Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Tragic Death of Constable Patrick Sheahan D.M.P.

As one stands at O’Connell Bridge, Dublin, looking south along Burg Quay, there is an attractive monument in the centre of the junction of the Quay with Hawkins street. The limestone memorial, with columns and panels honed from pink polished granite, was erected by public subscription to commemorate the bravery of DMP Constable Patrick Sheahan.

Patrick Sheahan was born in Ballyguiltenane, Glin, county Limerick in 1876. Patrick went on to attend the new primary school, which was erected in Ballyguiltenane, also in 1876. Even in his youth stories of his heroics had begun to emerge. He was reputed to have once pulled a dead horse from a lime kiln. Like his brother John and many other locals he joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police and was assigned to B Division in the city centre. (1) He was well built for the job being 6ft 4ins tall and weighing 18 stone. Both he and his brother John were members of the forces champion tug-of war team. The stories of his heroism, which began in his native Glin, continued in Dublin. He once rescued an elderly couple from a collapsing building in Townsend Street and in a famous incident in Grafton Street he wrestled with a runaway bull and quipped afterwards, to his friend Constable Woulfe, that he was afraid the animals horns would break. (2) Little did he know that his gallantry was to have a tragic end.

The Accident
On Saturday May 6th 1905 a workman named John Fleming opened a manhole-cover at the corner of Hawkins Street and Burg Quay at around 3 p.m. He descended a ladder into the 24 foot sewer to investigate a broken pipe and he was immediately overcome by the deadly gas, as were two of his colleagues who rushed to assist him. Christopher Nolan a newsboy who witnesses the incident ran for help.
He found Constable Sheahan, of College Street Station, standing at O’Connell Bridge. Tragically for him, he was on duty to relieve a friend who wanted to go to the theatre. Meanwhile, the two other men who went down the manhole and were also overcome by gas. They were John Coleman a workman and Tom Rochford, a clerk of works with City Corporation. A third man, Kevin Fitzpatrick, a hackney driver, tied a rope around himself and lowered himself down, attempting to rescue the unconscious men.
Sheahan rushed to the scene, removed his tunic and went down the 24 foot ladder in an attempt to rescue Fleming and his colleagues. He went back a second time to rescue Fleming and he too was overcome by fumes. He was not to know that Fleming was already dead. Both Sheahan and Fleming were rushed to Mercer’s hospital, but it was all too late as both men had suffocated. John Fleming was 42 years old and left a widow and 9 children to mourn his loss. The youngest child was only 14 months old. Constable Sheahan was 29 years of age, single and in the prime of his life.

The Funeral
On Tuesday May 9th St. Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus was thronged for the requiem Mass for Constable Sheahan, celebrated by Fr. Columban Tyne, C.P. The funeral cortege left Mount Argus Church after Mass. In the early morning sunshine the citizens of Dublin lined the route all the way to Kingsbridge railway station, The coffin was placed in the hearse by four Limerick men, Constable John Sheahan (brother of deceased) Constable Woulfe (best friend of deceased)(3) and Constables Tim Roche and Edward Ryan. The cortege was led by a D.M.P. mounted troop, followed by the bands of the D.M.P. and the R.I.C. The hearse was drawn by four white plumed horses followed by bodies of policemen, firemen and tram drivers all in uniform.
The coffin was placed on board the 9.15 a.m. train, bound for Limerick. The cortege was met at Limerick station by Mrs. Sheahan, the mother of the dead policeman. He had recently visited his mother in St. Vincent’s Hospital, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and now the frail old woman was on the station platform to receive his coffin. About twenty comrades from the D.M.P. accompanied the remains on its last journey to Foynes. The coffin was removed from the train at Foynes where the rail line ended. All the way to Glin people collected along the route as a mark of respect. The Glin Industrial School band met the hearse outside Glin and led it to Kilfergus graveyard. Archdeacon Roche and his two curates officiated at the graveside. The coffin was covered in wreaths, including one from “his comrade and brother John and his wife and child and one from his sister Johanna.

In August 1905 the Lord Mayor of Dublin opened a public subscription to erect a memorial to the two men who lost their lives that May. It was commenced by the Lord Lieutenant, who subscribed £25. It was finally unveiled by the Lord Mayor, Joseph Hutchinson, in August 1906. In 1985 the monument was restored to mark the eightieth anniversary of the tragedy. It was the only monument erected by public subscription and was an indication of the national feeling of sympathy towards the two men. The monument has the following tribute inscribed;
This memorial
Was erected in memory of
Patrick Sheahan
a constable in the
Dublin Metropolitan Police Force who
lost his life in the 6th day of March 1905
in a noble and self-sacrificing effort
to rescue John Fleming who had in the
discharge of his duties descended the
main sewer close by this spot and was
overcome by sewer gas. It was also
intended to commemorate the bravery
of a number of other citizens who also
descended the sewer to assist in rescuing
the beforementioned, thereby risking their
lives to save those of their fellow men.
The D.M.P. unlike the R.I.C. did not award medals for bravery. However, Patrick Sheahan did receive a posthumous commendation from the Royal Humane Society and is comrades in the D.M.P. erected a magnificent Celtic Cross over his grave. A mural tablet was placed in the Baptistry of his native parish Church, bearing the following inscription;
“Of your charity pray for the soul of Patrick Sheahan, late Constable D.M.P. son of Edmond Sheahan of this Parish, who lost his life in Dublin, while nobly trying to save the lives of others on the 6th of May 1905.- R.I.P.”
Erected by Sir John Ross, of Bladensburgh, K.C.B. Chief Commissioner.
The next member of the D.M.P. to die while on duty was Constable James O’Brien. He was the first casualty of the 1916 rebellion and coincidentally, he was also from Glin.

“The Limerick Chronicle” newspaper dated May 9th 1905
“The Limerick Chronicle” newspaper dated May 11th 1905
“The Limerick Chronicle” newspaper dated May 13th 1905
“The Limerick Chronicle” newspaper dated August 24th 1905
“The Evening Herald” newspaper dated May 9th 1905
“The Irish Independent” newspaper dated May 10th 1905
“The Irish Independent” newspaper dated May 15th 1905
The Irish Independent” newspaper dated January 2nd 1935
“The Irish Independent” newspaper dated May 4th 1955
“The Limerick Leader” newspaper dated June 22nd 1985
“The Ballyguiltenane Rural Journal” 17th Christmas and New Year Edition 1994/1995 “The Tragic Death of Constable Patrick Sheahan-The Man and the Legend by Tom Donovan.

(1) Constable John Sheahan was a member of the “A” Division of the D.M.P. and is grandfather of John Sheahan, who is a member of the Dubliners ballad group.

(2) He received a reward in 1900 for recovering a city flag from a group of Trinity students, in Dawson Street and restoring it to the Mansion House and another one in 1904 for special police services.

(3) For more information on Constable Woulfe of Ardagh, county Limerick, see

Cahara House Tragedy

Cahara House is situated on the outskirts of Glin village on the road to Limerick and overlooking the Shannon Estuary. It is now the home of the Hogan family but has been home to many families in the past including members of the Knight of Glin’s family, the Pegum fish-merchant family and the Quin-Sleemans. The Quin-Sleeman family, through their generosity and kindness, saved many lives in the Glin area during the Great Famine and in the process they faced financial ruin themselves.
In 1844, prior to the famine, a tragic accident occurred at the house which must have shocked the locality at the time. We are indebted to contemporary police reports of that time for the account of the tragedy.
The authorities in Dublin Castle were alerted once the police became aware of unusual activities in their area. So, on March 1st Head Constable Thomas Hornibrook reported that two young women servants of Richard Quin-Sleeman were found dead in their beds, at
9 o’clock the previous morning. The matter was reported to him by Morgan Sweeney. He stated that the evidence at the inquest into their deaths revealed that they went to bed the night before at 10 o’clock
apparently as well as ever. The door of the room in which they slept was locked from the inside, the windows were also fastened. The lock had to be broken off the door to get in, where they were found lying in bed as if asleep, without any mark of violence, nor their features in any way distorted. The coroner was sent for and he held an inquest. The verdict was “We find Mary Shaughnessy and Johanna Boyle went to bed last night about 10 o’clock in Cahara House in apparent good health and were found dead this morning in their bed, therefore we believe they died by the visitation of God”
The matter did not rest there, as Hornibrook’s superiors were not happy with his report. He was admonished for his meagre report and instructed to take more care with his reports in future. On March 8th he replied to some queries and displayed some displeasure at being rebuked. He stated that there was neither a chimney nor was there coal or turf burning in the room. Neither had the deceased been afflicted with illness of any description. Had any of the particulars been the case he would of course have stated them but tempered his remarks by saying he would endeavour to be more particular in future. Hornibrook’s superiors in Dublin Castle were not satisfied so they appointed L C Smyth to hold an enquiry into the matter.
Smyth wrote to the Under Secretary, from Abbeyfeale, on March 18th 1844. He had arranged a meeting with the Knight of Glin and other magistrates the previous Saturday, at the noon petty sessions, to ascertain the cause of death of the two girls. Those present included magistrates Hamilton and Harnett, the coroner Mr. Harding, Doctor Enright and several of the jury and witnesses.
Smyth's findings were damning as he said the deaths were not satisfactorily accounted for before the inquest and the verdict of the jury was not justified by the circumstances and the conduct of the coroner and doctor betrayed the most culpable neglect.
He went on to defend his allegations against the latter by stating that they did not endeavour to restore animation by bleeding, warm baths and chafing, as the bodies were still warm on the sides where they lay. They retained their natural and usual colour and had composure as if asleep, with the exception of a little froth issuing from the mouths. Ultimately, they were remiss in not having a post mortem examination.
The room in which the two deceased lay, was a very small one situated upon the ground floor near the kitchen, about 9 feet long, by 7 feet wide and about 8 feet in height, with very small windows very closely fastened, no chimney and no ventilation, except through a small space at the bottom of the door and the key hole.
Smyth continued his report by saying that Mr Sleeman had taken his family to Limerick together with his coachman and cook and had left the house in the care of the steward who slept in an out office, and two women in the capacity of nurses who slept in a room upstairs.
The nurses went to bed at half past nine that night leaving the two girls (deceased) sitting by the kitchen fire. He said that it was generally believed that the girls had carried lighted turf into the room to heat it for some time before they went to bed and replaced the turf on the kitchen fire before retiring. The fumes and noxious vapours caused by the smoke remained in the room due to lack of ventilation and was cause of their death. Their appearance upon breaking in the door the following morning would indicate that nothing else could have caused their death. The cook sometimes heated the room in this way when she slept there herself. There were no grounds for supposing that the girls took any poison, as there were no drugs, medicines or bottles of any description.

Smyth appeared satisfied with his findings, but in order to fully satisfy the public mind he decided to exhume the bodies of the two girls in order to perform a post mortem examination. Smyth was accompanied by the Knight of Glin, Mr. Sleeman, Captain Hamilton, the coroner, two doctors and a police force. They proceeded to the churchyard and remained there for some time. The Knight and Mr Sleeman tried to persuade some of the people present who were supposed to know where the girls were buried, to show their graves, but to no avail. No one would acknowledge or identify the graves and Smyth believed there was "an obstinate horror" among the friends of the deceased girls, of disinterring the bodies or opening them for examination. He said the spectators believed that a curse would follow anyone who would interfere against their consent. The party left without accomplishing its purpose.
Smyth went on to vent his anger once again on the coroner and doctor for not trying to restore animation in the deceased or adjourn the inquest for further evidence. He said that it was not just his opinion but that of the magistrates of the locality and the jury who sat at the inquest. They said that though they signed the verdict as dictated by the coroner, they were still not satisfied.
Smyth's attack on Harding and Enright was a bit extreme, as he found no additional evidence to that of the first inquest. He did not mention finding any remains of turf or ash in the room to support his theory that the girls brought lighted sods into the room, He seemed to use the fact that the cook did so, to support his theory. The verdict "visitation of God" was not unusual at the time when the cause of death was unknown and where there was no other suspicious evidence.
The fact that the bodies were still warm was not a sign of animation as indicated by Smyth. Being in a bed would retain heat and it is stretching credibility to think a doctor would not know if life was extinct.
The fact that the people of Glin refused to have the bodies exhumed or examined may be more to do with their belief that the dead should rest in peace, rather than trying to hide any evidence. It is unlikely a post mortem would have revealed any further details on how the two girls, in Cahara House, met their death on that cold February night in 1844.

National Archives CSOP 17/1867 (Mar 1844)
National Archives CSOP 17/4019 (Mar 1844)
National Archives CSOP 17/4365 (Mar 1844)