Tuesday 21 February 2017

The wrongful imprisonment of Bryan Kilmartin

           The wrongful imprisonment of Bryan Kilmartin.

Bryan Kilmartin (1854-1941) A portrait painted long after his release from prison.

The recent success of the TV documentary ' Making a Murderer' proves once again just how newsworthy a story of wrongful conviction can be.

History is littered with such cases and the Aran Islands was the scene of one famous wrongful conviction during the Irish Land Wars of the 1880s.

 Because it happened in the same year as the savage Maamtrasna murders of five, it is not as well known as it might be.

The story of the hanging of an innocent man, Myles Joyce of Maamtrasna, at Galway jail on December 15th 1882, has ingrained itself in West of Ireland folk memory. Myles had been sentenced to death by Limerick man Charles Robert Barry (1823-1897). The Catholic Judge Barry, the jury, the prosecution and defence lawyers spoke no Irish while Myles Joyce spoke no English. To make matters worse, the interpreter was an evangelical Protestant policeman and it appears that a misunderstanding resulted in Myles not being given translations of much of the evidence. According to the writer James Joyce, after a question had been put to Myles in Irish,  by the policeman, Myles went into a long and animated reply which the policeman interpreted as “ he says No, your worship”
Here is a link to an article on the Myles Joyce travesty by Professor Margaret Kelleher Here

The spot where Myles Joyce, an innocent man, protested his innocence as he was hanged in December 1882

The Maamtrasna story is well documented and the travesty of justice is only matched by the savagery of the murders when almost an entire family were butchered by their neighbours and relations .

The Aran Island wrongful conviction involved the jailing of a Cill Rónáin man, Bryan Kilmartin, for the attempted murder of the local land-agent's bailiff, Bart Hernon.

Attacks on bailiffs were part of the Land War and many were murdered or severely injured. The Land League had been founded in 1879 and it was not long before the local curate, Fr. Fahy, had started a branch on the islands.

There had been a number of what were known as 'agrarian crimes' committed on the island and indeed two of the most prominent suspects were the writers Tom and Liam O'Flaherty's father Mike and uncle, Tom Ganly.

There had been evictions and threats of evictions and much bad feeling had found it's way towards the local bailiff who found himself pitted against his neighbours and indeed some of his own relations.

At 10 P.M. on the night of April 5th 1882, near the Old Courthouse in Cill Rónáin, three or four revolver shots  were fired at the bailiff. Two missed but one bullet struck the bailiff's cheekbone, knocking him to the ground.
Showing the Courthouse (left) with a high wall in front and the bailiff's house next to it. Also the cross erected to the memory of the parish priest, Fr. Michael O'Donoghue, who helped Bryan get his freedom.

The bailiff seems to have mistakenly come to the conclusion that the man he saw near him was Bryan Kilmartin . In a follow up search it is claimed that the R.I.C. discovered a live bullet in a child's cot in Kilmartin's and Bryan was arrested and charged with the crime. That the bullet had been planted by the police, was the view of most islanders.

Bryan was a suspect as he had been threatened with eviction by the land agent Thomas Thompson of Clonskea Castle in Dublin and the bailiff Bart Hernon had issued a notice for trespass against him just the day before.

This was not the first gun attempt on the bailiff's life as in June 1881, a jury in Galway had found  Joseph Flaherty from Gort na gCapall, not guilty of attempted murder even though the bailiff had swore against him and the attack had occurred during daylight. For this reason, Bryan possibly thought that as his alleged attack had taken place at night, he would soon be acquitted.

A sequence of terrible events in Ireland would see Bryan's case being mixed in with some gruesome murders and he undoubtedly suffered from the wave of outrage, panic and fear that gripped the country shortly afterwards.

The previous February, Constable Kavanagh of the R.I.C. had been murdered in Letterfrack, North West Connemara, in retaliation for evidence he had given during the Lydon murders  trial. That case involved the murder of a father and son, John and Martin Lydon. Patrick Walsh was accused of the murders and was eventually hanged in Galway. His teenage brother Michael, was later, probably unfairly, found guilty of the policeman's death. 

Phoenix Park murders on May 6th in 1882 of Burke and Cavendish

Not long after Bryan's arrest, on the 6th on May,1882, one of the most sensational  murders in Irish history, occurred in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. It involved the stabbing to death of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish and the Permanent Undersecretary, Thomas Henry Burke, by a secret society known as The Invincibles. It was to be Lord Cavendish's first and last day as Chief Secretary.

Gladstone family. Lord Cavendish sitting on right in front of his wife Lucy. P.M. Gladstone at the back to the left.
It would appear that the killers had targeted Galway man Burke and that Lord Cavendish, who was married to the P.M. Gladstone's wife's niece Lucy, died when he bravely tried to use his umbrella to defend Burke. The national and international outrage that these killings caused made the chance of Bryan getting a fair trial, much less likely.
Thomas Henry Burke

These were very violent times and the murder of John Doolaghty near Ennis the following July was regarded as another part of the agrarian outrages sweeping the country.
Myles Joyce. Hanged 1882
The most shocking outrage of all occurred on the Galway Mayo border when five members of the Joyce family were slaughtered on the night of the 17th of August.
A number of their neighbours were charged and on the 15th of December 1882, three men were hanged for the crimes in Galway jail. One of them, Myles Joyce is perhaps the best known Irish case of an innocent man being hanged in the wrong.


Judge James Anthony Lawson (1817-1887)

The next piece of bad luck for Bryan was when the Judge who would hear his case, James Lawson (1817-1887) survived an assassination attempt in Dublin. This was on November 11th, just a month before Bryan's trial. The would be assassin was an 
Clontra House, Shankill, Dublin. Home of Judge Lawson.
Invincible named Patrick Delaney and his arrest would prove to be the turning point in the hunt for the Phoenix Park killers. No fair minded person could argue that the judge could possibly be of a fit mind to hear a case like Bryan's so soon after his own near death experience. Being in the company of his son at the time of the assassination attempt had probably made the incident even more shocking for the Judge.

The Protestant Judge Lawson, along with the Catholic Judge Charles Robert Barry were regarded as brave but arrogant men and had a reputation for handing down harsh sentences. Both came to be known as 'Hanging Judges'. Judge Lawson had presided at the trial of fifteen year old Michael Walsh for the Letterfrack murder of Constable Kavanagh where many believed an injustice had been done. Like his brother Patrick, who had earlier been sentenced to hang by Lawson for killing the father and son, Michael was also sentenced to death but his life was spared on account of his youth.

During the Dublin trial in August 1882 of Francis Hynes for the Ennis murder of herdsman John Doolaghty , Judge Lawson triggered a constitutional crisis when he jailed for contempt, the owner of a Dublin newspaper,  Edmund Dwyer Grey because of a letter published in Grey's Freemans Journal. The letter had been an account by a hotel guest, William O'Brien, of the goings on of the jury during the late night and early morning where they had been staying the night before the verdict. 
Edmund Dwyer Grey M.P.

What made the whole episode so sensational was that Grey was a Member of Parliament. The whole incident was aired in the House of Commons and the accounts of the drunken pursuit of some female hotel staff caused great amusement for a British audience. What was more important was that Hynes was not given a fair trial and many felt he was innocent. It would have been a cause of great satisfaction to many if the main culprit in the drunken riot had been a Protestant, as it was very rare for a Catholic to be allowed serve on a high profile jury at the time. The prosecution could object endlessly while the defense had but  a restricted number of objections. This usually resulted in Catholics, Liberal Anglicans and Presbyterians, Methodists and Quakers being asked to stand aside.
As it happened, the alleged culprit was a man of the Jewish faith named Reis. He owned a jewellery shop on O'Connell street, located below the wireless school where the rebels broadcast from in 1916. It was destroyed and looted during the rising.

Without hearing any evidence, other than reading the offending letter, which also mentioned the packing of juries, Judge Lawson fined Grey £500 and sentenced him to three months in jail. Judge Lawson had himself once been an MP and had represented the 'Rotten Borough' of Portarlington in 1865 when he had secured forty six of the total electorate of eighty six voters. He refused to consider any possibility that some members of  the jury, who would next day find a man guilty of murder, could have acted as described. Hynes was found guilty after ten minutes deliberation and was subsequently hanged in Limerick.

This then was the man who would try Bryan Kilmartin. 

A further increase in reactionary feeling by the authorities was the attempted assassination, just two weeks before Bryan's trial, of two jury members who served during the trial of the fifteen year old Letterfrack boy, Michael Walsh.
For the many reasons outlined, Bryan would have been much less sure of his acquittal when he went to trial in December than he was when first arrested in April.

Sligo courthouse, where Bryan Kilmartin was tried and convicted in December 1882.

Possibly because of the acquittal in Galway of Joseph O'Flaherty in1881, for attacking the same bailiff , the case against Bryan was heard at Sligo in December 1882. Because of the publicity, 60 extra police and a large body of mounted Huzzars were drafted in to protect Judge Lawson and keep order. The country was in  a frightful state and the threat of a complete breakdown in law and order was feared. As in all trials at the time, the jury was packed in the same way as the jury was packed against Francis Hynes , the Maamtrasna defendants and many others. While many Catholics might be happy to avoid having to serve at the trial of an obviously guilty man, the jury packing resulted in an innocent Catholic being at a huge disadvantage.


The case opened on the 12th  of December 1882 and was completed that very day.
During the selection of the jury, seven Catholics, among them a magistrate, were ordered to step aside. The case got under way at 10.30 A.M.
On reflection it seems that many obvious contradictions and half truths by the prosecution were allowed go unchallenged. From reading accounts of the trial it appears that the location of the shooter was given as outside the Courthouse by the bailiff and from behind a high wall at the back of Kilmartins house by some of the police. A distance of about one hundred yards separates the two locations.
 Courthouse and Dispensary, Cill Rónáin.Thatched in 1882 and pleased to report, re-thatched very recently.

Giving evidence, the bailiff, who had held the position for eight years, swore that he heard a shot and turning around saw Bryan Kilmartin about five yards away holding a revolver. A second shot then struck him in the cheek and that after a third shot he noticed Bryan approaching but he managed to make his escape.
Constable Thomas Farrell would later give evidence of finding a cap and mask hidden under a stone at the back of Kilmartins house. This seems strange as the Bailiff had claimed to have clearly identified Bryan and had not mentioned a mask.

The bailiff also swore that he had no previous dispute with the prisoner despite the fact that he had recently served Bryan with an eviction order and just the day before had served him with a summons for trespass.

Constable Kelly gave evidence of finding a live bullet in Kilmartins and Sub Inspector Tyack gave evidence of comparing this bullet with one that flattened itself on the bailiff's cheekbone. Incredibly, he swore that the two bullets corresponded exactly.

A revolver was not found during the initial search and it's finding during a subsequent search is highly suspicious. The forensic evidence concerning the gun and bullet along with evidence purporting to show footsteps leading to the back of Bryan's house, along with the bailiff's identification claim, were the only evidence offered by the prosecution.

The defense put Bryan's twelve year old daughter Mary Anne on the stand and she swore that when she heard the shots, her father was in the house. Her motives were questioned and she was accused of being coached.

Bryan was the local pound keeper and an Islander named McDonald gave evidence that he was in Kilmartins that night looking for a missing black sheep and that Bryan had gone with him to check the pound. They returned to Kilmartins and after hearing the shots, he swore that Bryan and himself had made their way as far as the Atlantic Hotel (Aran Sweater Market), meeting with Sub Constable Masterson on the way. Bryan had asked Masterson what had happened and the policeman told them that the bailiff had been shot.
Bryan Kilmartin was the Kilronan Pound keeper in 1882

Anthony Derrane (Dirrane) of Kilmurvey, described by the newspapers as a cousin of Bryan's, also gave evidence that he too had called to Kilmartins while looking for two missing sheep. He swore that Bryan had been in at home when the shots were fired and so could not have been the gunman.

Judge Lawson had disallowed a question from a member of the jury. He had asked one of the policemen why exactly they had arrested Bryan as this seems to have happened before any forensic evidence against him was gathered.

In summing up the case, Judge Lawson spoke strongly against Bryan. He could  "see no reason whatsoever for supposing that the Bailiff could be mistaken as to the guilty person, the terror of the moment fixing his would-be murderer's face indelibly on his memory". Given that Judge Lawson had looked down the barrel of a would-be assassin's gun himself just a month earlier, it's fair to say he knew what he was talking about.

The newspapers reported that Bryan showed absolute surprise when after a half hour of deliberations he was found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for life.
Judge Lawson declared that although in the eyes of the law he was not guilty of the more serious crime of murder, in the eyes of God he was.
Addressing the court Bryan protested his innocence and swore before God that he was declaring it if he were to die on the spot.  Just three days later, Myles Joyce, an innocent man, was hanged in Galway jail for the Maamtrasna murders. Unlike poor Myles, who could never be unhung, Bryan was to eventually win his freedom.

Prison Life

Bryan was initially held for 14 months in Mountjoy prison in Dublin but was later transferred to Chatham in England. His time in Mountjoy was not as bad as he expected but later, when some of the Phoenix Park Invincibles were imprisoned there, he found himself selected, along with some of the most infamous inmates, for transfer to Chatham prison in England.

The trial of the ‘Crossmaglen’ prisoners in 1883. (The Graphic)

In the early hours of the 8th of March 1884, Bryan and nineteen other prisoners were awoken in their cells. The group consisted of Invincibles who had been convicted for the Phoenix Park killings and others involved in what were called agrarian outrages. Along with Bryan and the Invincibles were young Walsh from Letterfrack, what were known as 'The Crossmaglen prisoners' Kelly, Hanratty, Egan and McBride along with a few other high profile inmates. Newspapers described Bryan as an Invincible from Arran.

H.M.S. Valorous at anchor in 1864. Paddle steamer with sail. Brought Bryan and other prisoners to England.

They were taken to the North Wall where they went aboard a Royal Navy gunboat, H.M.S. Amelia. This boat brought them across Dublin Bay where they were put on board another Royal Navy boat the H.M.S. Valorous, which was anchored off Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire)

The captain of the Valorous ordered that they be freed from their manacles except for having one leg chained to an iron bar which ran the length of the ship.
After three rough days at sea, ten of the prisoners were landed at Chatham, ten more having been dropped off earlier at Portsmouth.
Parade ground at Chatham prison. A hellhole which killed many and drove others insane.

Because of the high level of feeling in Britain about the murder of the hugely popular Lord Cavendish and the recent Irish American Fenian bombing campaign of mainly civilian targets in England and Scotland, the prisoners had to wait until the dock workers went home before being put ashore.
Chained in twos and with a policeman beside each couple, they were marched about a mile to the prison with a further body of police taking up positions in front and behind. Due to fears of a rescue attempt the prison guard was greatly increased.

One of the Irish American Fenian "dynamiters" imprisoned at Chatham was Tom Clarke, who would later become the main force in organising and planning the 1916 rising. He would spend fifteen years in different English jails and was one of the few to survive with his sanity and life.

Bryan's time in Chatham was truly terrible as the Irish prisoners were treated very harshly and were often reduced to eating very rotten food, candles and even at times, rats and mice. Among the prisoners was an Invincible named James Fitzharris. He was the driver of the second car during the killing of Burke and Cavendish and had the unforgettable nickname of 'Skin the Goat'. Some may remember him being mentioned in the song made famous by The Dubliners called 'Monto'. Fitzharris is remembered not just because of his nickname but because, unlike so many other Invincibles, he refused to become a state witness and later refused to implicate Parnell as powerful forces in Britain wanted. 'Skin the Goat' is also mentioned in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'
James (Skin the Goat) Fitzharris, the Invincible who served time with Bryan.

Skin the Goat  is also famous for composing a seventeen verse comical song about a Scottish soldier on sentry duty who bayoneted a pig for answering him in Irish. Seems Gregory Campbell is not the first man to be annoyed by the few words "as gaeilge". Bryan Kilmartin probably heard many  songs being composed and sung during his terrible few months in Chatham. James was from a rural background in Wexford and as both men worked as Jarveys, they would have many other common interests.

During all this time Bryan was unaware of efforts that were being made on his behalf. The famous Aran priest, Michael O'Donohue, was working for his release and his wife, Winnie O'Donnell from Eoghaill had petitioned the Lord Lieutenant, John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer, protesting her husband's innocence. Winnie had found herself without a husband and with six young children to rear. In 1884, Cill Rónáin was a very long way from Chatham but a development in the case was about to change her situation. and bring her husband home.

In a recording made in the 1960s by Bartley Gill (1880-1972) he mentions that his Granduncle Michael Gill died in 1883 shortly after coming from setting a garden at Bárr a' Phointe. He mentions that the garden had been set for Winnie Kilmartin as her husband Bryan was in jail. It is no great surprise that her neighbours helped out a woman in desperate need, but still nice to record.

Everybody on the island, except the Bailiff, were convinced of Bryan's innocence and most had a strong suspicion of who the gunman was. Just days after the shooting, Tom Ganly, an uncle to the famous writers Tom and Liam O'Flaherty, had suddenly cleared off to America.

Grave near Boston of Tom Ganly
Things began to change in April1883 when Tom Ganly found himself dying of consumption in Boston and made a death bed confession exonerating Bryan. A few days after the assassination attempt Tom and his fellow conspirator, his maternal cousin, Dara Flaherty of Manistir,  had struck out for America. Before doing so Tom had confided to his brother Pat, that he had fired the shots at the bailiff. The pastor in Malden, near Boston, Rev Francis J Curran, attested to this death bed confession. Depositions were also sworn before the British consul in Boston.

With the help of many Irish and British M.P.s , a campaign for his release was gathering momentum. Then as now, the "appalling vista" that a man could be falsely convicted on manufactured evidence was almost unbelievable and the authorities were reluctant to even listen never mind act. 
Waterford man Thomas Sexton M.P. who won Bryan his freedom.

While Bryan had been sentenced by a Waterford man, James Lawson, it was to be another Waterford man who would eventually win him his freedom.
Bryan's main champion was the then M.P. for Sligo, Thomas Sexton (1848-1932)
He would later serve as an M.P. for Belfast and for Kerry as well as being Lord Mayor of Dublin

The Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy in Ireland at this time was John Poyntz Spencer, better known as The Red Earl. The very first day of his second term as Viceroy, coincided with the infamous killings in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.
Lady Diana Spencer
He was charged with bringing the country back again to a state of law and order and not surprisingly, chose to come down hard on all forms of crime. The Red Earl was the half brother to Diana Spencer's great grandfather, Charles Spencer, who, in 1910, inherited from John the family estate at Althrop.
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Spencer (1835-1910), also known as the Red Earl. .

On July 31st 1884, Thomas Sexton raised Bryan's case in the House of Commons. He was supported by many Irish members and indeed by quite a few British ones also. He laid out before the house the facts of the case and made the members aware of the confession that Tom Ganly had given on his death bed.

The Liberal Chief Secretary for Ireland at the time was George Otto Trevelyan, who had succeeded the murdered Lord Cavendish. He was the son of the infamous Charles Trevelyan of famine times. After Sexton's speech, it was expected that he would support a new investigation into the affair but this was not to be.
George Otto Trevelyan, Chief Secretary for Ireland
Supported by the Home Secretary, William Harcourt, he declared Sexton's new evidence to be worthless and furthermore declared that no weight should be given to the confession of a dying man, it being completely unreliable as he had nothing to lose.
Sir William Harcourt

This was a grave mistake by Trevelyan as even today, the most lapsed Catholic would never dare to make a bad confession on his or her death bed. There was general uproar at this insult to both Irish and British Catholics and the former Tory Chief Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, son and namesake of another famous famine politician,  was asked to give his view.
 He rose to support Sexton and declared that the confession of a dying Catholic was more trustworthy than that of a Protestant. Mind you, this seemed to infer that the word of a healthy Catholic might not be so trustworthy. He was joined by another Tory M.P. Lord Randolph Churchill, in calling for an inquiry. Churchill, father of Winston, would later  in 1886 coin one of the most famous phrases in Irish history, " Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right".
Lord Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill
Sir Robert Peel

General Gordon  (1833-1885)
It would be unfair perhaps to speculate that politicians then or now would feign support or opposition to a measure, just to embarrass their political opponents. For this reason we must celebrate Peel and Churchill for their contribution. The matter was finally put beyond doubt when a number of Trevelyan's own Liberal party, among them Sir Edward Watkin, rose to support Bryan and Prime Minister Gladstone intervened to promise that an investigation would be held into Bryan's case. At this time, public attention had been focused on the famous General Gordon, who was besieged in Khartoum and Bryan's case was lucky to get Gladstone's attention. General Gordon was however not to be as fortunate as Bryan and the incompetent military fiasco of Gordon's death was later 'spun', like the 1854 charge of the Light Brigade, as a great act of heroism.

Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898) who agreed to investigate the case against Bryan Kilmartin.

Shortly after, Sexton along with Willie Redmond would go to America where evidence was gathered in Malden attesting to Tom Ganly's confession.
At the same time, a gunboat was put at the disposal of the Jesuit educated Dubliner, Richard Paul Carton Q.C. (1837-1907) in order that he could visit Cill Rónáin and examine the evidence. Carton's visit was done with very little publicity as Lord Spencer was at the time coming under severe pressure to release some of the Maamtrasna prisoners who were believed innocent and the wrongful hanging of Myles Joyce was a very emotive issue in Ireland and beyond.

The Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. McEvilly (1818-1902)
John McEvilly 1818-1902
had been a lukewarm supporter of Dublin Castle but after he was publicly confronted by a man at a confirmation ceremony in Mayo, who admitted perjury and attested to Myles Joyces' innocence in the Maamtrasna case, he had become enraged with the cover up and foot dragging by the authorities. For  Viceroy Earl Spencer, avoiding publicity about another possible travesty of justice was most desirable.

Along with a resident magistrate, Mr Reid, Carton investigated the case and after studying the trial map and the ground itself, came to the conclusion that the evidence of footsteps leading TO  Kilmartins was incorrect and that the correct interpretation was that the footsteps had led PAST Kilmartins.The map used by Carton was the same map used at the trial and this raised obvious questions.
The Chapel road is at the right of this photo. No Church in 1882
Today, this pathway is known as Bóithrín an tSéipeil (Chapel Road) but in 1884 it was just a pathway to the Pound as the Church was not built until 1903. It would appear also that Carton was greatly impressed by the evidence of Winnie Kilmartin who seems to have been a loyal and fearless supporter of her husband.

Two islanders, Pete Hernon and Bryan Flaherty, who had been in Malden at the time Tom Ganly lay dying, came forward and swore to Carton that Tom had confessed his guilt to them and had expressed great regret that Bryan was paying for Tom's crime. Tom's brother Pat Ganly also swore that Tom had admitted his guilt just before fleeing to America. 

Freedom at last 
September 27th 1884. News of Bryan's release.
A few weeks later ,  Fr. Michael O'Donoghue received notice from Earl Spencer that Bryan was to be released.

On the morning of the 25th of September 1884, Bryan was awakened and told to put on a new set of clothes. He had no idea what was happening until, after he was bathed and photographed, the governor told him of his release. He was taken in a stunned state to a train station and escorted to the mail boat at Holyhead. Bryan was kept under police supervision until he embarked

 He was met at the North Wall by the head warden at Mountjoy. He had been given £5 leaving London and after bringing Bryan to an eating house, the warden handed him a further £1. Placed on the Galway train, it was only then that Bryan fully realised that he was at last free.
Evidence given by two Islanders which helped Bryan's case

Like many an Aran Islander before and since, Bryan found himself marooned in Galway due to bad weather. Bryan's release was a great victory for the Irish Party and the Land League and they were not slow to exploit the propaganda value of this miscarriage of justice. As the undersea telegraph cable was not laid until 1892, the islanders were unsure of when Bryan would return home.

On the morning of Wednesday the 8th of October 1884, two boats arrived in Cill Rónáin with word of Bryan's return later that evening. Later, a sailing hooker, aptly named 'The Land League' arrived at the pier and there were wild celebrations as Bryan finally made it home to his wife and family.

The Islanders had prepared a great bonfire of turf but the police forbade its lighting on instructions from the agent Thompson. They had also illuminated the windows of their homes with candles. Bryan and Winnie appeared to be overcome with the emotion of the occasion and locals were shocked at how such a fine young man of just thirty years had wasted away during his time in jail. According to the journalist who covered the story, the locals had told him that Bryan was the strongest man on the three islands and was once able to lift six hundredweight, more than a quarter of a ton. Then as now, journalists are never disappointed when looking for a good quote in Árainn where disappointing a man with a notebook is regarded as bad manners.

The Islanders were determined that Bryan's homecoming would be marked by a bonfire and they quickly began to move the turf to a location that Thompson could not object to.

 They need not have worried. The smaller islands had also been cut off for a few days but they knew of Bryan's release. When they saw the windows in Cill Rónáin and Cill Éinne being illuminated, three bonfires on Inis Meáin flared up and could be seen in the distance.

Shortly after, a bonfire could be seen on the South Island, Inis Oirr and finally a fire could be detected on the West Clare coast. Bryan's father was a Clare man and had come to Cill Rónáin either just before or shortly after Bryan was born.

Bryan, Winnie and their children retired to their house for a short while and the crowd assembled in the area near the Old Pier. On Bryan's reappearance, Fr. O'Donoghue addressed the crowd in English and thanked William Sexton and other Irish and British M.P.s for their help in securing Bryan's freedom. He also paid tribute to the devotion and loyalty of Bryan's wife, Winnie. Fr. O'Donoghue also mentioned the
Where Bryan addressed the crowd. (Photo Raoul Lemercier)
gross insult by  Trevelyan against the Catholic religion and called on the people to avoid coming into conflict with the law. He also made a reference to compensation and mentioned a famous case from 1879 when a young Roscommon man, William Hebron, was awarded £1000 for his wrongful conviction for the murder of a policeman in Birmingham.
Bryan then addressed the large crowd. Speaking in Irish, he outlined some of the harsh treatment he had endured. He declared that it was only his belief in his own innocence that kept him alive in what he described as "the dungeon of Chatham"
He thanked Thomas Sexton and the many Irish and British M.P.s who had come to his aid and had a special thanks for his wife Winnie and his priest, Michael O'Donoghue.

As the crowd cheered his every sentence, Bryan, with tears in his eyes was rendered almost speechless. Indeed, many of the crowd were themselves reduced to tears.

Amazingly, the bailiff was incensed by the whole affair and had to be restrained by the police from making a speech. He seems to have still believed that Bryan was his assailant and without the priest's exhortations to the people to act in a peaceful way, he may well have been severely beaten. The Bailiffs problems were only beginning as an investigation was about to begin into certain irregularities involving him in his position as Relieving Officer for the Islands.

As Bryan's release was a great victory for the Home Rulers, he was shortly after brought to Lisdoonvarna where he got a rousing reception. Bryan stayed with a man who had served time with him, Daniel O'Loughlin. Bryan was accompanied by Fr. O'Donoghue and Patrick Johnston J.P. of Kilmurvey. Johnston, who had supported the release of Bryan, was a Clare man and the son in law of the famous middleman James O'Flaherty of Kilmurvey House.

All through the next few months, efforts were made in Westminster to have compensation paid and to have Bryan completely exonerated. This was not to be as Earl Spenser was very grudging in his reply and Bryan was very upset that his good  name was still damaged.

In a letter to Fr.O'Donoghue, Earl Spencer, the Lord Lieutenant had included in a short note the following. His Excellency has determined to release Kilmartin. He does so without
impeaching the correctness of the original conviction; or the bone fides of Hernon.

Lord Carnarvon visits Arran

This being a less than convincing admission of wrongful conviction, it was only natural that Bryan would feel aggrieved. Bryan however was to get an unofficial confirmation of his innocence when in June 1885, Gladstone's Liberal government was defeated and Earl Spencer was replaced by the new Tory Lord Lieutenant, Henry Herbert, better known as Lord Carnarvon. 
Lord Carnarvon, who visited Arran in August 1885

Carnarvon was installed as the new Viceroy on the 7th July 1885 and shortly after decided to tour the west coast on a Royal Navy warship. His time as Viceroy would only last until the following January but he indirectly attested to Bryan's good character when he visited Aran in August 1885.

Lord Carnarvon, his second wife Elizabeth Howard, his daughter Winnifred Herbert and her fiancée Captain Alfred Byng made up the main group of distinguished visitors.

Arriving in Galway by train, they visited a number of institutions in the city before retiring for the night aboard their warship which lay at anchor in the bay. A keen scholar and student of the classics, Lord Carnarvon caused a minor stir when he chided the academics at the Queens College for not having any department of Irish. His son George is perhaps known to some of our readers as Lord Porchester, the man who bankrolled Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamum's tomb in Egypt in 1922.
H.M.S. Valorous at Cill Ciarán Bay, Connemara in 1880. She had arrived with food aid during those very hungry years.

At 3 P.M. on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 18th 1885 the vice regal party dropped anchor in Cill Éinne bay. There must have been great excitement on the island as the party made their way ashore and the man selected to drive the Viceroy around the island was none other than Bryan Kilmartin. That Fr. O'Donoghue had a hand in this is almost certain but the fact that the Viceroy was happy to be driven around the island by Bryan was proof that he was deemed trustworthy by Lord Carnarvon and a deliberate slight to the previous Viceroy.

While the Islanders might have been in awe of the magnificent warship in the bay, Bryan may not have been too impressed. By a strange twist of fate, it was the very same ship, H.M.S. Valorous, which had taken Bryan, in chains, to his hellhole of a prison in Chatham.

Reports of the visit indicate that it was a great success and the ladies are reported to have tripped up to the great fort, "like firbolg damsels". It seems some reporters were as apt to lose the run of themselves then as some are today.
The reports also mention the two ladies visiting some Island women in their homes and conducting some conversations in Gaelic. We have consulted with a man who has written extensively on the the Carnarvon Herberts, Willie Cross, and he is of the opinion that it's likely the only Gaelic they might have had were some few words picked up from Scottish or Irish staff at one of their two residences.

Vice Regal Lodge, Dublin.
Most of us are familiar with their two houses as one of them, the Viceregal lodge in Dublin is now home to President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

Readers may be even more familiar with their English home as it is one of the most famous stately homes in the world, Highclere Castle. Most people will recognise Highclere as the stately home of the fictional Crawley family in the hugely popular TV series, Downton Abbey.
Highclere Castle, home to Lord and Lady Carnarvon. Better known today as the fictional T.V. setting, Downton Abbey


Lord Carnarvon, after hearing directly from Bryan of his efforts to get a full pardon and compensation, asked that the papers and details be sent on to him and he would do all in his power to get justice for Bryan. Sadly for Bryan, with the fall of the Tory government, Lord Carnarvon would see his term as Lord Lieutenant end abruptly on January 12th 1886.
September 1885. No news on compensation.

As the Valorous sailed away to visit Kilkerrin, Clifden and Westport, Bryan must have had hopes of finally getting some justice. Although the Bailiff managed in 1883 to get £100 compensation for his injuries, we have not been able to find out whether Bryan was ever compensated. The figure of £2,500 was mentioned by Carnarvon as a possible compensation figure. Although the matter was raised a few times more in parliament, by among others the great Parnell, it's unlikely he ever was. We will have to follow this up, but readers who find themselves ever in Cill Rónáin might be able to find out for themselves.
Door to Joe Mac's pub at top right. 1939 Photo N.L.I.
Just call in to Tigh Joe Mac's pub, which overlooks the pier and ask the Landlord, Bryan's great grandson, Steve Kilmartin. While Steve may not know the answer, you will be able to meet the locals, enjoy a nice mug of tea or coffee or even something stronger if you wish.

It may seem a long long time since the shots were fired at Bart Hernon in 1882 but in some ways it was only a short time ago. Despite the hardship he endured in Chatham, Bryan was to go on to live until the great age of 86 and only died in 1941. Recently, it was brought home to us just how recent this piece of Island history is, when an Islander who was cycling by stopped for a chat and at the mention of Bryan's name, recalled knowing him well when he was a young lad.

It would appear that Bryan made a quick and full recovery for in 1890 an American newspaper ran an article about the Arran Islands.
Newspaper report from 1890
The reporter mentions an American journalist coming to the cliffs and being determined to make the dangerous assent

which only a few Islanders were able to accomplish.
  He found the strongest and most sure footed man on the island to assist him, Bryan Kilmartin. After trying his best to dissuade him from his goal, Bryan agreed finally to get the man to the bottom of the cliffs and back up again. Despite the obligatory "stage Irish" dialogue, the article makes very enjoyable reading.

And so ends the story of the wrongful conviction and subsequent freeing of Bryan Kilmartin.
Michael Muldoon 2017 
Bryan Kilmartin's grave.


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