Police manhunts – County Mayo cases 1814-1821

Michael Farrell

Michael Farrell

Like the many, I too have travelled the route to England through the port of Holyhead and then onwards east through Wales until the seemingly unintelligible road signs suddenly appear comprehensible.

In the 1980s, the bus departed from outside Flannelly’s on Spencer Street in Castlebar. My most recent trip commenced on a car ferry in Dublin Port. A few hours later, I arrived at a grey and damp Holyhead – I was on a mission.

I was retracing the 1814 journey taken by Michael Farrell, Chief Peace Officer, Head Police Office, Dublin. Farrell and officer Sheppard were tasked with apprehending fugitive Frederick Cavendish. The pair boarded the Holyhead Packet on Tuesday, 19 April. Cavendish, accompanied by two of his children, had a two-day head start.

Cavendish’s world was unravelling around him. His young wife, Lady Eleanor Gore, had died. Many years later, he was falsely accused of murdering her. Cavendish was also in debt, and his many creditors were circling. Farrell, however, was not interested in Cavendish’s debts, a suspicious fire at his grand home or the death of his wife. He held a warrant for Cavendish’s arrest on a capital charge of forgery.

Farrell and Sheppard ultimately caught up with the party at Llangollen. With the benefit of directions, the pair followed a path for about one mile out of Llangollen to the River Dee. There they found Cavendish fishing with his children. He surrendered without any resistance and was taken back to Dublin and Newgate Prison.

At his trial, Cavendish was fortunate to be acquitted. He was, however, imprisoned at Newgate for debt. Following his release, he met and married Agnes Catherine McDonnell of Springfield House, Castlebar. Cavendish would go on to establish The Connaught Telegraph in March 1830. In the decades that followed, Cavendish became one of the greatest and most effective advocates for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised in Mayo.

There is a rich vein of documents and correspondence concerning Michael Farrell and policing in general at the National Archives in Dublin. Perhaps the most noteworthy case of Farrell’s long career was the hunt for the infamous Mayo highwayman, Captain Anthony Gallagher. In the summer of 1817, Farrell journeyed to London to take two men held at Newgate Prison back to Castlebar for trial. The men were alleged to have been members of a criminal gang led by Gallagher.

Martin and Andrew Walsh were charged with robbery in the home of the Reverend John George at Foxford. This crime was a defining moment in the short career of 18-year-old Gallagher. The hunt for Gallagher and his associates involved police and magistrates on both sides of the Irish sea and was the subject of numerous reports in the news media. Dublin Castle took an active role. Gallagher was ultimately taken by the military at a house possibly near Swinford.

Martin and Andrew Walsh were arrested in East London by James Kennedy and John Creswell, officers at Worship Street Police Office, following a tip-off from a Mayo native. They were handed over to Farrell for the journey back through Liverpool to Castlebar. Gallagher and three of his associates (Walsh, Clarke, and Doherty ) were detained at the Gaol on the Green, Castlebar. They were tried at the summer assizes of 1818 and afterwards hanged on the Green.

Michael Farrell’s name does not appear in the records relating to the hunt for Thomas McDonough and his associates in 1821. McDonough was wanted for the brutal murder of Albert Murdock at Breaghwy near Castlebar. Police spotted him in disguise among passengers waiting on North Wall to board the American Brig, The Princess of Austerius.

After a daring and dramatic chase, he was taken from the water and brought back to Castlebar. A boy named Martin Culkin was also charged with the murder. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death. Culkin’s execution was respited; it was expected the sentence would be commuted. McDonough was hanged.


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