|1. Blind Justice 1872
|2. Glennlara Murder, 1879
|3. The American Dream, 1885
|4. Love Thy Father, 1899
|5. The Lodger, 1902
|6. Foster, 1905
|7. Home Is The Hero 1910
|8. Michael Walsh, 1924
|9. Annie Walsh, 1929
|10. The Oldest man in the World, 1932
|11. Lehman, 1945
The small market town of Ballyjamesduff is -- as all the world knows -- situated in the barony of Castlerahan, in the county of Cavan. These days the old town’s location is more apt to be described as being ‘eight miles from Cavan town
and forty four from Dublin.’ (Some
fly-fishing Ballyjamesduffians like to
think that forty four miles is not quite
far enough away from the hustle and
bustle of the Metropolis!)
The town’s Market House (erected
in 1813) is still in tact, and what with
the addition of a modern Museum
erected to its own self-esteem, the
town of Ballyjamesduff has much to
commend it. Any Irish Museum that
is unafraid of exhibiting its Sheelanagigs for all and sundry to see, or
of housing same in a nineteenth century
convent, deserves all the ecumenical
support it receives.
Like all other Irish towns, Ballyjamesuff had its fill both of religious wars and
their aftermath, emigration. But such experiences are not always negative. In the
eighteenth century, for example, John Wesley made his way to the town to preach a
new religion and built a Methodist church for those who were in the mood for religious
change. A century later , Percy French (1854 -- 1920), the song-writer and
drains inspector for the county of Cavan circa 1870s-80s, tried his hand at another
kind of preaching. In his much loved ballad Come Back Paddy Riley To Ballyjamesduff , he tried to convince the plain people of the county that ‘the grass grows
greener’ in Ballyjamesduff than elsewhere. Some people say he had enormous success in this enterprise -- and certainly no less than John Wesley. Apart from being the
town that everyone wants to visit, Ballyjamesduff has in more recent times become
both a place of retreat as well as a thriving commercial hub, a product of the Celtic
Tiger - and a far cry from 1837 description when , according to Samuel Lewis , it
had ’ five streets, containing together 150 houses’. That was when the town’s inhabitants
numbered less than a thousand.
The town developed along an old mail-coach road that ran between Virginia and
Cavan towards the south east of the county -- hence the stage-coach quality of its
broad main street. In 1820 the Virginia/Cavan route changed and so, too, did Ballyjamesduff.
It became something of a quiet backwater. By the 1870s , the town had
expanded somewhat, but not unpleasantly. It had its own police station (Royal Irish
Constabulary) and it held its own petty sessions. It also had large contingents of
Yeomen. But Yeomanry, militiamen and the religious wars aside, part of the town’s
attraction had always been its comparative safety, and had it not been for a spectacular
case of homicide in 1872, Ballyjamesduff would have remained blissfully obscure.
Prior to the murder of Patrick Lynch in 1872, the town rested on its laurels as a
rural retreat, where nothing more noisy than the splash of trout was to be heard.
Eighteen seventy two was a very particular year for Ballyjamesduff. So far as murder
was concerned, it was a mild year within a mild decade. Despite the scandal two
years earlier, when Hugh Fay was tried for choking his lover Mary Lynch of Ballyjamesduff
with a belt (Lynch being a popular name in the vicinity), the town was
generally a murder-free zone. One might object that there had even been an eye witness to this obvious murder , but for fear of reprisals the witness remained silent, and
after several trials, the prosecution-case collapsed utterly. No conviction was secured
and the case hardly merited a mention.
But how murder-free was Ballyjamesduff before 1872?
During the decade between 1861 and 1870, the Irish Bench handed down 40
capital sentences, and twenty of them resulted in an execution. During the following
decade -- that is, between 1871 and 1880 -- 31 capital sentences were handed down
and 15 of them resulted in an execution. But for the decade between 1881 and 1890
the figures doubled, that is, 66 capital sentences were passed and 30 persons were
executed. In other words the annual average number of capital sentences and executions
in the sixties was respectively 4 and 2, in the seventies it was 3 an 1.5, and
throughout the awful eighties, it rose to 6.6 capital sentences and 3 executions per
year. The seventies, therefore, were mild in terms both of murder and execution, and
1872 was particularly mild in that it accounted for a mere 2 executions and zero
commutations. With the exception of 1868 and 1877, when there were no executions
registered, 1872 was the mildest year for at least twenty years, that is, 10 years before
and 10 years after.
In such an overview, therefore, we can appreciate the unusualness of the case of
Patrick "Yankee" Lynch. Rose Lynch, before she married Patrick, owned a bog valued
10/-, and when Lynch came back from American with some dollars in his pocket
, he married Rose. The marriage elevated Patrick to the status of a ‘small-farmer’ and
the couple , with their son, Patrick Jnr., who was only eight years old in ’72, lived in
comfort at Lackamore, a few miles outside Ballyjamesduff. Unfortunately , the bogland
that blessed their marriage and gave ‘Yankee’ Lynch such high prospects,
proved to be a controversial from the start. In abutting the land of the Smith brothers
(and their sister) the ‘ten bob’ bog soon became the source of a quarrel that was
to become fatal.
Prior to his murder on July 3 1872, Patrick Lynch had spent some seven years in
the US. And then more recently - just before the harvest of ‘72 - he revisited the US
for a few months. Rose admitted that ‘the American dollar’ made life easier for herself
and her family. And what if Patrick on occasion drank a little more than was good
for him, he only did so when he came home from the states! In any event , he was a
reliable husband and a good provider.
It was because of his American to-ing-and-fro-ing that Patrick came to be
widely known as the ‘Yankee’ -- an ambiguous if familiar term, which allowed his
neighbors to reserve feelings both of endearment and envy in their everyday thirdparty
references to him.
While he was abroad, things were settled at home. It was only when he came
back to Ireland in the spring of ‘72 that the relationship between himself and their
nearest neighbors, the Smiths, began to unravel. There were in all three Smithbrothers.
Laurence was the blind one, and then there were the married ones, John and
Patrick. There was also Laurence’s sister and his nephew, Bernard. They all lived in
the family farm just a few miles outside of Ballyjamesduff in the direction of the New
Inn – which was quite near where the Lynch-family lived. The friction arose between
Patrick Lynch and Laurence Smith. Laurence was well known around town, not just
because of his blindness but also because of his skills in negotiating the streets of
Ballyjamesduff and the surrounding roads with the aid of a stick and a well-trained
In many ways both Patrick Lynch and Laurence Smith had much in common. If
Lynch had travelled abroad to make his fortune, so, too, had Smith. In his prime,
Laurence Smith (40) had emigrated to Australia to work as a digger on the gold rush
sites , where in an accident he lost his sight. According to one authority,
The goldfields were frontier societies, where an unusual mix of men and women came
together. Across the country, gold-fields became cultural 'melting pots'; over half the Victorian
goldfields' population of 150,000 in 1858 were British immigrants, and 40,000 were Chinese
miners and workers.
In any event , Laurence Smith believed fervently that the bog -- no matter how
Patrick Lynch or his wife’s family had claimed prior title to it -- had always been
Smith-land as of right.
In her statement to the RIC, Rose Lynch recalled how violent things had
become in Ballyjamesduff. She referred to an incident in April, when Patrick struggled
home from town one night. He had been severely beaten and had been left on
the side of the road by his attackers. He became sick from the attack: he wretched on
the side of the road. Worse was to come, for on the afternoon of the July 3 he was
found again on the side of the road. This time he was dead.
According to the medical evidence, Patrick Lynch died from internal bleeding
caused by no less than 18 wounds, 17 of which were described as ‘incised wounds’and 14 of which were fatal. Two of the wounds extended from three-and-a-half to
four inches deep and penetrated the chest cavity. Another seven wounds penetrated
the abdomen, another the liver, another behind the liver. The instrument used was
probably a knife. According to the forensic evidence, the wounds had been inflicted
partly while the deceased was standing, partly when stooped, and partly while he
was in a recumbent position. In whatever posture the deceased assumed, the quick,
repeated stabs and the internal bleeding were the cause of death.
So random were the wounds that one of the great curiosities about the murder
was trying to imagine how it happened. Who would murder so indiscriminately? Who
would strike their prey so repetitively -- and in such a promiscuous manner? Murders,
as with most aggravated personal assaults, most often exhibit an unusual disciplinary
efficiency. Where people tussle for life, they usually try to do maximum
damage with minimum effort -- and as quickly as possible! Between them, there is
an economy of opportunity and energy that is rarely realized. But the splay of wounds
sustained by Patrick Lynch conveyed the opposite impression.
If one can imagine two persons fighting with the explicit intent of killing each
other, one expects the scene to contain a compound of clues describing the will to
conquer in each combatant. One expects the clues to exhibit some aesthetic mix of
anger , repulsion, assault, defense and attack. The exigency as well as the effort to
immobilize and kill are sometimes inscribed on the corpse. Patrick Lynch’s corpse
proved extraordinary – not just in the multiplicity of assaults made, but rather because
each volley made was made anew, as if its predecessor had no effect or geographic
connection either with the volleys preceding or following. In this sense the
stab-wounds appeared to be disconnected, and suggested -- peculiarly -- that they
had been inflicted at random. That so many of the wounds inflicted had been fatal
also suggested a most unusually passionate determination to destroy. It prompted the
notion, indeed, that the murderer was for some time stabbing a dead or a dysfunctional
body! Was the murderer blinded by his passion, or was he simply blind? Or
Several people had seen the actual murder as it unfolded. It happened at circa 3 p.m. in the afternoon on a public road. Some people tried to break up the struggle
-- at which time Lynch purportedly rose from the ground and exclaimed, "See what
you have done?" But he had no sooner said these words than he dropped dead.
The other pecular aspect about the murder was re was that everyone in Ballyjamesduff
knew who did it, whether they witnessed it or not. They even knew before
it happened that it might well occur. The real question was never who killed ‘Yankee‘ Lynch or, indeed, why he was killed. Everyone knew the answers to these questions.
What they didn’t know was ‘How’. How was Patrick Lynch killed? And it was
this aspect rather than any other that caught the public imagination.
How could Laurence Smith, a blind man, who could not get about the town or
the countryside without the aid of a stick and a dog, manage to dole out such physical
pain? How could he catch up with ‘Yankee’ Lynch, hold on to him on the main road,
and stab him 18 times, particularly when he couldn’t see him?
Two juries had already considered this question and on both occasions they failed to
agree. This in fact was Laurence Smith’s third trial. It was widely known -- not just to
the jury, but all over Cavan county -- that on the afternoon of the murder the ‘Yankee’
was seen leaving Ballyjamesduff on the road home. It was early in the afternoon, but
he was in the mood for celebrating -- and that meant he got quite drunk.
A half-hour after his departure from Ballyjamesduff , Laurence Smith also left
Ballyjamesduff. There was compelling evidence to show that the blind man even took
a circuitous route, by way of a bye road, which would more or less show that he was
not anxious to overtake the deceased, but, on the contrary, was trying to avoid him.
Unfortunately, he did overtake Patrick Lynch. And when both men came within some
proximity with each other, when, as everybody believed, ‘skin and hair would be flying’.
But how, precisely, the two men came into what the Judge of trial called this "unwelcome contact" with each other was part of the mystery upon which the jury
had to decide, but could not.
All other questions as to Laurence Smith’s guilt were simple. Once one understood
the antecedents to the murder -- which were both plentiful and public -- one
knew how everybody in Ballyjamesduff came to know so much about the impending
As early as 1868, for example, the neighbors ‘had words’ over their respective
adjoining land-rights. Harsh things were said and Laurence Smith sued the deceased
in Trespass, Slander and Assault. Already, therefore, the tension between the parties
had grown to a considerable extent. Unfortunately, Laurence, who initiated the case,
now lost it. Notwithstanding the sympathies generally accorded to afflicted persons,
particularly one who could nevermore appreciate the splendors of the Cavan countryside
in all its seasonal glory, people conceded that justice might have been better
served any other way than by an all-or-nothing court-decision. The consequences of such logic -- the familial loss of face in the neighborhood, not to mention the financial
loss -- had to be borne privately and stoically. The finality of a court case in a
small community has an enduring communal life-span that nowhere approximates
any kind of calendar existence. The effects of the Smith v Lynch case back in 1872,
like so many other murders that begin with court cases, were tremendous and enduring.
Had Smith won the case, the effect might be the same , but might have inspired
Patrick Lynch to avenge his personal and his family’s name, thereby reversing the order
of the murder. Moreover, in the instant case Laurence Smith and his brothers
could not sustain either the loss of face or the costs of the action.
It was not long before insolvency proceedings followed, and by a further order
of the court made on the 15 September 1869, the Smiths were forced to sell what was
called a `small portion ` of their land to meet the legal costs of Laurence’s failed suit.
The land, which was sold by public auction, fetched the market price of £25. What
added to the blind man’s humiliation was the knowledge that the land had been purchased
by the `Yankee` Lynch.
But having bought the land, Patrick Lynch was now set the sticky problem of
taking possession. The Smiths were too hurt to surrender possession, and the whole
county knew it. It was at this point that Patrick Lynch began Ejectment proceedings.
Once again writs were issued and served on Laurence Smith and his family on June
28, the hearing being due to commence at Cavan Summer Assizes on or about July.
The prisoner and his brothers, John and Patrick, and their families felt compelled to
defend this Ejectment action. It was while waiting for the Ejectment proceedings to
be heard that the ‘Yankee’ Lynch was killed.
In nineteenth century Ireland it was considered morally improper to force a
neighbor out of his farm and home. To do so through the courts was every bit as bad
as a police eviction, and to do it to a blind man and his family was reprehensible.
This, after all, was the age of the agrarian crime. Maamtrasna and the Phoenix Park
murders, two of the many celebrated nineteenth century agrarian murders were only
a decade away. Whether he knew it or not, Patrick Lynch was breaking more than
the first commandment of rural survival, when he set himself the task of evicting the
Smiths. Moreover, whatever public sympathy Patrick Lynch enjoyed before the eviction
proceedings, by the time he got his order to evict there wasn’t a man in the country
who was not on the side of the Lynches. So no one was terribly surprised when
Patrick Lynch`s body was found outside `Barney Smith’s gate`.
News of the murder had no sooner reached the RIC Barracks in Ballyjamesduff
than Sub inspector Ware presented himself and his men at the Smith farmstead ,
where he duly cautioned and arrested all three brothers. It was then that Lawrence
stepped forward and declared:
`It was I who was in contact with Lynch`, he said. `You have no business to
take them. Don’t take them from their families.`
This was as good as a confession. After making some further enquiries the Sub
inspector was sufficiently satisfied to allow the two brothers -- Patrick and John -- to
remain on while taking Laurence into custody. He soon found that Laurence was
ready to defend his actions. ‘I don’t consider myself an assassin’, said Laurence to
the Sub inspector in a rather rhetorically voice. ‘What I did, I did in my own !
defense. I look upon myself as a soldier defending himself’. After a moment’s pause
he continued: ‘Lynch drew the knife first’, and Laurence then demonstrated to the
Sub inspector how he had taken it from the ‘Yankee’ - that is, by carefully drawing
his hand down the Sub inspector’s arm till he reached his hand. He then gave a further
demonstrative wrench, as if dislodging the imaginary knife from his grasp. With
that, Laurence asked for a drink, and someone handed him a mug of water.
‘ It was a curious thing that you knew this man’, pried the Sub inspector.
‘I knew him by his step’ , replied Laurence. ‘When providence takes away one
sense, it strengthens the other senses,‘ said he in a manner that suggested he had been
previously acquainted with such a reply. He was then taken into custody.
The initial curiosity as to how the murder happened, became a great and enduring
focal point for pub-talk in Ballyjamesduff. Most people could not envisage a
blind man gaining such advantages over one who had the gift of sight. This curiosity
in turn gave rise to another question -- as to whether any jury would ever convict a
blind man. Wagers were taken as long as the trials lasted and , as already stated, there
had already been two such trials. One can only imagine the odds on the third trial
around the bars of Ballyjamesduff!
Mr. Law, Solicitor General, prosecuted at the first trial, which resulted in a disagreement
of the Jury. From the outset it was going to be a peculiar trial; for who was
going to give evidence of the event as it occurred, and how – as a matter of fact –
does a blind man manage to catch, overcome and kill another who has the full use ofhis senses? Furthermore, supposing that there was such evidence, how does one
prove that in striking Patrick Lynch he was not lashing out in self-defense? Obviously
the proofs for such a case would have to be remarkably explicit.
And this was evident from the outset. Even in his address to the Jury, the Solicitor
General conceded as much. He conceded that there was a ‘ blank ‘ as to what
precisely took place between the accused and the deceased at the time of their first
meeting . One might possibly be justified in finding a verdict of manslaughter, ‘if
they could reconcile the evidence in that direction, between deceased and the accused
at the time of their first meeting’. The Solicitor General also conceded that no one
could be found to testify to this crucial stage of the prosecution, ‘concerning which
the Crown could offer no evidence’.
The question was not so much that the jury could not agree, but rather why
such a pathetic prosecution case was allowed to run in the first place. If the State has
no evidence against a citizen, then it cannot go on a ‘fishing trip’ in the hope of finding
out something or other by which they may then prosecute the defendant. No
wonder the first case collapsed. The State then had the impertinence to have a second
When Smith was re-arraigned, in reply to the clerk of the Crown, he stated that he
was not prepared for the trial to go ahead as he had no one to defend him and had no
means ‘to fee Counsel’.
Baron Richard Dowse (1824-1890) must have been somewhat surprised at this
development. He was, a Dungannon man, who was not without a blustering titter of
wit. He became a graduate of Trinity College in 1845, he was called to the Irish Bar
in 1852, and he became a Queen’s Counsel in 1863,. He sowed his wild oats, as they
say, on the north-west circuit before marrying and settling down with a lady named
Moore from Clones. He also became an MP for Derry (1864-68) and was respectively
appointed solicitor-general (1870), Attorney General (1872), and thereafter
Baron of the Exchequer. Indeed, he was to live until 1890 when he passed away on
circuit with the Spring Assizes, which he held in Tralee, co. Kerry..
Baron Dowse lived at No. 38 Mountjoy Square until his death, after which
The Times in an obituary notice of March 15th, says:
"Mr. Baron Dowse was a self-made man, who, without social advantages, forced his
way by his own merit to the eminent position which he occupied . . . He gave at all times free
and vivid utterance to his thoughts, without waiting to examine critically the terms in which
he should mould them. These were often quaint and graphic, with a dash of wit and humour,
which, if a little wanting in dignity, .. .gave emphasis and force to an argument or comment."
Laurence Smith could have drawn worse Judges than the baron, who circumvented
the present difficulties without much ado. He stated that in the exercise of his authority he would be obliged to assign
the prisoner Counsel, and he hoped Mr.
Irvine (his previous Counsel) would ‘ undertake
the task of seeing justice done the prisoner’.
Mr. Irvine was now, unfortunately, indisposed.
He said that his engagements in the
Record Court would deprive him of the opportunity
of defending the prisoner. And
while he would be most happy to comply
with his Lordship’s Request, especially in a
case where such responsibility was called
for, he was not disposed to accept the case
on such short notice.
This rather high-minded sentiment regarding
the interests of the Blind man led to what the
local press called a “scene” which precipitated some agitation. The enquiry then
passed over to the Mr Irvine’s Solicitor, Mr Mahaffy and the Bench. By way of explanation,
Mahaffy informed the court that two months earlier he was offered only
two guineas for himself and three guineas for Counsel, an offer which he at once
repudiated, and there and then withdrew from the case. Apparently, when pressed by
Baron Dowse, he then stated that he would not undertake the responsibility of so serious
a case on such short notice. This situation was rather dramatic, especially for
Smith who was still fighting for his life without any legal team. The press reported
the matter as follows:
“After much discussion (which went hard against the legal gentlemen present)
Mr. Irvine consented to take charge of the case (instructed by Mr Sherrie).
Counsel stated that the assignment of an advocate was very short notice in a
case where a man was on his trial for his life, but that he would undertake it in
accordance with his Lordship’s directions.”
The Attorney General, who prosecuted for the first time in the case, presented
the same suggestion to the Jury that was urged on the jury in the first trial – that is, if
they had a doubt in the matter, and if they could reconcile the evidence in ccordance
with that doubt, that they might be satisfied in bringing in a verdict of Manslaughter.
But this tack failed in the first trial and was now repudiated for the second time.
Would the state come again?
The Third Trial
During the third trial the evidence , as one might suspect, became a little more
compelling as well as becoming somewhat better rehearsed. Joseph Lough, the
Dispensary doctor, gave evidence as to the cause of Patrick Lynch’s death. Thomas
Cunningham recalled that Peter Smith met Laurence that day in a `great hurry`. He
even enquired if he (Peter) had seen the ‘Yankee’ pass on the road. Rose Making,
who knew Laurence for a long time, testified that she saw him striking the Yankee
with a stick. It happened right beside her house. " Lynch was stupid drunk." She said.
"I saw the prisoner. He went off on the moment when I shouted. Lynch was taken up and laid
on a cart till he came to. I washed blood off his temple, the prisoner had a stick. I saw him
give Lynch a blow about the head. His head was cut. The day Lynch was killed I saw
prisoner in my own house in the evening. I did not see him coming in. He was sitting there
when I came in. He asked how I was. Lynch was coming up, and the prisoner. In own
house. It was not long till Lynch came up. When I saw Lynch coming up he had a new pipe
with him. I said `I’ll shut the door, here’s Yankee Lynch’.
The prisoner said: ‘ you need not. . If he doesn’t meddle with me I’ll not meddle with
him’. Lynch then passed. I saw him, and I went out and walked a bit of the way with
him to convey him from the door. I came back. The Prisoner was there.
He left my house shortly after. It wasn’t long. My daughter asked me to rest. He said he
had to go home to churn. I heard that he (Lynch) was killed in scarcely an hour after
that. I saw prisoner on the Tuesday evening before the deceased was killed. Mrs Brady
was there. The Prisoner said: Only for you Rose, the law would be little trouble to the
Yankee the day’ "
Thomas Smith, Laurence’s nephew, took the stand and testified that on the day
of the murder he finished school, he tended the cows, and on his way back from the
fields he saw the prisoner standing over the deceased, who was -- at this time -- flat
on the ground. Laurence asked him if there was any blood on his (Laurence’s) stick.
Thomas said there was. Laurence then directed him to `wash it off `.
Bernard Sexton who saw the two of them struggle with each other couldn’t see
the knife in’ Larry’s hand’, nor anything else either. When reminded that in the second
trial he had testified that he saw Laurence beat the Yankee with his fist, he had to
take time to reconsider his evidence.
Baron Dowse concurred both with the verdict and the recommendation to mercy.
When the question of implementing the recommendation arose later, however, he
wrote to the Lord Lieutenant:
Dublin: 13th August 1873
‘... It is to be regretted that the following facts of the case, were not, as I am
informed communicated to your Excellency in the communication of the 7th
inst., and in the hope of affording such information connected with this painful
case as may yet enable your Excellency to see cause for granting a reprieve.
The only circumstances that I can see in the case that render the prisoner a
proper object of mercy are his total or nearly total blindness, and the possibility
that the prisoner and the deceased may have come into collision without prem-
editation on the part of the former. The existence of ill-will on the part of the
prisoner towards the deceased is apparent. This ill-will may have led the
prisoner to have quarreled with or assaulted the deceased and in that quarrel the
knife may have been used without any original intention on the part of the
prisoner to have recourse to so deadly a weapon.
Your Excellency will permit me to add that I am informed it would be almost
without precedent in British Law that a blind man should be hanged no matter
what the conviction against him, and that he should be treated as an imbecile or
lunatic according to the accusations made against him.
The other points of evidence against Laurence Smith included testimony to the
effect that he had bought a knife from John Connolly’s shop before the struggle with
Patrick Lynch. The knife bought was ‘similar’ to the knife found by Constable Phelan
in a bush just 170 yards from the prisoner’s house. Laurence Smith’s trousers was
bloodstained, as was a handkerchief examined by Professor Reynolds. There were
scratches on Laurence Smith’s hand. Furthermore , contrary to the evidence in favour
of Laurence’s defense, Mrs Smith, his sister-in-law confessed that she remembered
the day of the murder -- but that, contrary to Laurence’s evidence, there had been no
churning done in the house that day. Edward McGauran, the 23rd witness confirmed
On August 16 1873 Laurence Smith was hanged in Cavan.
See Criminal Files, National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8: S-18-73