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Wednesday 11 December 2019

Fiona O'Connell: 'Cad John Carr's fateful meeting with his destiny'

Lay of the Land

'...Only to return from securing their ship's passage to discover that his lover had decided not to go Dutch - even as she went Dutch, having grabbed all the goodies and disguised herself as a man to board a ship bound for Amsterdam' (stock photo)
'...Only to return from securing their ship's passage to discover that his lover had decided not to go Dutch - even as she went Dutch, having grabbed all the goodies and disguised herself as a man to board a ship bound for Amsterdam' (stock photo)

Fiona O'Connell

You could say I get a sneak preview of the Sunday Independent, given I pen a small part of it, but I'm in the same impatient boat as everyone else when it comes to reading my fellow scribes. Though the headline of Declan Lynch's excellent column - 'Tales of Addiction/50 ways to leave your lover' - could sum up this week's piece.

For the story goes that John Carr's lover triggered his downward spiral when she left him. Carr, in turn, left his next lover and debatably made another lover take her leave, not just of him, but life itself. Until his risky lifestyle led him, literally, to the end of his rope.

All because of a fateful meeting in Kilkenny city 12 years before, as Carr said at his trial in the Old Bailey in 1750, with a beautiful young lady who turned out to not be all she appeared.

However, a lesser-known version of events reveals Carr's impulsive nature - throwing himself from his horse in his eagerness to meet the supposed lady. And a backstory of relatives in Dublin who set up this well-educated 19-year-old native of Northern Ireland as a wine and brandy merchant so his future looked secure. Until he threw it all away after the death of a friend, keeping bad company and neglecting his business till he lost all his customers.

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Carr must have been quite the charmer, for it was one of those abandoned associates who invited him to stay at his Kilkenny estate that summer. Where Carr ditched him for a second time, ignoring all his warnings and disappearing off into the sunset - or the Spa at Mallow - less than 48 hours after meeting the siren stranger.

They returned to Dublin when the money ran out, where Carr cashed in what was left of his estates and pestered pals with deep pockets to help finance their planned trip to England. Only to return from securing their ship's passage to discover that his lover had decided not to go Dutch - even as she went Dutch, having grabbed all the goodies and disguised herself as a man to board a ship bound for Amsterdam.

As the annals of the time put it, "the victim of swindlers himself, he became a pirate and smuggler". Yet Carr seemed hooked on high stakes, sabotaging every ensuing success and chance at contentment and descending to ever-greater depths. From betrayal to near bigamy, and the sudden death of a wealthy widow who bequeathed him her worldly goods.

Even that didn't sate this thrill seeker. He resumed smuggling until the Revenue caught up with him. It was when he started forging seamen's wills to rob their relatives that his luck finally ran out. Carr was hanged on November 16. An addict to the bitter end, he accepted no responsibility for his actions, believing that blame, like bliss, lay beyond his control. And unable to face that fate does not determine destiny.

Sunday Independent

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