Tuesday 13 November 2018

Remembering a lonely exile on Christmas Eve

Many emigrants will arrive home today to spend the festive season with loved ones. Stock photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Many emigrants will arrive home today to spend the festive season with loved ones. Stock photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Fiona O'Connell

Many emigrants will arrive home today to spend the festive season with loved ones. But a brutal battle in 1831, 10 days before Christmas Eve, forced an innocent girl to bid farewell to family and friends forever.

For the tithe levy imposed by the Anglican Church led to fierce resistance, especially among the poor, whose staple diet of potatoes was affected.

Such was the case in an area of this county known as Walsh Mountain, where the tight-knit community still spoke Irish and past times included recitations of past rebellions, while crossroad dances were the social highlight for the young.

Which was probably where Catherine Danaher met Tom Keegan, an Irish man who was a member of the constabulary that ended up in Hugginstown on that devastating December 14. For hedge school master William Kane, conspicuous in a colourful sash and a glazed-leather military cap, had masterminded a strategy to disrupt the tithe collection that would spiral catastrophically out of control.

Catherine was among the huge crowd, hoping to see her sweetheart. She got more than she bargained for. After Captain Gibbons fired a shot and all hell broke loose, Catherine fled home.

But a fatal decision to return to "the battle boreen" to try to find Keegan meant she witnessed injured policemen being brutally 'finished off'. After Keegan escaped, the traumatised 20-year-old gave him an account of the day's horrors, little realising that - for her - they had just begun. For Catherine's association with Keegan brought her to the attention of the authorities, and she was detained and interrogated by a notorious heavy gang of special constables.

Keegan was sent away, leaving her vulnerable when Crown agents spread false information to create an atmosphere of distrust.

After Catherine was attacked, she agreed to flee to Newfoundland, along with William Kane and Nicholas Murphy.

The fugitives secretly boarded The Cabinet, owned by the sympathetic Lady Esmonde of Ringville, where they were likely concealed in wooden chests.

For a search party was in hot pursuit, so much so that the ship had to abandon plans to pick up cargo and provisions in Cobh, sailing directly.

Catherine expected her exile to be temporary, as preparations were made for Keegan to bring her home. But, bizarrely, the plan was abandoned, apparently because Catherine's arrest rendered her useless as a witness at trial. Yet all 18 prisoners were eventually acquitted.

"Remember Carrickshock" became a rallying cry for the tithe protest - even as Catherine became a forlorn and forgotten footnote in the bloody fiasco. For no one knows what happened to her. But there is pathos in the fact that she escaped by wearing a wedding outfit, posing as William Kane's bride.

For Catherine would never again see - let alone marry - the man for whom she lost it all.

Sunday Independent

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