Murder on the Seaforde
Friday 29 July 1870 a man named John Gallagher was murdered on the road
from Seaforde House into the village. His body was found under a tree
near his own house the next morning, shot in the head by a bolt.
had been employed by Col Forde for some 25 years, and among his duties
was paying the estate labourers their wages. Col Forde's agent, Mr
Parsons, had given him £44 on the Friday morning to pay the labourers,
and he came home at 5pm ready to pay out the wages when the men called
with him in the course of the evening. He had the money in a linen
purse in his breast coat pocket as usual, but it was missing when his
body was found.
5.30 a neighbour called John Gregory, who had been Col Forde's
gatekeeper for about six years, called and spoke to Gallagher. He had
been born in 1816 and served his time as a tailor in Downpatrick like
his father, then joined the army and served in the Crimea. After twenty
years he left the army with a good conduct medal and testimonials to
his courage and discipline. He had returned to Downpatrick with his
pension, then got the job with Col Forde, but he was under notice to
leave at the end of the month.
daughter saw him leaving, and heard Gregory ask her father if he would
"soon be coming?".
6pm, when the Seaforde bell rang, two men clipping hedges saw Gallagher
go past them, and shortly after saw Gregory going in the same
direction. About 630, a man waiting to get into the village schoolhouse
heard a shot in the plantation, and shortly afterwards saw a man coming
back towards the gate lodge. Someone else saw Gregory on the road at
that time, and when he got back to his house his wife and a neighbour
noticed blood on his hand. Various labourers called at Gallagher's
house for their wages, but had to leave empty-handed, and a search for
him that evening failed.
no one saw Gregory fire the fatal shot, there was considerable
circumstantial evidence. A fortnight previously he had borrowed a
pistol from a man named Morrison, saying that he wanted it to shoot
rabbits. He had then asked someone to purchase for him some ounces of
gunpowder and a ha'pennyworth of percussion caps. After the murder
Gregory's house was searched, but the pistol was missing. In the estate
carpenter's shop there were a number of small bolts lying about. About
a week previous to the murder Gregory had been seen there, and the bolt
found in the brain of the murdered man was similar to those in the
carpenter's shop. Gallagher's money bag, containing part of the money
and some percussion caps similar to those purchased for Gregory, were
found in a ruined house near Gregory's lodge. Finally, about a week
before the murder Gregory had mended a coat for Colonel Forde's
gardener. The gardener had asked him if he had a place to go to.
Gregory had said that he had not but that he "would create a stir in
Seaforde before he left."
was sufficient evidence to charge Gregory and detain him in Downpatrick
gaol pending his trial. The jury found him guilty but asked for mercy
on account of his great age (55!). The judge however passed sentence of
death in the usual way, and Gregory was hanged on 12 April 1871, for
having "feloniously, wilfully, and of malice aforethought, killed and
murdered John Gallagher." This was only the third execution to be held
in Ireland since public executions were abolished, and a special
scaffold was erected in an obscure part of the prison where it could
not be seen from outside. The prisoner had a glass of wine for
breakfast, and once his work was over the executioner "coolly sat down
and smoked his pipe". In contrast to the public executions of earlier
years, the only sign to the outside world of what had happened was the
raising of a black flag on a high pole at the moment of execution.
it seems, is nothing new, even if the punishment for it is rather less
severe these days.