Murder on the Seaforde Estate

On 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.

He 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.

About 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.
Gallagher's daughter saw him leaving, and heard Gregory ask her father if he would "soon be coming?".

About 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.

Although 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."

This 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.

Mugging, it seems, is nothing new, even if the punishment for it is rather less severe these days.
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