Monday, June 8, 2015

A Story of the Bodkin Murders

by Paul B. McNulty

In 1742, John Bodkin was hanged drawn and quartered having been found guilty of the murder of his brother Patrick in 1739. Aged about twenty two, John was the second son of Counsellor-at-law, John Bodkin and Mary Clarke of Carrowbeg House, Belclare, a village four miles west of Tuam, Co Galway. On the gallows, he refused to acknowledge his guilt of the crime. Instead, as the noose tightened around his neck, he proclaimed I forgive Mankind implying that he was not guilty.

The stark nature of the event has been vividly portrayed in Pue’s Occurrences, a four-page twice-weekly newspaper:

Last Saturday, John Bodkin Esq. was executed here; he neither confessed or denied the murder of his Brother; he was applied to by the High Sheriff and all the Gentlemen present to declare whether he was guilty or not; but could not be prevailed upon to give any Answer; after he pulled down his Cap and was just about to be thrown off, the Gentlemen and the Clergy begged he would satisfy the Publick of his Guilt or Innocence upon which he put back his Cap and begged they would let him die in Peace, and would make no other answer, but forgave Mankind; upon which he was thrown off and in 3 minutes cut down alive, his Privy Parts cut out, and his Bowels taken from him and his Head severed from his Body.

I have investigated the possibility of John Bodkin’s innocence through the medium of a historical novel in which he and Catherine Bermingham, the third daughter of Lord Athenry, are the principal characters. Both are real people but their romance is fictional. If John Bodkin was innocent, I assumed he would have sought to protect someone he loved such as his betrothed, Catherine Bermingham.

I then developed the plot by suggesting that John’s older brother Patrick was madly jealous of his younger brother’s coup in successfully wooing a girl above his station in life. That jealousy would then ignite the passion which would ultimately lead to disaster for both brothers.

The delay in John Bodkin’s trial resulted from the belief of the local Justice of the Peace, Lord Athenry, that Patrick Bodkin had died of natural causes. It was not until the aftermath of the Bodkin murders in 1741 that John Bodkin was indicted for fratricide. These events have been described in a primary source, Pue’s Occurrences in 1741, later amplified by Oliver J Burke in his 1885 Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit…, a secondary source. Three members of the Bodkin family, Oliver Bodkin (John Bodkin’s uncle); Oliver’s pregnant wife, Margery; his son, Oliver; a visitor, Marcus Lynch of Galway; and a number of unnamed servants were murdered in a family feud.

On the gallows in 1741, Shawn Bodkin, one of those convicted of the Bodkin murders, accused his first cousin John Bodkin of murdering his older brother, Patrick. In 1742, John Bodkin was hanged drawn and quartered having been found guilty of the crime as hitherto described.

Burke, Oliver J, Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit Dublin, 1885, pages 86-92.

Estate: Bodkin (Carrowbeg & Thomastown)

            Dublin, 320 pages.
Mohr, Paul, “The de Berminghams, Barons of Athenry: A Suggested Outline Lineage
from First to Last,” Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 2011, volume 63, pages 43-56.
Ms 32484, Land holding, National Library of Ireland.
Pue, Richard, “Country News Tuam, 9 October, 1741,” Pue’s Occurrences, 10-13 Oct
            1741-42, volume 39, microfilm 53, Trinity College Library, Dublin.
——— “Country News Galway, 19 March, 1742,” 20-23 Mar 1741-42, Ibid.
——— “Country News Galway, 23 March, 1742,” 23-27 Mar 1741-42, Ibid.

Tuam,, Thomas Bagworth, p 5.


After retirement from an academic post at University College Dublin, Paul studied Genealogy/Family History and Creative Writing. His diploma project, “The Genealogy of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who settled in Galway,” led to the discovery of stories that inspired him to write historical novels based on real events in 18th century Ireland. These include Spellbound by Sibella, The Abduction of Anne O’Donel and A Story of the Bodkin Murders each published by Club Lighthouse CLP, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The first two novels have been finalists in the William Faulkner Novel Competitions, New Orleans in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

He has also self-published The Genealogy of the Anglo-Norman Lynches… in 2013 and a novella, A Rebel Romance in 2014, both with CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. More recently, he has written the first draft of a play based on an extract from his novel, Spellbound by Sibella. A reading of this play occurred within the Theatre Festival of UCD dramsoc in November 2015.


  1. Any comment on my work would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Looks very interesting, I like your take in the story!

  3. Many thanks, Kate. I hope you enjoy the read. Best wishes.


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