The Bodkin Murders

By Jarlath O' Connell

This shocking massacre took place in 1740 at Carrowbawn House, about four miles from Tuam on the Headford side of the town. The house was then the property of one Oliver Bodkin, a landed gentleman whose family could boast of being one of the oldest in the country and could claim a common ancestry with the Earls of Kildare and of Desmond.

In or about 1720 Oliver Bodkin had married and there was one child of the marriage, a son christened John but who was usually known as John Bodkin FitzOliver to distinguish him from other relatives of the same Christian name.

Oliver Bodkin's wife died in 1730 and two years afterwards, he married again. Of this marriage there was also only one child, a son christened Oliver and always subsequently referred to as Oliver Bodkin FitzOliver.

Both children were treated with great affection by the father and the elder boy in particular is said to have been pampered in an extravagant fashion by him. It is of relevance to this article to refer to the fact that Oliver, the younger son, had been sent out to foster parents for the first three years of his life. This was a usual custom of the time and in this case the foster parents were John Hogan the herd on the property and his wife.

Eventually it was decided that John FitzOliver's education should be taken seriously in hand and he was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, to study law. Whilst there, however, he entered upon a life of dissipation and, notwithstanding appeals from his father to mend his ways he eventually abandoned his studies entirely and had to be brought home to Carrowbawn.

Naturally, his behaviour was frowned upon by his father and his stepmother and, at the same time, tended to increase their affection for the younger boy a fact that young John FitzOliver noted with increasing resentment. He developed an intense hatred for his stepmother and such jealousy of his stepbrother that eventually, in 1737, he decided to leave Carrowbawn for good. He was then seventeen years of age.

About a mile to the west of Carrowbawn stood Carrowbeg House, a property belonging to John Bodkin who was a brother of Oliver and an eminent Counsellor well known on the Western Circuit at that time. He had two sons known respectively as John FitzCounsellor and Patrick FitzCounsellor, the latter being married and the father of a family.

Neither John Bodkin nor his sons appear to have taken much interest in the Carrowbeg property and apart from a few week's holidays each year they seldom visited the estate. The house, however, was looked after by another member of the family, Dominick Bodkin, who was a brother of Oliver and the Counsellor. This gentleman was a notorious character in the locality and his pockmarked face and blind eye added to his unsavoury reputation. He was known as 'Blind Dominick' to the tenantry and, in fact, tales of his evil doings may still be heard from the older people around Carrowbeg.

It was to this house that young John FitzOliver removed when he left Carrowbawn in 1737 and for the next three years his constant companion and confident was his uncle, 'Blind Dominick'.

In 1737, the Cousnellors two sons came to Carrowbeg for a short visit. They remained there for some days and everyone appeared to be on the friendliest of terms and Patrick FitzOliver seemed to be in excellent health. But one morning he was found dead in bed and there was apparently no evidence to show that he had died otherwise than from natural causes. It may seem irrelevant at this stage, to refer to this minor tragedy but it was an event, which had a direct influence on the subsequent conduct of John FitzOliver.

This young man continued to nurse his grievance against his family and his resentment knew no bounds when in 1740 he learned that his father had altered his will and had decided to leave his estate to young Oliver. He then conceived the horrible idea of circumventing the terms of the will by murdering his father, his stepmother, and his stepbrother. In 'Blind Dominick' he found a willing ally and John Hogan the herd also agreed to assist him in his awful plan. In describing the conspiracy, Oliver J. Burke (Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit) states that another man named Roger Kelly was involved but the Newgate Calendar gives the name of this fourth man as Burke.

The conspirators met at Carrowbeg House on the night of Friday the 18th September, 1740, and it was there they planned the details of the crime. They agreed to meet on the following night near Carrowbawn House but when the appointed time arrived the fourth man lost his nerve and ran away. The local account of the crime states that they met at Carrowbeg House on the night of the crime and that whilst they were debating as to whether guns or knives should be used, Roger Kelly went out to the yard on the pretext of looking after his horse and did not return.

They entered the premises through the yard at the rear and their first victims were two sheep dogs whose throats they cut lest they might give warning of their presence. They then went into the servants' quarters and enquired if the counsellor had arrived for the Assizes. Having thus put them at ease, they proceeded to cut the throats of the three men and two girls. Upon entering the main portion of the house they came across another servant and his wife and they also cut their throats as they lay asleep. Next they murdered one Marcus Lynch, a Galway merchant, who had come down for the Tuam races earlier in the week and who had the misfortune to be staying in Carrowbawn that night. It was John FitzOliver who butchered him and meanwhile John Hogan cut the throats of Oliver Bodkin and his wife. This left only young Oliver alive and it was Hogan who set about killing him. It is said that as he approached the bed, the child awoke and recognising his foster father, cried "Daddy, daddy, don't kill me." The appeal touched Hogan and he proceeded to smear the boy with blood in the hope that the others would think him dead. But Blind Dominick saw through the ruse and threatened to kill Hogan if he did not complete his ghastly task. Hogan then killed the boy in a most brutal fashion and actually cut off his head in the process.

Having thus butchered every inmate of the house, eleven persons in all, the three murderers quietly left Carrowbawn.

The crime was discovered early the next morning and a large crowd of the local residents gathered at the scene. Amongst them was John FitzOliver who displayed every symptom of grief at his loss. But it was noticed that there were several bloodstains on his clothes and upon interrogation by Lord Athenry, a Justice of the Peace, his replies were so unconvincing that he was arrested on suspicion and removed to Galway Gaol. Upon arrival there he made a full confession and a statement as to the parts played by his two accomplices.

Hogan and 'Blind Dominick' immediately fled but they were apprehended on the following day and brought to Galway. At the same time John FitzCounsellor was arrested on suspicion of being implicated in the crime.

The four prisoners were brought to Tuam on the 6th October and lodged in the Bridewell that night. On the following day they were charged with the murders and true bills were found against John FitzOliver, Hogan and 'Blind Dominick.' The Grand Jury threw out the bills against John FitzCounsellor and the three murderers were then put up for trial. When charged, Hogan pleaded guilty and told how he had killed three of the victims including young Oliver whom he would have spared were it not for 'Blind Dominick.' When charged, the latter also pleaded guilty and admitted having murdered six on the night of the crime. John FitzOliver also pleaded guilty and without more ado Mr. Justice Rose sentenced the three of them to be hanged on the following day.

On the following morning, the prisoners were brought to Claretuam in a cart and there, in sight of the scene of the crime, they were hanged from a tree. Hogan was hanged first and then 'Blind Dominick.' When John FitzOliver's turn came he asked permission to make a statement. He then astounded the onlookers by stating that the death of Patrick FitzCounsellor two years previously at Carrowbeg House had not been from natural causes but that John FitzCounsellor had murdered him by placing a pillow over his face and sitting on it until he was dead. He further stated that the ease with which his cousin had escaped punishment for the crime had influenced him in his decision to perpetrate the crime atCarrowbawn. Having made this statement he was then executed and his body and that of 'Blind Dominick' were gibbeted at the place of execution. John Hogan's head was removed from his body and was placed on a spike on top of the market house in Tuam.

John FitzOliver was present at the executions and upon hearing his cousin's accusation, he admitted his guilt by going into hiding. He evaded arrest by posing as a farm labourer for a few days but eventually on the 22nd October he was caught in a bog near Belclare.

The accused was imprisoned until the following March, in Galway, when he was tried there and found guilty of fratricide. On the same day he was hanged on Gallow's Green beside the walls of Galway and his head was removed from his body after death.