Lifestyle

Friday 19 September 2014

How Ireland's first Wimbledon hero died a convicted killer

Declan Cashin on Vere St Leger Goold's spectacular fall from grace

After his valiant performance at Wimbledon this week, Conor Niland is a far cry from Ireland's notorious first contender in the competition, a convicted killer by the name of Vere St Leger Goold.

For the Waterford-born Goold, who competed in the tournament in 1879, ended up dying in prison after being convicted of a murder in Monte Carlo.

Now Goold's incredible story will be told in a new play Love All, which is being staged as part of the Clonmel Junction Festival in Tipperary next weekend.

A talented sportsman and the son of a baron, Goold was 25 when he tried his luck at Wimbledon, then in its third year. After a promising start, he was beaten in the finals 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 by the Rev John Hartley, who later described Goold as a "cheery, wild Irishman". Indeed, it's believed a hangover stunted Goold's performance on the day.

Further losses to the renowned William Renshaw, along with a sustained bout of ill health and problems with booze and drugs, saw Goold retire from tennis in 1883.

In 1891, Goold married a French divorcee named Marie Giraudin, who was from a dress-making family, and was apparently a woman of expensive tastes. The couple quickly descended into debt, spending time in Canada before moving to Liverpool in 1903 to manage a laundry business.

In need of money, the Goolds hightailed it to the casinos of Monte Carlo in 1907. Marie was confident that she had a gambling system that worked, but it wasn't long before the couple ran out of cash.

They took to borrowing heavily. A Danish woman named Emma Liven lent them 1,000 Francs, as well as several pieces of jewellery. The Goolds weren't the only people exploiting Liven's wealth, so she eventually decided to leave Monte Carlo.

Before her departure on August 4, 1907, Liven called to the Goolds to recover her money. An argument erupted, and Liven was struck dead. When she didn't return to her hotel, a companion alerted the police, who called to the Goolds' home.

The couple had left for Marseilles and there was no sign of Liven. However, there were bloodstains found at the scene.

The Goolds planned on fleeing to London, but their actions caught up with them before they could leave Marseilles. They had left a trunk in the train station cloakroom with instructions for it to be forwarded to England. A porter became suspicious of a bad smell, and alerted the police, who found Liven's body inside.

Upon their arrest, the Goolds tried to pin Liven's death on an old lover of hers. Vere then confessed to spare his wife. But in the course of the subsequent murder trial -- a sensation at the time -- their claims unravelled spectacularly, and both were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Marie was sent to Montpellier jail, where she died from typhoid fever in 1914. Goold, meanwhile, was transported to Devil's Island, a penal colony off the coast of South America. He didn't last long, and died -- apparently by his own hand -- the following year.

Love All, by Tadhg Hickey and Aideen Wylde, runs from July 2-4, and from 7-9. See www.junctionfestival.com

Irish Independent

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