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(By Declan Quaile)


(First published in our Review 2006 journal)

 

Introduction:

   Land and religion in nineteenth century Ireland were the two anchors that tethered the vast majority of its populace. While tenants and labourers throughout the island eked out a living from the soil their only spiritual consolation was the faith administered by a resurgent Catholic church. The parish of Termonfeckin differed little from others in that the majority of people in and around the village either had small plots of land which they cultivated themselves or else they laboured on the big estates at Rath, Newtown, Blackhall and Carstown. Their break from the six days of work was the Sabbath when their local clerics cited scripture on their potential damnation and redemption.

   When this way of life was suddenly disrupted in the early 1830s by the enmity of two neighbouring priests, the mayhem caused by the actions of local Ribbonmen, and a countryside rife with disease, it was evident that these interlinked events would have severe repercussions on the inhabitants of Termonfeckin and its hinterland.


Eugene Mulholland:

   Eugene Mulholland was born in c.1787 at Carrickbroad, just north of Faughart, on the border of counties Louth and Armagh.1  As a young man he was educated in Dundalk, then entered the priesthood, studying at Kilkenny College and in 1815 he was placed as a curate in Ardee parish where his parish priest was Fr. Peter McGuire of Sheetland.2  Little is known about his time in Ardee but not long after he took up the curacy in that parish he would have been aware, no doubt, of the unfolding tragedy at the Wildgoose Lodge in nearby Reaghstown and the subsequent conviction and hanging of those implicated in the murders.


Photograph of Mulholland headstone in Faughart graveyard erected by Eugene Mulholland, PP of Termonfeckin


   Around 1818 he went to Italy to study for a Doctorate in Theology, returning again some eight years later to visit his aged mother at Carrickbroad. While he was home the Archbishop of Armagh Patrick Curtis contacted him with a view to offering him the next available parish if he remained in the diocese. He accepted the offer and in July 1826 he was given a curacy in Dunleer. A short time later, following the death in December 1826 of Fr. Bernard McKevitt in Termonfeckin, Eugene Mulholland was transferred as Administrator to that mensal parish, taking up his duties there in January 1827.

   Early places of residence included Bellevue, Carstown and at a house at Duffsfarm.3 His early pastoral work in Termonfeckin passed off without incident, however in March 1828 he was summoned to appear before Dr. Curtis regarding a dispute over the ‘oats’ collection in Dunleer two years previously. His tenure in Dunleer had been of a temporary nature until his transfer to Termonfeckin while Fr. Patrick Markey had been installed at Dunleer in his place. Evidently Fr. Mulholland felt aggrieved over losing the ‘oats’ collection to Fr. Markey which he, Mulholland, had accumulated whilst a curate there.

   In August 1828 he chaired a meeting in the chapel at Thunderhill where the advocate for Catholic emancipation, ‘Honest’ Jack Lawless was on a series of speaking engagements, before large audiences, promoting the fight for religious equality, whilst denouncing the recent establishment of many Protestant ‘Brunswick Clubs’, including those at Drogheda and Collon. 

   An incident occurred in June 1830 concerning the prospective arrival of a curate, Thomas Corrigan, to the parish. As Termonfeckin was a mensal parish of the diocese twice yearly payments had to be made to Armagh and Fr. Mulholland was called before Dr. Curtis again, this time complaining that he had no finances available to support a curate as well as having to forward remittances to Armagh.

These contentious meetings early in his ecclesiastical ministry, together with consequential reprimands from his superiors, may have instilled in him a sense of grievance which created a circumspect attitude amongst some of his religious peers towards him.

 

Beginning of Agrarian Unrest:

   Following the establishment of agrarian movements of the eighteenth century the early decades of the nineteenth century saw a new outbreak of agrarian agitation with the emergence of the Ribbon Societies. The Ribbonmen were established primarily in the northern part of Ireland in order to offer protection to tenants against eviction by landlords, who wanted to clear their lands for grazing where they would avail of the higher prices for cattle, which prevailed in the years after the Napoleonic Wars. Ribbonism also had a sectarian slant; driven by landlord wealth among the poverty-stricken masses and even stirred by religious pamphlets which were widely circulated at the time, predicting the future overthrow of ‘the (Protestant) Reformation’.

   The 1820s and early 1830s also witnessed the campaigns for Catholic Emancipation and the abolition of the Tithe payments, which a predominately Catholic population was forced to pay for the upkeep of the clergy of the Established Church. A Tithe Applotment census, which was established to calculate the acreage of those obliged to make Tithe payments, caused increasing bitterness in the country and many subsequently refused to pay.4  The non-payment of tithes left many Church of Ireland clergymen in difficult financial circumstances. This forced the Government of the day to set up a Clergy Relief Fund in 1831 to alleviate their financial distress. A consequence of this Act was that the Government had the difficult task of collecting the arrears of tithes in each parish rather than the individual clergymen. Following the Tithe Applotment survey, which was carried out in Termonfeckin in April 1830 and a subsequent period of forced collection, a Tithe meeting was held in Termonfeckin on 19th February 1832 attended by many of the landholders of the area in order to petition Parliament to abolish the Tithes and Church Cess. The meeting, chaired by Henry Chester of Carstown, resolved,  that the exaction of Tithes in our parish has been oppressive and vexatious, being chiefly levied off persons professing the Roman Catholic religion, and we have witnessed with indignation the tyrannical measures resorted to for their recovery.” A further resolution proposed, “…if the lands which are in the possession of the Established Church in this Kingdom were placed at the disposal of his Majesty’s government, a fund could be raised which would amply pay the clergy and rendering the necessity of calling on the landholders for the Tithe and Church Cess, unnecessary.” 5

   The national groundswell of agrarian unrest trickled down swiftly to parishes like Termonfeckin. A letter to the Drogheda Journal at the time illustrates that even some of the ascendancy classes were acutely aware of the impoverishment of many of the populace:

‘…A more deteriorating state of society can scarcely be imagined than that where the produce arising from industry is carried to a foreign country… At all events absentee gentlemen should, in times like the present, return some of those funds which are wrung from the labouring poor to keep them from perishing with cold and hunger…It could not fail to bring down a blessing on the neighbourhood if the wealthy would examine their wardrobes and send to the clergy of every persuasion whatever articles of clothing could be spared to cover the limbs of shivering humanity.’ 6

   Verbal hostility eventually transformed into action, which led to the clandestine meetings being arranged among groups of local men who were part of the growing bands of secret society groups in the county. Some of these secretive groupings from the countryside around the Drogheda area were known as ‘Stickmen’.7

 

Cholera Strikes:

   While the Termonfeckin area was descending into agrarian and religious instability in 1832 an even more menacing affliction fell upon the population during the year. A cholera epidemic, originating in India, and which had spread inexorably across Europe, had ravaged England in 1831. It then swept over to Ireland where, by May 1832, it had reached Drogheda and its hinterland. Though the Government attempted to introduce various measures to alleviate the situation reports from the time suggest an air of despondency and helplessness, as the following extract from a Drogheda newspaper illustrates,8

‘We have a fearful list of deaths to record today; the young and healthy as well as the old and infirm have been cut off after a few hours illness; and persons who are seen walking about the streets in perfect health in the morning are borne to their graves in the evening. There is now no more prospect of the disease ceasing than there was when it made its first appearance ten weeks ago. It assumes a most virulent character, and few recover the attack; when the atmosphere is heavy and the heat oppressive, which has been the case this week; whilst with a clear sky and cool air the complaint is mild and seldom terminates fatally.

Amongst the many victims who have prematurely fallen, few have excited more general regret than Mr. W. Barry of Shop St., who walked into town on Wednesday from Queensborough at half past eleven o’clock, and at eight in the evening his remains were interred in St. Peter’s churchyard.’ 9

   A Board of Health was established in Termonfeckin to help counter the effects of the deadly disease. The Board received £100 from the Central Board of Health in August together with other voluntary donations amounting to over £60. Four local people died as a direct result of cholera in the Termonfeckin area, a small figure when compared to those who suffered in Drogheda town but one which nonetheless caused alarm and anxiety among the inhabitants, most of whom had rudimentary sanitation at best and had little idea of how to ward off the infection in their midst.

One of the most eminent victim’s of the cholera in Drogheda was Fr. Mulholland’s Archbishop, the Revd. Dr. Curtis, who died in July 1832 at the height of the plague.  Mulholland and many of the diocese’s clerics would have attended the funeral ceremonies; all braving the fear of contamination to attend their archbishop's funeral rites. 

 

Confrontation:

   As the summer of 1832 turned to autumn the cholera plague had receded significantly yet hunger and instability were still prevalent in the locality. Land and conacre were hugely expensive and the Stickmen wielded considerable influence over non-payment of tithes and rent rates and proscribed many with land dealings who rejected their wise counsel.

   At some point around this time Rev. Mulholland may have had his first tenuous encounter with the local faction. The meetings may have been innocuous enough as the ranks of the Stickmen would have been filled by farmers, labourers and tradesmen from the locality, many of whom Fr. Mulholland would regard as his parishioners. Though it remains a moot point as to his motives in becoming involved with a group espousing agitation during this increasingly turbulent period it may well have seemed to the tight-knit community that his actions in some way condoned the Stickmen’s activities. Any nebulous dealings with them also went against the principles of the Catholic Church, especially his superiors, who particularly abhorred any evidence of radicalism in their ranks which would upset the political and religious status quo in the country. It is indeed quite possible that his meetings with them may have been an attempt to discourage the Stickmen from escalating punitive actions in south Louth, and indeed he may well have had threats uttered towards him in his endeavours to curtail their activities. But his supposed liaison with them, for whatever reason, created serious long-term consequences, not alone for Eugene Mulholland but for his parish and for the Armagh diocesan hierarchy in the months and years ahead.

 

Tradition of the hoof-marks at Rath:

   Two segments of local tradition, one written one oral, now come into play in the unfolding story of Rev. Mulholland and the ‘Stickmen’. A series of events seemingly instigated by Mulholland’s actions in Termonfeckin, and which have come down to us through word of mouth, supposedly culminated in a confrontation with the local landlord, Wallop Brabazon, at Rath House. The first story, which was told to curate Thomas Gogarty of Termonfeckin in the early 1900s, concerned Rev. Mulholland, who had drawn the attentions of Wallop Brabazon of Rath over his alleged links with local ‘party men’, i.e. Stickmen. It would seem that Mulholland allowed a group of these men to meet secretly in the old chapel at Thunderhill. When reports of these meetings reached Brabazon the local constabulary were called upon in an attempt to tackle the perceived threat. It is told that the area was proscribed and came under curfew, with people not allowed to assemble or gather together under any circumstances - even local burials were delayed because of the security threat posed.10

   Now, if we link this written tradition with the second story, the authorities, with Wallop Brabazon at the forefront, proceeded to the chapel at Thunderhill and confiscated various documents for inspection, one of the manuscripts reportedly being the parish register. This action may have been arranged to try and ascertain the names of potential conspirators alongside other evidence accrued from the chapel records. If the second story follows chronologically from the first then it seems that it was Rev. Mulholland who, hearing of the sacrilege at the chapel, proceeded on his horse from Duffsfarm to Rath House and demanded the immediate return of the confiscated articles. Wallop Brabazon would not entertain him and tradition enhances the story by having the priest’s horse rearing up at the front of Rath House, leaving the indelible mark of its hooves on the entrance steps.11          

   The latter story, still remembered by many and mentioned in conjunction with the former, appear to recount the events, as traditionally related, which were the product of the Rev. Mulholland’s supposed intrigue with the Stickmen in Termonfeckin. However we are not advised of the outcome of the episode at Rath House. But the tone of the second tale implies some form of retribution befell Wallop Brabazon for having the temerity to remove ecclesiastical items from the Catholic Church.12

   In the early 1830s Rath Estate had two Wallop Brabazons - father and son. Wallop senior died in October 1831 aged sixty-one, therefore his date of death suggests he was not around to be involved in the incidents just mentioned. His eldest son William had, by 1831, departed Rath for Syddan (west of Ardee in Co. Meath where he had been installed as Rector of that parish in 1829), thus leaving Wallop junior to succeed to the administration of the Brabazon estate. The younger Wallop was born on 2nd February 1813 at Rath and would therefore have been eighteen years old when his father died. As the eldest residing son at Rath he would have had tutoring arranged by his family on the mechanics of running an estate.

   Though we can only speculate on these stories handed down to us they do appear to contain more than a hint of validity in the tale they tell. So, it is possible that, in the midst of the volatile situation which had been looming in the parish at the time Rev. Mulholland’s ‘Stickmen’ associations and confrontation at Rath House, there was indeed a small part of the tapestry of those historical events retained and passed on in the folk memory of the people of Termonfeckin.      

 

Intimidation and Enforcement:

   Several incidents occurred locally in 1832 to suggest a struggle for power was underway between the Stickmen and the forces of law and order. In the middle of the year the two magistrates for the area George Donagh and Henry Chester, both from Carstown, had resigned their positions for reasons now unknown. Their departure left a vacuum in the management of local policing and may have encouraged the Stickmen to step in and take matters in hand by administering their own form of justice.

   On foot of the alarming rise in disturbances a meeting of the gentry was convened, at very short notice, on Sunday 30th September 1832 in the parlour of Widow Spring’s public house in Termonfeckin.13  Chaired by Charles F. Brabazon of Ballydonnell the gathering reflected the concerns held by the gentlemen of the area on the recent resignation of Henry Chester and Francis Donagh as magistrates, thus leaving the area, in their opinion, prone to acts of lawlessness.14  The meeting resolved that Patrick Bellew of Barmeath, the sitting Lord Lieutenant for Co. Louth, would be approached the following day by Wallop, Philip and Charles Brabazon and Nicholas and James Markey, regarding the resignations of Donagh and Chester.

   Meanwhile the Stickmen continued to flex their new found authority in the area and numerous incidents occurred from harvest time 1832 until Easter 1833 which caused great concern to many in the community. A Mrs. Tierney fell foul of them when land she had taken in Newtownstalaban (in the parish of Tullyallen) caused friction with a neighbour, who presumably went with their complaint to a secret society member. The resulting damage caused by the Stickmen to assets Mrs. Tierney had on her property amounted to £300. Another incident occurred when a farmer named Hugh Clarke, who paid his labourers a rate not sanctioned by the Stickmen, had his field of rape left uncut - the Stickmen not allowing his workers to harvest the crop.15  

   On Monday 29th October 1832 two farmers called McGourk from Newtown Cross (again in Tullyallen parish), who had land in Termonfeckin parish, were attacked on the Cord Road in Drogheda and badly beaten by several assailants. They had previously been warned by persons unknown to dismiss one of their employees or suffer the consequences.16

   Events came to a head on Saturday night the 12th January 1833 when a party of Stickmen descended on Termonfeckin village, breaking windows and causing panic amongst the inhabitants,17 while on the following evening a group of nearly one thousand men congregated on Tullyesker Hill, many having come from the Sandpit and Termonfeckin direction. They threatened to torch the village of Clogher if the fishermen there refused to abide by their pronouncements.

   Another incident occurred in early 1833 when tenants on Major Tandy’s estate in Canonstown were threatened with loss of their holdings and ordered to return them to local families who had vacated them, some forty-eight years previously, in 1785. Tandy, on hearing of the threats, issued an ultimatum that all those in tenancy agreements on his lands would be evicted unless the intimidation ceased.18

   During the continuing controversy of non-payment of tithes and general agitation the local authorities, having been vested with the power to forcibly collect payments from those who were in arrears, proceeded to enforce the collection of tithes.19  An example of this newly established policy was carried out on Tuesday 4th June 1833 when ‘…a party of the 99th Depot, accompanied by C. Plunkett Esq., stipendiary magistrate for the county of Louth, proceeded hence to the parish of Beaulieu for the purpose of enforcing tithes due to the Rev. E. Groom. They succeeded in seizing several head of cattle, carts &c., many of the owners of which immediately discharged the demand, and others have since followed the example and released their property.’ 20

        

Eugene Mulholland and Thomas Traynor:

   As malicious incidents continued unchecked and the authorities seemingly powerless to influence the situation Fr. Mulholland’s perceived approval of Stickmen activities began to be noted by some of his clerical peers. Rev. Thomas Traynor, parish priest of Tullyallen, was one such local cleric who voiced his concerns over events that were unfolding in the Termonfeckin area.21  At the time Tullyallen parish administered an area east of Drogheda around Newtownstalaban and Rev. Traynor would have said mass regularly at Newtown chapel, just south of Newtown Cross and adjacent to Termonfeckin parish. It was in this neighbourhood that many of the agrarian disturbances were occurring.   

   The two clerics, Mulholland and Traynor, had already established a tense relationship with verbal confrontations between them not uncommon, some going back to when Fr. Mulholland was first installed as Administrator of Termonfeckin in 1827. A newspaper report of the time elaborated. ‘A conversation occurred at Ballymackenny, at the house of the Rev. Mr. Toris,22 which was the origin of the …ill-will. Mr. Traynor said to Mr. Mulholland; “Although you were educated at Rome, you cannot say you are a parish priest as I am.” This alluded to the fact of his (Mulholland) not being an ordinary parish priest but merely in possession of a mensal parish and Mr. Traynor plumed himself on being an actual parish priest. On that (Fr. Mulholland) replied - “Our former professor at Dundalk, Rev. Mr. O’Hagan, used to say that nature destined you, Mr. Traynor, for a ploughman, not for a clergyman.”23

Other episodes in a similar vein followed. John Murphy, a gardener with the Leland family from Drogheda, was in a house owned by the McGourk family, along with Fr. Traynor, who proceeded to ask him where he was from; “I said I belonged to Termunfecan and he said, “You are a Stickman and so is your parish priest.”’  It was also reported that Rev. Traynor had stated that Mulholland was ‘the head and front of the Stickmen’ in Termonfeckin.

   Though his personal enmity with his clerical neighbour was unrelenting Rev. Traynor believed from the reports filtering through to him that Eugene Mulholland was in some way inciting secret society men in Termonfeckin to provoke trouble in  Traynor’s parish, causing him to further vent his spleen over the situation. Whether Traynor felt the ongoing parochial tensions was a window of opportunity to exact retribution on a man he habitually disliked is unclear but certainly his vitriolic outbursts appeared to compound the volatile situation as far as Mulholland was concerned. It was also apparent that their feud was becoming something of a vicious circle. The more Traynor publicly slandered Eugene Mulholland the more Mulholland had grounds for turning a blind eye on Stickmen activities. As the utterances from Traynor escalated Mulholland felt he had no alternative but to vehemently defend himself from the slanderous remarks against his character. 

 

Internal Evidence:

   Meanwhile the newly appointed Archbishop, Thomas Kelly, looked on from his residence in Drogheda, aghast at the clerical infighting in his diocese. On hearing of the various incidents emanating from Termonfeckin  he visited the area in 1832 and reported it to be in a ‘disorderly state’, while in the parish itself Fr. Mulholland’s clerical administration (or lack of) was causing concern among his own parishioners, particularly with his curate Rev. Thomas Corrigan.24  In 1833 complaints were forwarded to Archbishop Kelly from Termonfeckin about ‘some pecuniary exactions’, which pointed to Mulholland.25  A written statement was also prepared by Rev. Corrigan and four other parishioners in front of a magistrate testifying to Mulholland’s neglect of his priestly duties. The statement, which was later submitted to Rome, declared that the Administrator of the parish was negligent in the attendance of some of his flock who were sick and who subsequently died without the Sacraments. They also gave evidence of excessive fees being demanded at weddings and at a funeral that Mulholland had presided over and that it was through his mis-management that law and order had broken down in the parish. These were serious charges indeed and they suggest that Eugene Mulholland was no longer acceptable to many of his parishioners.

 

Intervention:

   As the year progressed and the allegations weighed ever more heavily against his Administrator in Termonfeckin, Archbishop Kelly began to assume, based on the mounting evidence, that his Administrator was suffering from some kind of mental instability and was facing up to the prospect of having him removed from his duties in the parish. However in May 1833, despite his gut feelings and in a final attempt at salvaging something from the deadlock, the Archbishop appointed his Vicar-General, Very Rev. Andrew Rogers of Dysart parish, to try and resolve the situation. Rogers initially requested Rev. Mulholland to submit his complaints in writing to him.
The following is an extract from Mulholland's letter:
'...as you have been deputed by his Grace, Dr. Kelly, to investigate the nature of the serious charges alleged against, and attributed, to the reverend gentleman in question, I beg to state them summarily:
Firstly, the Rev. Mr. Traynor, from his own concessions, last year, at conference, in your and the Rev. Mr. Magee's presence, acknowledged that he 'encouraged' and 'incited' certain persons who held lands and houses in the parish which I serve, not to pay me dues.
Secondly, the same reverend gentleman, in conversation, declared to a respectable layman, that I was on the 'back of the book' with our late primate of worthy memory, Dr. Curtis, as to the distribution of parishes.
Thirdly, that he (Mr. Traynor), publicly asserted at a wedding, that the root of his tongue was parched and dried in speaking against the existing disturbances of the times, and that I did not at all check them...'  
Having received the letter he forwarded it to Rev. Traynor, calling for a written explanation. However Traynor made no reply to the correspondence and so the impasse continued. At the next clerical conference in Dunleer, at which the Archbishop and both parties attended, Mulholland complained to Archbishop Kelly on the lack of progress the Rev. Rogers was making in the investigation. At this meeting he made veiled threats about taking the matter further if he couldn’t get at least a verbal apology. But Rogers advised that he could proceed no further until he got an answer from Traynor.

   In what turned out to be the final attempt at reconciliation a clerical meeting was arranged for Widow Spring’s public house in Termonfeckin in July 1833. Both aggrieved parties attended and the meeting began positively. Traynor was counselled to submit a written apology to Mulholland, who was prepared to accept it but Traynor refused to comply and threw the assembled clergy into consternation by unexpectedly casting further dispersions on Mulholland, saying, ‘Will you or can you deny that you excited the people from your altars against McGourk, against Hugh Clarke, and spoke publicly and privately against Mrs. Tierney? If you do I will prove these things.’ 26

   Judging by this inflammable outburst it was now evident what Traynor was far removed from any form of reconciliation. Eugene Mulholland withdrew hastily from the gathering to consider his options.

 

Legal Proceedings:

   Archbishop Kelly was now in a quandary over the whole affair. On the one hand he was aware of the unruly state in which Termonfeckin parish had degenerated, which evidently lay with the intrigues of Eugene Mulholland. Yet the matter was further complicated by the not unrelated issue of the animosity between the priests of the two neighbouring parishes, which required a judgement to be made under his diocesan authority. Though the Archbishop would have felt that Mulholland was due an apology for the specific remarks made about him he was also aware of  Traynor’s motives for the utterances.

   While pondering on the issue in the autumn of 1833 he had his mind finally made up for him when he was informed that Rev. Mulholland had commenced legal proceedings in the courts to have his name cleared; a course of action previously unheard of from an ecclesiastical perspective. Therefore, on 6th November 1833, with all avenues of reconciliation now apparently closed, Archbishop Kelly issued correspondence to Eugene Mulholland ordering ‘…a cessation of (his) faculties in the parish of Termonfeckin.’ 27 Archbishop Kelly then proceeded to have the Rev. Thomas Callan, a curate in Tallanstown (and born in Ballymakenny) installed as his replacement.

   The Catholic hierarchy was heading for uncharted territory as one of its priests now proceeded to usurp the ecclesiastical authority of Armagh by taking a civil action against another.

 

In Court:

   Eugene Mulholland spent the next six months, still resident in Termonfeckin, preparing for the forthcoming legal battle. Eventually, on Monday 14th May 1834, the various parties convened at the Court of Common Pleas in Dublin.28

   Mulholland’s barrister, a Mr. Jackson, outlined the case for his client; his argument hinging on the fact that Mulholland had lost the income of Termonfeckin parish because of the slanderous remarks of Rev. Traynor. Various witnesses were called to testify before the court on behalf of Mulholland, including such local luminaries as Sir Patrick Bellew of Barmeath, Very Rev. Andrew Rogers of Togher, Rev. James Toris of Monasterboice and George Pentland of Blackhall. Following the evidence the jury retired to consider its verdict but after a brief sojourn returned and advised the court that a unanimous agreement on a verdict was unlikely. They retired again and after further consultation eventually awarded the verdict to Eugene Mulholland, but with damages, to his shock and embarrassment, of only one farthing!

   Following this unsatisfactory outcome, which only confirmed the unprecedented nature of the case, Eugene Mulholland regained his composure and set sail for Rome to seek ecclesiastical succour there. On his arrival at the Vatican officials examined his case but upheld Archbishop Kelly’s initial ruling on the controversy.

   Meanwhile Archbishop Kelly had died in January 1835 and four months later his successor, William Crolly, was installed. Mulholland lost little time in introducing himself to the new Primate and explaining his peculiar circumstances. But Archbishop Crolly, on reviewing the case, refused to change what had already been decided. Mulholland had requested his re-appointment to Termonfeckin but all Crolly was prepared to offer was a place on the missions in America, an offer Mulholland rejected out of hand. At a clerical meeting in Armagh in August 1835 Crolly proposed curacies for Mulholland in either Magherafelt or Ballinderry. Again this was refused. Both parties submitted complaints to Rome and based on their previous experience with Mulholland the Vatican exhorted him to be amenable to the Archbishop’s authority.    

     

Letters of Introduction:

   Realising that he was making little headway in Ireland Eugene Mulholland’s next step was to press his case of ‘unfair dismissal’ through Parliament in London. With a singular purposefulness of mind he wrote to as many of the higher echelons of public life in south Louth as was deemed necessary to assist in opening doors to political leverage in England. Many of his peers responded with letters of positive reference which, despite the ongoing controversy he had generated, alluded to him being a well-known and respected figure in the community. The following references were all forwarded to Lord Lyndhurst who petitioned for him in the House of Lords in early June 1836:    

 

Rev. John Kerr, Protestant Rector of Termonfeckin, 6th May 1836 wrote:

“I am truly grieved to find that the sanguine hopes of your friends and your own reasonable expectations have not been realized - that no satisfaction has yet been afforded you - no provision made for your future tranquillity and comfort. Within the last few years, this parish has been the scene of many great and melancholy changes. The hand of death has removed from it, one by one, those of its inhabitants whom you justly valued most, and by whom you were as highly and deservedly respected. But although the circle of your friends in Termonfechin has been unhappily reduced, it is still an extensive one. Be assured, my dear Sir, that there are many, very many here, who cordially sympathize with you in your present circumstances, and would rejoice to hear of you being restored to happiness and prosperity. Permit me, as one of the number, though merely a cipher in it, to express a fervent wish for the successful issue of your intended journey to London, and the speedy and satisfactory settlement of the business which forces you thither.” 29

 

George H. Pentland of Black Hall wrote this reference on 9th May 1836:

“Mr. Mulholland, Roman Catholic Clergyman of this parish (Termonfechin), has called upon me for a letter of introduction to your Lordship...… I have known Mr. Mulholland for years, and have always heard of him as a gentleman of unblemished character. My father, who had many more opportunities of knowing him, has repeatedly told me he had the highest respect for him, and that he considered his case as a peculiarly hard one, and one that seemed to him perfectly unaccountable. He had some interviews with the Roman Catholic Primate on the subject, and told me nothing was ever urged against Mr. Mulholland but his refusal to compromise a law suit. Both the Roman Catholics and Protestants regret his removal from the parish.”

 

From P. Bellew of Barmeath, 12th May 1836 the following issued:

“The bearer of this, the Rev. Eugene Mulholland, has requested of me, as one of the principal Roman Catholic resident in the same district in which he has acted as a clergyman, to state my knowledge of him. I have known him for several years, and I have always understood and believe his character as such to be moral and correct.”

 

John Chester of Stonehouse, Monasterboice wrote the following reference on 24th May 1836:

“I wrote to you on Sunday last as you directed, under cover to Mr. Sheil. I also wrote to Sheil my sentiments on your oppression, as I do not wish to conceal any thing I do from you in your afflictions. You say the Catholic Bishop of London has given you faculties for London, that you are a persecuted and injured clergyman: on that subject, no gentleman, unbiased priest, or layman can doubt of; your only offence being, that you resorted to the laws of your country.”

 

   Though his grievances were well argued the petition gained little sympathy. He made a subsequent attempt to have them aired in the House of Commons and sought help from Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell had obviously been made aware of the controversy surrounding Mulholland and he viewed his actions with strong disapproval. He wrote the following, in response to correspondences sent to him by the priest in early 1836:

“Rev. Sir, I beg to respectfully decline any interview with you; I mean you no offence whatsoever - I  am incapable of intending it - but I decline to see you for the same reason that I declined to answer your letter. First - your case is not one on which parliament can give any relief; the parliament has not the least control over the discipline of the Catholic Church and more than with its faith; and, with the blessing of God, never shall. I cannot but express… my disapprobation of the action you brought in the courts of law against another Catholic priest, with whom all differences should be settled amicably or by reference to spiritual powers; and I think that a clergyman ought to submit to such a wrong than give scandal by litigation…..Any attempt to bring the matter before Parliament will be only another cause of scandal, and will only make it I possible for you to obtain the sanction of any Catholic Prelate to your appointment to a parish.”

 

   Following his petition to the House of Lords on 7th June a further debate was arranged in the House of Commons on 29th June 1836. The history of his parochial dispute was discussed with a Mr. Sergeant Jackson who outlined the case before the House. Various speakers responded, many querying why the House of Commons was being used to determine the outcome of an Irish ecclesiastical problem. Daniel O’Connell subsequently rose and reiterated what he had already suggested in his correspondence to Mulholland, to withdraw the petition and submit to his spiritual superiors. Following this the petition was ordered to lie on the table of the House, signifying that Parliament would not make a definitive decision.

   In February 1837, one final bid was made to have his case determined in London when a petition was again raised in Parliament but, as before, this proved inconclusive.    

   Following his unsuccessful attempts to publicise his case in England his name in Ireland had become synonymous with clerical dissension and disunity and, as predicted in Daniel O’Connell’s letter, the clergy of the diocese offered little in the way of assistance towards his perceived plight. A series of confrontational letters ensued between himself and his Archbishop in which Mulholland eloquently if somewhat misguidedly defended himself but which did little to enhance his chances of ecclesiastical rehabilitation.

 

Beyond the Pale:

   In 1837 Sir Henry Chester of Cartown briefly championed his case and a broadsheet was published extolling Rev. Mulholland’s virtues and castigating Archbishop Crolly for his supposed mis-management of the affair. On Friday 23rd January 1838 Mulholland returned briefly to Termonfeckin where he was greeted by sympathisers and where he said mass in his house at Duffsfarm before proceeding to the Chesters of Stonehouse.30

   In March 1838, while still in diocesan limbo, he was approached by parishioners of Aghinagh in the diocese of Cloyne, Co. Cork, who were in dispute with their parish priest over the erection of a new church. Ostracized in his own diocese Eugene Mulholland took up their offer of a temporary parish, moved to Cork and served in Aghinagh as the alternative pastor until 1843 when the parochial divisions there were eventually mended.

   Following his departure from Cork and with no parish to support him he travelled once again to Rome and threw himself at the mercy of Cardinal Fransoni. The cardinal wrote to Archbishop Crolly querying whether some kind of pension fund could not be allocated to Eugene Mulholland. He even suggested a return to parochial duties for the beleaguered priest. Despite arranging a small pension payment Crolly wouldn’t countenance Mulholland’s return, knowing well the reaction amongst his clergy if he was re-installed to the fold.

   Sometime in the mid 1840s Mulholland moved to England and was placed, by the English Bishop Thomas Walsh, in the Ashbourne mission near Birmingham. However, not unexpectedly, problems soon arose and in a series of correspondences Mulholland’s behaviour was admonished and he was eventually forced to quit the diocese.31

   After his departure from England in the late 1840s he went to Puerta Real on the southern coast of Spain, close to Gibraltar, where he spent much of the following decade.32 Not long after his arrival reports emanated from Gibraltar suggested that he had quarrelled with the local bishop and others in the parish. Yet even from there he continued his correspondence with Rome regarding his treatment, and constantly sought financial help from them.

   He eventually returned to Ireland where he was given a position in Denmark St. by Archbishop Cullen of Dublin, where even as late as April 1860, he persisted with his petitions to Propaganda in Rome regarding his pension entitlements, while in 1862 he advised Rome that he couldn’t live on the £10 a year pension which had been allocated to him.33 

   Eugene Mulholland's health began to fail him and he eventually died at No. 2 Aughrim St., Dublin on 26th May 186734. Yet, to this day, the enigmatic clergyman's final resting place is as yet unknown.     

 

Summary:

   Ambrose Macauley, in his 1994 biography of Archbishop Crolly35 concluded that Fr. Mulholland was a “…a persistent and implacable malcontent (who) had harassed Archbishop Kelly for most of his episcopate and attempted to do the same to Crolly… 

   What Mulholland initiated in 1834 - a civil court action against another priest - pushed the conservative boundaries of the Catholic Church beyond the accepted norm, and beyond what his fellow priests and hierarchy of Armagh were prepared to tolerate. It is evident that he never accepted the slanderous remarks of the neighbouring cleric; even less the lack of resolution to the conflict from his superiors. The enmity arising between the two clerics further incited an already tense agrarian situation in the south Louth area. The perceived lack of closure in his pursuit of justice instilled a sense of victimisation, which manifested itself as an ongoing struggle against the diocesan hierarchy.

   Macauley ends his chapter on Mulholland with a final, telling comment, “... Mulholland was incorrigibly contentious and would have created trouble in whatever office he was given.” 

                                              
                                                       *****
                                      

 


1.    Eugene Mulholland erected a headstone in memory of his father in Faughart graveyard, declaring Carrickbroad as the family address.

2.    Drogheda Journal, 2nd July 1836.

3.    An indenture between Wallop Brabazon, Rath and Fr. E. Mulholland, Bellevue,  dated April 1827, is noted in Archbishop Murray's correspondence at www.history.ul.ieIn 1830 Fr. Mulholland was one of the applicants who registered their property freehold for £10 (Drogheda Journal, 21st September 1830).

4.   All occupants of land were required to pay this tithe of ten per cent of the agricultural produce generated by a holding. This cess was demanded from all landholders, irrespective of their religion and was paid directly to the Established Church of Ireland.

5.   Drogheda Journal, 25th Feb 1832.

6.   Drogheda Journal, 13th February 1830.

7.   Stickmen were mentioned in an 1836 report on the poor in Ireland as follows:

      "There is a movable committee of labouring men in this neighbourhood who are

      called Stickmen, because they go about with short sticks,  which they hide up

      their sleeve. They watch the farmers or labourers, to whom they have any

      hostility, generally on the way from town on market day, and knock them down

      and beat them desperately. These men are bound by secret oaths."

 8.   372 people died from the cholera epidemic in Drogheda in July 1832 while 419 died in August. (Patricia Duffy-Cholera in Co. Louth 1832-39, CLAJ 1982). 

9.    Drogheda  Journal, 14th July 1832.

10.  Folklore of Termonfeckin Parish, CLAJ 1965, p30 - ‘…Fr. Mulholland would seem to have some trouble with Wallop Brabazon. A Protestant was in the church - the old church - and hearing him call the names he reported him as having a sort of club in the parish or secret society and that the monies paid of course were towards a massacre of the Protestants...’  

11.  In reality the discolouration in some of the steps at Rath House are probably the visible remains of fossils embedded in the stone. 

12.  One version of this tale suggested that when Wallop Brabazon refused to return the book he was cursed with a ‘hasty appetite’, possibly referring to his hunger never being satisfied.   

13.  Drogheda  Journal - 6th October 1832. The public house, probably located at the bridge, was the precursor of the establishments run by the Carroll and Patton families.

14.  Francis Donagh (1800 - 1885) of Newtown, Termonfeckin, was High Sheriff of Co. Louth in 1834.

15.  Tierney and Clarke incidents extracted from the Newry Examiner 17th May 1834.

16.  Drogheda Journal, 30th October 1832.

17.  Ibid., 15th January 1833.

18.  Ibid., 16th March 1833.

19.  In June 1832 the Government’s Attorney-General was authorised to pay a  portion of tithes not collected and to secure the balance by force if necessary.

20.  Drogheda Journal, 8th June 1833.

21.  Rev. Thomas Traynor (or Treanor) was born at Fieldstown, Monasterboice in 1792. A nephew of Rev. Richard Treanor P.P. of Togher he was parish priest of Tullyallen from 1821 to 1870. He died in Tenure on 28 February 1870 and is buried in Tullyallen.

22.  Fr. Toris resided in the townland of Tullyard. He had been curate in Termonfeckin for some years before becoming parish priest of the newly formed Monasterboice parish in 1823.

23.  Newry Examiner, 19th May 1834.

24.  Thomas Corrigan, born in Termonfeckin around 1800, ministered as curate in the parish  from 1830 to 1842.

25.  Newry Examiner, 18th June 1836.

26.  Newry Examiner, 19th May 1834.

27.  Drogheda Journal, 31st may 1834.

28.  Newry Examiner, 19th May 1834.

29.  Fr. Gogarty notes.

30.  Drogheda Conservative Journal, 3rd February 1838.

31.  Archives of the Archbishop of Birmingham, 1830-1899 at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/A2A/records

32+33.  Cardinal Cullen papers in the University of Limerick (Sections 39/1, 326/1 & 326/2).

34.  His death notice in the Dublin Evening Post of 28th May 1867 reads: "May 26, at 2 Aughrim Street, after a tedious and painful illness, in the 81st year of his age, the Rev. Eugene Mulholland, D.D. formerly Administrator of Termenpekin [sic], diocese of Armagh. - R.I.P."

35.  Ambrose Macauley, William Crolly-Archbishop of Armagh, 1835-49 (Dublin, 1994).

 


Sources:

Ambrose Macauley, William Crolly-Archbishop of Armagh, 1835-49 (Dublin, 1994)

Rev Diarmuid MacIomhair - Folklore of Termonfeckin Parish, CLAJ Vol. XVI (1965).

Fr. Thomas Gogarty’s notes.

Newry Examiner and The Drogheda Journal.

 


Acknowledgements:

Noel Ross, Dundalk, for the use of Fr. Thomas Gogarty’s notes in his possession.

The staff in the Dundalk reference library for their generous assistance.

Breeda Tuite, Tullyallen, for biographical details on Rev. Thomas Treanor.
 


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