and the other in Switzerland, leaving only some cousins of their father in England. As a result, Arthur was laid to rest in the family vault below the Parish Church before news of his untimely death reached them all. Lady Catherine returned to the mansion in deep mourning, but still very angry at her son for marrying beneath himself. She had been heard to say that it was better that her son was dead than disgraced by his marriage, and that the estate was now safe from being shared by peasants. On no occasion did she visit or even recognise her daughter-in-law, whose heart had been broken by her loss, for she had thought more of Arthur as a man than of his rank and property. 

Lady Catherine did not seem to enjoy staying at the mansion and stayed only to arrange things with the estate manager and then went back to London. But before she left there were reports that Marie’s deep mourning had led her into illness and that she was now very sick. The poor girl’s health continued to decline rapidly despite every effort made by her parents, the doctors, and the prayers of the local people. Marie died just a few days before Christmas, and many said she had simply wanted to die so she could rest by her husband’s side. The poor girl’s relations said that her last words had been this desire to be with Arthur, and they believed that she was entitled to a place in the family vault. Quietly, the local population, relations and friends laid the poor girl to rest beside her husband, and no one on the state cared to interfere. But, the estate manager felt it was his responsibility to inform Lady Catherine about events and, in response, her ladyship arrived on the estate one dark, wintry morning. Without stopping to change out of her travelling clothes she immediately sent for four strong labourers, whom she took to the church with her. There, her ladyship declared that her family’s burial vault was never intended to contain a peasant’s daughter and made the men take out Marie’s coffin, which was then taken to her parent’s door and left there. The poor old couple never recovered from that sight and, in her bitterness, the mother told everyone that the woman who had disturbed the remains of her poor dead child would never lie at peace in her own grave.

The news of her ladyship’s actions caused a great stir throughout the parish and popular feeling turned againsy her ladyship for the first time in her life. There was a great gathering of Marie’s close and distant relatives, and local parishioners, that attended the second funeral that saw Marie’s body laid among her humble predecessors in the church-yard. It was not very far away from the estate gates and I stood there and watched the crowd of people scatter in the frost of that wintry morning. Many of these sad and angry people looked in the direction of the mansion with hatred in their eyes, but my attention was drawn to an old man and two boys, who stood quietly gazing on the place. The man was seventy years old, while the boys were little more than children. I noticed, however, that all three had the same gaunt, yet powerful frames, dark-red hair, which in the old man was sprinkled with grey. All had swarthy complexions and on their faces were fierce, hard expressions. Later, I learned that these were the father and his two youngest sons, all of whom were cousins of the family and had travelled from the western mountains of Ireland. There were three older brothers, but they were married and settled, raising sheep, and the old man intended for his youngest sons to enter the learned professions.

Lady Catherine’s two married daughters were now co-heirs to the estate, but they never visited the place again while I was there. As for Lady Catherine, she would come regularly from London, but stayed no longer than she had to and her maid let it be known that she did not sleep well during her stay there. And in this way the years passed by and I rose in the service when, on one of her visits, ladyship decided that I would be an excellent choice for a footman. It was a position that she wanted filled and she sent to her house in London to be trained in my duties. In London I saw many great things, and Lady Catherine kept the best and most fashionable company in the city, and she was never at home an evening that the house was not full. There was money to be made in that place and plenty of whatever you wanted, but I did not like the place at all. I had saved a bit of money and one her ladyship’s sons-in-law helped by obtaining a place for me at the toll-house. Sure, you remember me there, Master James, and the great times that we had on Saturday afternoons.

You might remember the great number of people who came and went by the toll-house. When I had nothing better to do I would observe them and would come to know them. But among all those who passed by there were two young men who always walked arm-in-arm, and seemed to be brothers. After a while I began to think that I had seen their strong, hardy faces before, and it gradually came to me that they were none other than the old man’s two sons who had attended Marie’s last funeral. They were grown now and were studying for the medical profession at a college in the city. I remember thinking that their father appeared to be keeping them on a short allowance, for they were dressed in rough clothes and constantly munched on oatcakes, but I learned from others that they were attentive students and particularly clever in the anatomy class. Then, one dreary morning near Christmas, I found myself dreaming about Lady Catherine and her family all night, the great house in London, the joy of the gatherings she hosted, all mingling with the sad tale of Marie and Arthur. Later, I read the morning newspaper and discovered, to my utter astonishment, that her ladyship had died from a sudden apoplectic at the card-table and that her remains had been taken to the family vault in Meath. There was a lesson for me in this news, concerning the uncertainty of all our lives. But the continual passage of people through the toll, the gathering of the tolls, and your schoolmates soon put such thoughts out of my mind.

 Turnpike and Toll

Some weeks later, on a dark and foggy day, when there was little traffic through the toll I went to bed early. Then, between midnight and one, I was suddenly awakened by loud knocking and voices from the toll-house. The night was calm, with a mass of cloud covering the sky, which was broken up at times by a moaning west wind and revealed bright bursts of moonlight. I threw on my coat, lit a lantern and hurried outside where there was a large cart with three people on it, and an impatient horse pulling it. There was a delay in them getting out the money for the toll and I noticed that the two men sitting on each side were the two brothers studying medicine. Between them sat a woman dressed in a dingy cloak and bonnet, with a thick black veil. the woman did not speak or move, while the brothers prepared and paid the toll. I recall informing them that I had no change and they simply said, “We’ll call in the morning.” As soon as these words were spoken the horse gave a bound and the coins flew out of his hands and both brothers looked down to where they had dropped. All the while I watched their companion, and a short gust of wind blew back the veil and her face was shown clearly in the moonlight. It was the dead face of Lady Catherine. I only got a quick glance before the veil fell over it again. “Get those coins yourself and keep them all,” one of the men shouted as I opened the toll bar without saying a word. From that day until this I have never spoken to anyone about what I had seen. After that night the idea of the toll-bar did no longer appealed to me. The sound of wheels in the darkness held a fear for me, and I could never see a cart pass without a cold shiver running down my spine. I had to give the job up and I returned again to my old trade of gardening. The plants and flowers hold no fear for me, and I am at peace. But there’s the boss, and dinner will be ready by this time.”

  Paddy was right. Dinner was ready and a happy group had been gathered to enjoy it. I never saw my old friend after dinner, and I later heard he had emigrated to Canada the following spring, bringing his secret with him. After all these years, however, I don’t think that I will be breaching his trust by repeating his strange story.

The Death of Detective Sergeant John Barton

“the very scum that kept us in British bondage.”

If he had died today, and in the line of duty, Detective Sergeant John Barton of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) would probably be declared a national hero. At the time, ‘The Irish Times’ editorial for 1 December 1919 did proclaim him to be “one of the bravest, most vigilant, and most intelligent defenders of the city’s peace”. ‘The Irish Independent’, likewise stated that “Sergeant Barton seemed possessed of an instinct for tracking down criminals and his name alone was sufficient to inspire terror in the hearts of evil doers”.

Michael Collins

Barton’s name, however, was not enough to stop the IRA’s Director of Intelligence, Michael Collins, from having him killed, and he assigned three separate groups of Volunteers to carry out the task. On 29 November 1919, all three of these groups converged on the Detective Sergeant when he was only yards from reaching the safety of the new Central Police Station on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street). He was shot at such close range, in fact, that there were scorch-marks on his clothes. The fatal shot, it appears, was fired from the gun of Seán Treacy, who had led the Soloheadbeg ambush upon a ‘Royal Irish Constabulary’ patrol, in which Constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell were killed. This incident was the spark that set off Ireland’s ‘War of Independence’ the previous January. During the incident, however, Barton managed to draw his revolver and fire one round before he exclaimed, “Oh God, what did I do to deserve this?” and having spoken these last words he collapsed on the ground. As a Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance crew took him to Mercer’s Hospital, Barton weakly said, “They have done for me. God forgive me. What did I do?”

In order to answer his question, we should look at his life and career up to that point. John Barton was born into a Kerry farming family. When he reached the required age limit, John joined the ‘Dublin Metropolitan Police’ in February 1903 and standing at six feet four and a quarter inches he exceeded the minimum criteria of the force. He was a man with an impressive physique, although his posture was somewhat spoiled by a slight stoop. Not unsurprisingly, Barton became one of the best-known members of ‘B Division’, which was based in the south-east quarter of Dublin’s inner city. He didn’t transfer to the detective department (G Division) of the DMP until 10 October 1919, which was less than seven weeks before he was killed. At the time of his death, he was the fourth DMP member, and third ‘G’ Division detective, to be killed in the War of Independence.

John Barton was a man to be feared by those in the ranks of the Irish movement, as well as those revolutionaries within Republican circles. One member of the Irish Citizen Army, who knew Barton well, accused him of being willing to do more than his duty. During the ‘1913 Lockout’ Barton personally arrested over forty people, and after the Christmas Day confrontation on the City Quay, which saw DMP Sergeant James Kiernan thrown into the River Liffey,  he assisted in the arrest of a dozen workers who were allegedly involved in the incident. Patrick Higgins, a member of the ‘Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union’ (ITGWU) was personally tracked down by Barton and was subsequently sentenced to ten years imprisonment for his role in the ‘City Quay Affair’. Naturally, such actions did not make him popular among the ordinary people of Dublin, and his infamy spread after he had arrested a group of children for stealing chocolate. One twelve-year-old boy was sentenced to five years detention, while an eleven-year-old boy was sentenced to a month. A boy aged thirteen, and one aged eleven, were each given £5 bail and eighteen months’ probation.

In 1916, during the ‘Easter Rising’ in Dublin and the subsequent actions against the rebels, Barton became notorious and his infamy spread throughout the city. When the  Rising began Barton ignored all orders to remain in barracks and, undeterred by the fatal shootings of three policemen and the wounding of several others, he took to the streets of the city arresting rebels and looters wherever he found them. After the rebels surrendered, Barton went to Richmond Barracks and helped ‘G Division’ detectives to identify the leaders of the Rising. It was almost a voluntary post that Barton appeared to carry out alongside his day to day police duties. Perhaps, the most infamous report that we have of him during this time comes from IRB member Seán Murphy. At a later date, he testified that it was Barton who picked out Seán MacDermott from among the prisoners. Murphy stated that when he picked out MacDermott he said, “Sorry, Seán, but you can’t get away that easy. There will be six for you in the morning, I think”. This was, of course, a reference to the six soldiers who would make up the firing squad that would execute him.

There were other detectives who took part in the identification process that day, but it was Daniel Hoey and John Barton who left the most lasting impression on witnesses. They were remembered specifically for their cynical way that they walked down the line of prisoners with a sneer on their faces’. When identifying an important figure Barton would use his walking stick to point them out to the military authorities, while Hoey used an umbrella. His cruelty toward the republican prisoners and their families appeared to have no bounds. Barton is remembered particularly for the way he spoke to Joseph Connolly and told him that his brother Sean had been killed in the ‘Rising’. When Joseph expressed his pride in his brother’s sacrifice by saying, “He died for his country”; Barton answered that Sean was a disgrace to his country. It is also reported that he would badger particularly vulnerable prisoners to such an extent that they would attempt or commit suicide.

His work with the detective division after the rising did not, however, distract Constable Barton, (Constable 37B in the DMP) from his everyday police duties. During the ‘Rising’ most of the looting occurred north of the River Liffey, while most of those arrested for the crime resided south of the river. It is amazing to note that of the 425 people convicted of looting during Easter week, 296 of these were arrested by Barton. It is important at this time to point out that Barton had arrested the majority of the women who were subsequently sentenced by the police magistrates’ courts for looting offences.

On 18 June, the first public demonstration in support of the rebels took place in Dublin. It began when a group of 400 ‘girls’ carrying a ‘republican flag’ gathered outside Christ Church Cathedral following requiem Masses for the executed Tom Clarke and Eamonn Ceannt. The demonstration by the girls rapidly gathered a crowd of 2,000 people as they marched down Dame Street towards O’Connell Street. On the way, they booed the British sentries outside Dublin Castle and the Bank of Ireland in College Green, and then they came up against the DMP lined up outside the Ballast Office. The police had been ordered to prevent the demonstration from crossing the river and conflict erupted when the police tried to seize the ‘republican flag’. To combat the police batons the crowd used anything that came to hand, including tram destination boards, and the two policemen who were most badly injured in the fighting were Constables Barton and Henry Kells.  Constable Kells would soon be acting as another voluntary detective in the hope that he would be promoted to ‘G Division’ but, unlike Barton, he did not achieve his ambition. Unfortunately for him, he was also shot dead by Republicans on 24 April 1920, while working in plain clothes. Unlike Barton, his last words were not recorded.

Seven young men and three women were arrested after the confrontation and charged with offences against ‘Defence of the Realm Act2”. The chief police magistrate, however, decided to deal with the cases under the ‘Public Order Acts’ rather than employ the more drastic penalties contained in the ‘Defence of the Realm Act’. Nevertheless, none of those charged was prepared to apologise for their behaviour,  and at least two of the defendants, sixteen-year-old Denis Fitzpatrick and 22-year-old Christina Caffrey, had taken part in the Rising but had evaded arrest. But, the fact that Fitzpatrick and Caffrey were apparently ‘unknown to the police’ demonstrates the totally inadequate state of the police intelligence department and suggests that the ‘G Division’ was not as knowledgeable as it was supposed to be. The truth is that there were only a few members of the division involved in the detection of political crime as opposed to the number assigned to ordinary crime.

Barton’s work and devotion to duty during 1916 were recognised on 2 February 1917 when he was awarded the King’s Police Medal (KPM). This was the highest award a police officer could be given, and the newspapers of the day recognised it by describing Barton as being- “… instrumental in the detection and apprehension of a very large number of criminals. During the first night of the rebellion he arrested at great personal risk twenty-seven persons who were looting in the vicinity of O’Connell Bridge, which was dominated by rebel fire, and on the same night, with the assistance of another officer, he arrested two armed men who were carrying a large quantity of ammunition.”

On the same day he was awarded the KPM Barton was also promoted to sergeant, and on 10 October 1919 he was transferred to ‘G Division’. He was consistently dedicated to carrying out his duty to the full at a time when many policemen in Dublin were doing everything they could to avoid working on the city’s increasingly hostile streets. It was a time when some ‘G Division’ detectives, such as Eamon Broy and David Neligan, became double agents for Michael Collins’ organisation, and they were joined by members of the uniform branch such as Joe Kavanagh and Maurice Aherne. It is true that much of the information that led to the assassination of ‘G Division members’ came from their fellow officers. Barton, however, was a loyal member of the force and received a bar to his KPM in 1918, in recognition of his continuing excellent work, including the dramatic arrest of an armed Boer officer for desertion in 1917.

Being the only member of the DMP to receive two KPMs, Barton’s enemies quickly grew in number. Even defence lawyers had no time for Barton, who was always parading around like a peacock. One person who knew him particularly well was Charlie Dalton, a recruit to Michael Collins’ intelligence operation, where he had a somewhat chequered career of his own. Of Barton, Dalton said, “…  he was held in the highest esteem by the publicans, pawnbrokers and other commercial men, due to the fact that he had established a unique method in the tracing of petty larceny and illegal pawning of stolen goods. In carrying out his routine police duties, he had many news vendors and minor thieves of the pick-pocket variety in his power, and he utilised this type of informer for checking on the movements of prominent wanted volunteers.”

Frank Henderson, who was a 1916 veteran and commandant of the 2nd Battalion in Dublin, described Barton as “an efficient criminal detective … who had only undertaken ‘political work’ after the Republican Government had begun to exact the death penalty on enemy intelligence personnel? Barton was warned when he commenced his spying but did not heed the notices sent to him.” Why would Barton choose to ignore Republican warnings when so many assassinations were being carried out, and blindly pursue a method of policing that would mean almost certain death? Perhaps, it was simply that he was a single man without obligations, and had no obvious interests outside the job. Whatever the reason, we know that he was single-minded in his pursuit of the enemy, and completely oblivious to the rapidly changing political climate in Ireland.

To some who remembered him in later years, Barton was simply, “the very scum that kept us in British bondage.” Although in some circles, he was seen as a hero, the decision to kill Barton was inevitable. The countdown began when he led a raid on the home of a young volunteer called Vinnie Byrne. Later, when asked by the head of Collins’ newly organised murder group, ‘The Squad’, if he would shoot a man, the young volunteer replied, “It’s according to who it is.” When he was told that the target would be John Barton, Byrne immediately replied that he would have no objection. Later that day, after finishing work, Byrne joined with others and cornered Barton on College Street at 6pm. During the ambush, however, Barton fired off one round from his own gun before he exclaimed, “Oh God, what did I do to deserve this?” and collapsed to the ground, where he was left for dead by his attackers.

Acknowlegement for assistance in this article should be given to Padraig Yeates, the author of A city in civil war: Dublin 1921–4 (Gill & Macmillan, 2015). First published in History Ireland 5th September 2016.

Bessie Kane’s Trial

Was Justice Served?

Some 250 years ago, Dublin was divided by a case that was being conducted in the criminal courts. From the highest to the lowest strata of society in that city appeared to be divided into two warring factions on this case. It was almost impossible to speak in the home, or on the street, about this case without causing a quarrel because it was viewed as an elaborate means of illustrating the justice of the English administration in a troublesome country.

This case centred on a dispute between an old gipsy woman and a young servant girl. The question at issue was whether the gipsy had robbed and forcibly imprisoned Bessie Kane, or had Bessie Kane falsely accused the gipsy of being guilty for these things. It was, however, the force of incidental circumstances that caused the case to become so important to the populace, the jurists and the administration. In fact, the case became a question on the efficiency of Britain’s judicial institutions in Ireland, and how able they were to protect and provide justice to the innocent. Unsurprisingly, there were to be many inquiries and trials associated with the case, but I have space only to outline the most prominent highlights of these.

Bessie Kane was an unexceptional young woman who was almost nineteen years of age, and she had been employed in the house of a wealthy man, Edward Laing, living in Cohannon. On New Year’s Day she had been given permission to visit the home of her uncle in Lismore, but she failed to return to the Laing household at the time specified. Concerned about her whereabouts, Mr Laing’s family asked Bessie’s mother if she had seen her daughter, but she had not made called on her or any of her other relations after visiting her uncle.

The days passed into weeks as inquiries continued to prove unfruitful and Bessie’s mother suffered torment every hour that her daughter was missing. The newspapers were made aware of the mystery surrounding Bessie’s disappearance and the affair was soon the talk of every town. Much to everyone’s surprise, at the end of January, Bessie entered her mother’s house in terrible condition, being both emaciated and exhausted, and she had hardly a stitch of clothing on her back, leaving her almost naked. She was, of course, asked so many questions that they put her head in a spin and she found it difficult to give a coherent report of what had happened to her. But, Bessie gathered her senses sufficiently to give her listeners the story behind her disappearance.

Bessie told her audience that she had set out on her visit to her uncle at eleven o’clock in the morning, and that she had stayed with him until nine o’clock in the evening. She said that her uncle and aunt accompanied her as far as the edge of Lismore. From there she set off alone along the narrow country roads and passed by  the rear of the Hospital, at which point she was seized by two very strong, well-built men.

“They didn’t speak a word to me, at first,” Bessie told them, “but stole half a guinea from a little purse in my pocket, and three shillings in loose change. Then they stripped me of my dress, apron, and hat, folding them up, and putting them into a greatcoat pocket. When I screamed out, the man who took my dress put a handkerchief or something into my mouth.”

Bessie then described how the men tied her hands behind her, swore at her lewdly, and dragged her along with them. She said that she fainted, but when she recovered she found herself to be still their captive. They shouted at her, swearing terrible things, and demanded that she move on quickly. But, because she was still in shock, Bessie was carried or dragged for a considerable distance. She could not which, however. It was daylight the next morning, she told them all, when she was finally at her journey’s end.

Of the place she finally ended up, Bessie could only recall that it was a disreputable-looking house, where she was met by a woman, who told her that if she would accompany her, she would be given fresh clothes. When Bessie refused, she said the woman grabbed a knife from a dresser, which she used to cut open her stays, and removed them. She then went on to describe how the woman and the other people in the house hustled her upstairs into a wretched-looking attic and locked the door. In that space she found only a miserable straw-bed, a large black pitcher nearly full of water, and a loaf of bread that had been cut into twenty-four pieces. Bessie continued to describe how she remained in that attic space for four weeks, eating so much of the bread and drinking a little water every day, until both were exhausted. She then told them how she made her escape, by removing a board which was nailed across a window. “First,” she said, “I managed to get my head out, and kept a tight hold of the wall, and got my body out. Then, I was able to turn myself around, and jump into a small, narrow alley-way that led to a field not far away. Having no other clothing  than an old bedgown and a handkerchief, that I found in that attic in an old, grimy fire-grate, I managed to travel twelve miles along roads I did not know until I reached my mother’s house. And, as I travelled, I did not dare to call into any place along the way, in case I would fall again into the hands of those horrible people.”

If Bessie’s disappearance had created excitement, her sudden reappearance in the condition she was in, and with such a story to tell, caused uproar. Although not an exceptional woman, Bessie was an attractive-looking girl. When she saw the sympathy that was being showed to her she became excited, and quickly agreed to a theory that had been formed by some of her friends. They suggested that the people who had taken her had wanted to use her in the most awful way, and they would weaken her resolve by forcing her to stay in such poor conditions, but Bessie had courageously and patiently resisted them. This was now the story that was told far and wide, and it was spoken of in every tavern and at every dinner-table, rousing the anger of many of the good citizens.  Being the parents, and having daughters of their own, they feared who might become the next victim of this diabolical crew from which this poor girl had fortunately escaped. As the story spread more and more people rallied around Bessie, ready to avenge the wrongs done to her and punish the perpetrators.

Bessie soon found that she had become one of the most important people in Dublin. She was given many, and considerable funds were raised to assist her to bring the kidnappers to justice. She, of course, was required to help in the investigation by remembering every little incident in her dreadful experience that might just lead investigators to the place where she was held. She believed that it must have been on Henry Street, because she had been able to look out the window and managed to catch of sight of a coach, which she recognised as being one that a former mistress had been accustomed to travelling in. This clue, along with the distance she had travelled, gave investigators an idea that they should concentrate their search in that area of town. During their search they found a dilapidated old lodging-house that was kept by a family named Wallis, who appeared to match persons that Bessie had described to them. Moreover, this house had an attic space in which lay an old straw-bed, and there was a black pitcher found in the house.

Bessie was taken to this house in a coach alongside her mother, with her friends accompanying her on horseback. It was like a triumphal procession through the streets, with many of the crowd rushing into the squalid lodging-house, and the natural astonishment and confusion of those people living in the house was taken to be a sign of their guilt. At first, Bessie seemed to be a little confused and undecided, but this was taken to be a sign of the excitement she was feeling as she recalled the horrors that she had endured. She was told not to worry any more since she was now among her friends, all of whom would support her. Finally, she told them that she was in the house where she had been imprisoned and treated so wretchedly.

There was a gipsy woman in the house and one of the witnesses recognised her as being like ‘Mother Carson’ the sorceress, whose portrait they had seen. She sat, totally calm, bending over the open fire smoking a clay-pipe, and ignoring the hustle and bustle around her. Bessie immediately pointed to her and said that she was the woman who had cut her stays and helped to put her in her prison-room. But, even this direct accusation did not disturb the total indifference that the old woman was showing to what people were saying. However, when the old woman’s daughter stepped up and said to her, “Mother, this young woman says you robbed her,’ she jumped to her feet, turned on the group.

With an ugly and angry face, the old woman said, ‘What do you mean I robbed you? You had better take care what you are saying. If you have once seen my face, you could never mistake it, for God knows he never made another like.’ Then we she spoke about the day Bessie was robbed, she gave a wild laugh, and told them all that she was more than a hundred miles away in Cork. She did not call herself ‘Carson’, but ‘Sullivan’ and her son, George Sullivan, was with her. Although Bessie did not seem to recognise him at first, she finally declared him to be one of ruffians who had attacked her at the rear of the hospital. At last, the people around Bessie were satisfied and imprisoned all the people they found in the house.

The strange, wild facial features of the old gipsy woman appeared to have added some sense of terror to the whole affair and, in the afternoon, when two of Bessie’s friends were discussing the whole matter over a meal in a local Inn the conversation turned to the gipsy. One of the men said, “By God, Mr. Laing, I hope the Almighty has already destroyed the model that he made that face from, for I wouldn’t want him to make another like it.”

It was discovered that Mrs. Wallis, who kept the lodging-house in which Bessie had been held, belonged to a well-known disreputable family, and she admitted to investigators that her husband had been hanged. This admission caused events to speed ahead and Bessie, if she had told lies in her effort to hide the real causes of being absent, suddenly found that the entire incident had taken a much more serious turn than she had intended. Before things went too far and innocent people were hurt Bessie had to make up her mind whether to recant everything or go through with it. Now that she was something of a celebrity and enjoying all the attention she decided on the latter course, certain in her own mind that all Dublin would support her. Alone, Bessie could not have pursued the charges, but the popularity of her cause had given her courage. Then, a young woman named Purity Hill, who lived in Mrs Wallis’s lodging-house, took it into her head that it could be very profitable if she was to partner Bessie Kane and she came forward to give testimony which corroborated the whole story.

On the 21st of February, Mary Sullivan and Susan Wallis were brought to trial for a capital offence, the evidence against them being contained story told by Bessie. When Mrs Sullivan was called on to testify in her own defence, she gave a short and clear account of how she had, from day to day, gone from one distant place to another during the entire time of Bessie’s alleged confinement. Two or three witnesses came forward and, somewhat timidly, corroborated her statement. There were, however, others who would have appeared on her behalf to provide convincing testimony of Mary’s innocence, but were afraid to expose themselves in the intimidating atmosphere that filled the city, where contradiction of their idol’s story was not well received. Indeed, three men who did come forward to dispute Bessie’s story were treated unpleasantly, and money was collected to prosecute them for perjury. Dreading the strength of the popular opinion against them, these men had to incur great expense to prepare their defence. But, before the day of trial some of Kane’s supporters began to feel certain misgivings, and no prosecutor appeared. The counsel for the accused complained that this was totally unfair, especially when they had incurred great expense to defend the charges. The accused men felt that it was vital that the stain of perjury should be removed from their character, and they said that they had witnesses  who would give clear, ample, and convincing testimony which would fully prove their innocence of all charges and the falseness of Bessie Kane’s story.  They believed that without a trial they would not have the triumphant acquittal they wanted but might be suspected of having agreed to some dubious compromise.

Mrs Sullivan was finally convicted of all charges and sentenced to death. But the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who was nominally at the head of the commission for trying Sullivan, believed that she was the victim of lies and public prejudice. He now decided to carry out an in depth and searching investigation, to avoid, if possible, the scandal that might befall British institutions in Ireland carrying out what could be perceived as a judicial murder, although the victim was from the lowest strata of society. Initially, an inquiry was established by the law-officers of the crown, and this resulted in the woman Sullivan receiving a royal pardon. The Lord Mayor, however, having satisfied himself that this poor woman had narrowly escaped death from lies told about her by Bessie Kane, supported by an outbreak of popular zeal, was not happy. The gipsy woman had escaped, but the Lord Mayor thought that an example should be made of the one who falsely charged her. Accordingly, although he was met with much opposition to his efforts, both verbal and written, with controversial pamphlets being published against him as an enemy of Bessie Kane, he was determined to bring this popular idol to justice.

At the end of April, Bessie was brought to trial for committing wilful and corrupt perjury. Over the three weeks of trial the case against Bessie proved to be complete and crushing. With perfect clarity the whole truth about the movements of people involved in the trial was laid open. The absurdity of Bessie Kane’s story was shown to be inconsistent in every little detail with her initial testimony and the facts that had since been discovered. When Bessie had first described the room, in which, she said, she was shut up, it was subsequently was compared with her story and important and serious discrepancies were discovered. She said that she had been unable to see anything that went on in the house from where she was confined. But, in the room in question there was a large hole through the floor for a jack-rope, which gave a full view of the kitchen, where the house inhabitants usually congregated. Bessie also gave a description of every article in the room in which she was held prisoner, had made no mention about a very remarkable chest of drawers that were found in the room she identified as being the same. Any possibility that this piece of furniture had been recently placed there was shown to be impossible because of the damp dust gluing it to the wall, and the host of spiders which ran from their webs when it was removed. Bessie had also said that she escaped her prison by stepping on a penthouse, but there was none against the attic of Mrs Wallis’s house. Furthermore, the windows were high, and she could certainly not have leaped to the ground without causing herself severe injury. She stated in her testimony that not one person had entered the room during the four weeks of her imprisonment there. It was shown, however, that during the same period a lodger had held an animated conversation from one of the windows of the same attic with someone chopping wood outside.

These differences were, however, far from being the most surprising part of the evidence. Not content with showing that Bessie Kane had told lies, the prosecutor took up the laborious task of discovering just where the gipsy woman had been at that time, along with her co-accused son and daughter. Because of the wandering habits of gipsies, evidence into the most minute details had to be collected over a large area of country. But, the precision with which the statements of this group of people, from different ranks of society and quite unknown to each other, as well as to the person they spoke about of fitted each other, is very interesting. The most trifling and unimportant facts told with great precision the true story. The keeper of the lodging-house remembered the woman Sullivan being in her house on a certain day, making certain of it by an entry in an account-book. She also remembered that she had consulted the almanac at the time to ensure that she got the right day. The day of the same woman’s presence in another place was identical with the presence of an Excise surveyor, and the statements of the witnesses were tested by the Excise entry-books. The position of the wanderers was in another instance connected with the posting of a letter, and the post-office clerks bore testimony to the fact, that from the marks on the letter it must have been posted on that day. Bessie Kane had stated that she had been seized on New Year’s Day. The journey of the gipsy family, however, was traced throughout the distant parts of Ireland, covering every day from December until the day they arrived in the lodging-house, which was 24th of January. With their case strengthened with incontestable facts the counsel for the prosecution felt himself in a position to make Bessie’s whole story look ridiculous and show how absurd it was to those in Dublin who had so resolutely believed her.

The prosecutor stated, “Was it not strange that Miss Kane should subsist so long on so small a quantity of bread and water, almost four weeks in all? It is peculiar that she should ration her meagre store so well as to have some of her bread left, according to her first account, until the Wednesday. According to her last statement she said until the Friday before she made her escape, and unbelievably she saved some of her miraculous pitcher of water until the last day. Was the twenty-fourth part of a small loaf a day enough food to satisfy her hunger? If not, why would she not continue eating to satisfy her appetite, so she could ration herself for what appeared to her to be a precarious, uncertain future? Shall we suppose it was some revelation from above that came to her? Perhaps it was an angel from heaven that appeared to this model of virtue, and told her, that if she ate more than one piece of bread a day, her small ration would not last her until the time she was able to make her escape. Her mother, we know, is very enthusiastic when it comes to consulting conjurors and those who interpret dreams. Maybe her daughter dreamed what was to happen, and so she would not eat when she was hungry, nor drink when she was thirsty. This conduct by the prisoner, however, I suggest exceeds all bounds of human probability.”

Despite of her criminality being exposed, Bessie Kane, was not entirely deserted by her supporters. Two of the jury members had difficulty in reconciling themselves to the verdict of guilty and suggested that her story might be substantially correct, though she had, undoubtedly, made a mistake about the persons by whom, she said, had injured her. There were some imperfections in the verdict, and her supporters tried to take advantage of them. But, their objections were overruled, and a verdict of guilty was recorded against Bessie, who immediately pleaded for mercy, saying that she had sinned much less than she had been sinned against. She declared that survival had been her only objective, and that she had no wish to undertake the life of a gipsy.

The court had to seriously consider what punishment they would inflict on her. There were many of the ordinary people who were still convinced that she was not a wicked person, and there were fears that some supporters would make efforts to break into the jail in which she was imprisoned to free her. But, because there was no established transportation system in those days, it was not unusual for some criminals to be sent to plantations in North America or the West Indies, with their consent. In the case of Bessie Kane, therefore, the court acceded to the wish of her relations, that she should be forever banished to North America.

Connolly’s Ghost

A Tale of Old Dublin

Tommy Connolly told friends, “At the end of 1901 I took some time and went across the water to Ireland, where I spent time visiting a close relative who lived in a Square in the north side of Dublin. Several weeks later, in January 1902, my relative’s husband fell seriously ill. Over the next few nights I sat up with him until, at last, as his health appeared to improve, I decided to go to my bed and asked one of the house servants to call me if anything should happen. Tiredness quickly overcame me, and I soon fell asleep, but sometime later I was awakened again by a strong push on my left shoulder. Startled by this, I jumped up in the bed and asked, ‘Is there anything wrong?’ I didn’t get an answer to my question, but only received another push. Annoyed by this behaviour I angrily asked, ‘Can you not speak, and tell me if there is anything wrong!’  But there was still no answer, and I had a feeling that I was just going to get another push. It was then that I suddenly turned around and caught hold of a human hand, which felt plump, warm, and soft to my touch.

“’Who are you?’ I asked, but still I got no reply answer. Then, using every ounce of my strength I tried to pull the person towards me, but it was in vain. And yet, I told the person, ‘I will find out who you are!’ holding the hand tight in my right hand while, with my left, I felt the wrist and arm, enclosed, it appeared to me, in a tight-fitting sleeve of some type of winter material with a linen cuff. But when I got as far as the elbow all trace of an arm appeared to vanish. This shocked me greatly, and in my fright, I released my grip on the hand and, at that moment, I heard the clock strike two.

“If you included the mistress of the house, there were five women in that home, and I am certain that the hand did not belong to any one of them. Then, when I reported the event in the house, the servants exclaimed, ‘Ah, sure, it must have been old Aunt Betty, who lived for many years in that area of the house, and she was already a great age when she died over fifty years ago.’ It was only after learning this that I heard the same room in which I had felt the hand was believed to be haunted, for very curious noises and strange happenings had occurred, including bed clothes being torn off, furniture being thrown, etc. It was said that one lady got a slap in the face from  an invisible hand, and when she lit her lamp, she saw something shadowy fall or jump off the bed. Afterwards, the lady’s brother, an army officer, slept in that same place for two nights, but preferred to seek a room in a hotel in which to sleep for a third night. He left the next morning without stating what he had seen or heard, but only shook his head saying he would never sleep there again. Following this, however, I spent several months in the house, sleeping in that same room, and I was never again disturbed in any way.