Saturday 20 January 2018

Good Samaritan tends graves of murdered sailors

Ralph Riegel

FOR the past 50 years, the graves of seven sailors who were brutally murdered have been carefully tended, even extending to the purchase of a new, specially engraved headstone.

Some thought the good deeds were the work of a distant family member of those who died at the hands of a crazed merchant ship captain in June 1828 before the ship docked in Cork.

Now it has emerged that a retired Naval Service reservist is the good Samaritan caring for the graves and paying for their upkeep in a little rural cemetery in Kilmurray.

Michael Healy says he first read about the murders in 1955 and has tended the graves ever since.

"I was absolutely fascinated by the story. I finally found the grave and I suppose I've tried to take care of it ever since," Mr Healy told the Irish Independent.

Several years ago, Mr Healy paid for the headstone to be cleaned and the inscription re-marked.

It was thought that only one of the victims, Tom Connell, was buried at the cemetery. However, it is now suspected that all seven of the murder victims may be buried there.

"In those days very few people had the money to put up a headstone so it's quite possible that there are a few of the victims there," Mr Healy said.

Alannah Hopkin and Kathy Bunney, the authors of a new book, were surprised to find that it was Mr Healy tending the old graves. Their book -- published by Collins Press -- traces how the MV Mary Russell murders horrified both Irish and English society but quickly faded into folklore.

"It ranks as one of the worst multiple homicides in Irish history but the funny thing is that so few people have heard of it," Ms Bunney said.

In June 1828, the MV Mary Russell arrived in Cork harbour from the West Indies, and dockers were horrified to discover the butchered bodies of seven of the ship's crew in the saloon.


The seven -- William Swanson, John Cramer, Francis Sullivan, John Keating, James Raynes, Tom Connell and James Morley -- had been tied up before being killed with an axe.

Two other crewmen, William Smith and John Howes, were badly injured but survived, and it quickly emerged that the captain, Cobh-born William Stewart (53) was responsible.

The only other people left alive on the ship were three boys; two were apprentice sailors and the third was an invalid returning from the Caribbean.

Captain Stewart, whose wife was expecting their fifth child when the ship arrived in Cork with her grim cargo, was later charged with murder.

The prosecutor was none other than Daniel 'The Liberator' O'Connell. However, O'Connell ultimately missed the trial because he was contesting an election.

Captain Stewart was deemed not guilty by reason of insanity and was confined to Cork lunatic asylum on August 11, 1828. It emerged that he believed the men were fomenting a mutiny, and said he would only believe their innocence if they allowed themselves to be tied up.

Irish Independent

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