Murder at Rathdrum

The Crime

The isolated house was accessible only by the narrow laneway through land owned by Lord Meath, this was a lonely place surrounded by woodland. The old man, Mr. Moore had leased the house and land. He was ninety years old but was healthy and sprightly. He and his wife lived with a grown up son and daughter. It was May of 1884 and the Redcross races were being held during the holiday. Most of the population of the east coast would be in attendance. Wicklow town traders had closed an hour early in honour of the occasion. The couple were comfortably off. Mr. Moore had waved goodbye to his wife. His son and daughter had left for the races and he intended to visit neighbours who lived a mile away. One of the family was sick and would appreciate a visit. Mrs Moore remained at home. She went outside and was unaware of the feral pair of eyes which followed her every move, just as they had paid close attention to her husband when he left. Time meant very little to this predator as he moved from cover, inching his way closer to the old woman. Her back was turned to him. This was what he had waited and planned for. Later that day the old man made his way home, it was growing cooler. He reached the house and was looking forward to sitting by the fire. There was no sign of his wife. He assumed that she had gone into Rathdrum a few miles distant. His old bones looked forward to the summer heat. Inside the house the fire was almost out. He made his way back to the yard to get more timber. His eyes widened and he recoiled in horror. Death had come to the isolated homestead and the horror of that visit lay before him. Underneath a bush was the bloodied body of his wife. She was cold to the touch, three awful wounds were visible on her head and neck. An old long handled shovel was beside the body. The honed blade was covered in blood.The old man hurried back to his neighbours, the Fallons. The alarm was raised and two doctors were summoned. There was nothing they could do, angry neighbours soon gathered as word of the murder spread like wildfire. The police were soon engaged in a widespread manhunt. In the autumn of 1882 an old pensioner, Roger Confrey, was walking along the Glenealy to Rathnew road. He had collected his pension in Rathdrum. Accosted by an ex soldier from Rathdrum, a known tramp and ruffian called Tobin, he knew that he would have to placate this bad character that many lived in fear of. He extended his hand with a few coppers in it. Tobin laid about him with a heavy stick and almost killed him. Confrey was then robbed. Tobin was tried for the crime at the Winter Assizes. He denied the attack even though he was identified by his victim. He had stated:

‘If I had commenced the job I would have finished it – a dead cock never crows. My Lord the men who have sworn against me would swear the leg off a dog – would swear a hole in the chair you are sitting in.’

In a following newspaper report it was recorded: ‘he spoke affectionately of the formidable club with which he committed the outrage as ‘Kennedy.’ At the time, there was considerable outrage as he was sentenced to just six months imprisonment. Two Wicklow Militia Sergeants had given him a good character. Upon his release he had gleefully returned to the vagabond lifestyle around Rathdrum. His presence aroused fear and suspicion locally. Mrs Moore had employed him as a labourer from 1880. After his release from prison he had walked into her kitchen and demanded tea. Mrs Moore turned on him and told him to be off. He had robbed a knife on her, had issued threats against her and continued to do so frequently. Whenever he was in the locality the police considered it necessary to keep a close watch on his movements. It was soon revealed that he was in the neighbourhood and had asked several locals if the Moore children would be going to the Redcross races.


He was the main suspect in the murder and he was on the run.The motive for the murder was robbery and the house had been ransacked. Sir John Esmonde Bart at the Spring Assizes of 1875 had stated to the Grand Jury:

‘The only matter one would observe in the calendar is the introduction of a new class of offenders who are called tramps, formerly called vagabonds. On their way now and then they commit a robbery or perpetrate a burglary – they are considerably on the increase.’

Tobin had graduated to murder. The chase to apprehend him lasted through the night and into the next day. At eleven o’ clock on Tuesday morning he was ran to ground in a labourer’s cottage at Ballinahinch. A gun was found on him, it belonged to Moores.’ He once again denied the accusation of a crime against him but told police: ‘You were bloody quick after me – I’m damned if I don’t think I’ll have to swing this time.’ Tobin was moved to Wicklow and lodged in Wicklow Gaol. While in his cell he began to show signs of what was later described as ‘affected insanity.’ It was reported that a general feeling of satisfaction ran through the county which was in an excited state. At the Inquest the bloody details of the murder were made known and that:

‘Tobin was dismissed as a labourer because he got lazy and would not work.’

Dr. Mc Dwyer, Medical Officer, Rathdrum Dispensary District stated:

‘On the left side of the head was an incised wound over two inches in length reaching to the bone. On the right side of the head over the ear, there was an incised wound less than an inch in length which reached the bone and removed a little of the periostium. Another incised wound cut the tissues and severed the jugular vein. The latter wound was of itself quiet sufficient to cause death.’

He agreed the wounds had been caused by an implement similar to the blood stained shovel.The Jury returned their verdict:

‘that the deceased Eliza Moore, was found murdered in the yard of her own house on the 19th of May, and that such murder was committed by some person or persons unknown.’

The Trial

Towards the end of May 1884 Tobin was brought before Dr. Truell at the County Courthouse and he was ‘further remanded.’ The investigation of the case continued: ‘little more direct evidence has of yet, been obtained against Tobin than was produced at the Inquest. It is stated that the deceased woman’s family are seeking to obtain monetary compensation for the murder. As the crime was of an ordinary character, such an application would be useless.’ The Wicklow Newsletter of June 7th 1884 reported:

‘Yesterday, James Tobin was brought before the Magistrates.’ Tobin was held at Wicklow Gaol while the Majesterial Inquiry was under way. He was taken to Rathdrum under armed police escort, by train: ‘The tramp who was handcuffed retains his customary hardihood of demeanour, and seems if anything improved in appearance by his confinement.’ A large crowd greeted his arrival at the station and marched with his escort to Rathdrum Courthouse. A large proportion of the crowd were women who gave full vent to their fury: and expressed their indignation freely by gesture and exclamation.’ Tobibn was charged that he: ‘did feloniously kill and murder one Eliza Moore and did also steal one shotgun, the property of Edward Moore.’ Tobin was undefended as Mr. Major appeared for the prosecution. Witnesses were called. Edward Moore appeared. The old man was half blind and by his own admission was ‘self stupid.’ He could not identify the prisoner in the dock. His son appeared next. Edward Moore Jnr. stated that he had gone to the races on the day of the murder and had left a shotgun in the kitchen. He easily identified Cooper and told the court that he had called to their house on two previous occasions since being fired as a labourer. Mary Creighton, Eliza’s daughter testified to returning home to find her room rifled. Alexander Newman swore he had met Tobin on the morning of the murder and Tobin had asked: ‘if Ned Moore and Mary Creighton were gone to the races?’


He had seen Tobin at the top of the lane leading to Moores house. Bridget Byrne saw Tobin in Mr. Megan’s house about a half mile from Moore’s: ‘I gave him a copper, he asked for a shirt and a pair of socks.’ She told him that she had nothing more to give him. Margaret Mallon had seen Tobin in her yard: ‘He had a gun, he came into the house and asked for something to cover the gun.’ He was given a piece of tobacco and left. Tobin was asked if he wanted to question her: ‘No – I did not want the gun wet – that was all. ‘Edward Hatton swore Tobin was in his house until six in the evening and was carrying a gun and a blackthorn stick: ‘he wanted me to buy the gun which he said he had won at a raffle.’ He had not bought the gun and it was then produced in court. Hatton declared:

‘I believe the gun produced is the same.’

James Neil was a pensioner and remembered having a conversation with Tobin at Murphy’s public house in Laragh. Tobin wanted Neil to go to Moore’s with him and Neil asked why? Tobin replied: ‘I worked that place and there is money there in a black bag.’ The motive for murder was now established. Neil had also asked him how he intended to get the money and Tobin replied: ‘the old man is in bed and I don’t care about him, there is only Mary Creighton and the old woman – I’d give her a knock on the head and soon do away with her. As for Mary Creighton, she may be out walking and I’ll throw her on one side too.’ Neil said that he had advised Tobin against robbery and murder and had reported the matter to Sgt. Dwyer. Tobin denounced Dr. Truell as a paid witness, he was admonished to be quiet and shouted: ‘Keep quiet be damned! This is not King James’ time.’ Peter Cooper had met Tobin and assured him that Moore would have work for him. Tobin blasted: ‘Let him and his work go to hell! – If I could get that gun!’ Michael Cooney was a farmer from Annagowlan, he had fed Tobin and gave him a cover for the gun. Tobin then denounced the witnesses as: ‘careys and paid informers! I thought all Cooneys were dead, but them or their ghosts can still be had.’ Tobin refused to question Cooney but declared him: ‘no carey.’ The court was then adjourned for eight days. June 12th 1884 and Tobin was again before the Bench at Rathdrum Petty Sessions. Constable McWilliams gave evidence of finding the body and blood stained weapons. He also described the condition of the house. Constable McWhirter gave evidence of arresting Tobin near Newtown. Tobin was searched and 2d in coppers was foud on him, as were seven tobacco pipes and a penknife. He had also found the gun. Tobin had stated: ‘you were soon on my track: you came over the hill quicker than I did.’ Tobin was taken to Newtown and then to Wicklow on a car. Between Ashford and Wicklow, people lined the road and booed Tobin. They shouted: ‘Murderer!’ ‘Hang him!’ ‘Shoot him!’ and other expressions. Tobin while on the way into Wicklow Town had stated: ‘they’ll have to prove I did it. A man can rob a house and not commit murder.’ Constable McWhirter had found the blackthorn stick ‘Kennedy’ with Tobin and observed two marks on it which he thought were blood. Dr. Dwyer agreed the shovel would cause the head wounds to the skull of the victim. Mr. Major applied to have the prisoner committed for trial at the next Assizes. There was a strong ‘Prime Facie’ case against him. Tobin when asked to sign a statement shouted: ‘What have I got to sign, my own death warrant?’ Tobin was then taken to Wexford by the four o’ clock train from Wicklow station. The police were praised for running Tobin to ground so quickly. At the July 1884 Wicklow Summer Assizes, Tobin appeared in the dock. The case for the Crown was put forward by Sgt. Hemphill Q.C. It was reported that Tobin entered a plea of not guilty: ‘in a half careless manner.’ Tobin was continuing to act in a reckless manner before the Bench, appearing to be unconcerned with the seriousness of his situation and: ‘preserved his usual hardiness of demeanour.’ Anne Fallon gave evidence of the old man visiting her house and returning later with news of the murder. Mary Creighton told of her room being torn apart and of items taken. Edward Moore gave his evidence and identified the shotgun.

William Moran testified about Tobin being in their house at Aghowle, Tobin:

‘ had a double barrelled gun in his possession which he asked me to buy.’

Several Constables also gave evidence. The Bench then adjourned until August 2nd. Margaret Cooper appeared as a witness and deposed to: ‘finding Mr. Creighton’s money behind a press.’ She and Mrs Creighton were searching for the purse at the time. Two Sergeants of the Wicklow Artillery Staff appeared:’ and gave the prisoner a character.’ Tobin had been with Sir Hugh Rose and Lord Napier at the taking of Delhi. Sgt. Major Coulter knew Tobin from 1862 to 1865 on the island of Mauritius and: ‘his character during the period was good.’ Sgt. Roberts knew Tobin as a gunner from 1855 to 1857. He was cross examined by Dr. Falconer: ‘Do you know that when he was in the tropics he was suffering from any disease of the brain?’ Sgt. Roberts replied: ‘not to my knowledge.’ Dr. Halpin gave evidence of examining Tobin in Wicklow Gaol and stated: ‘he is a very healthy man and possessed of all his faculties.’ Dr. Falconer then stated: ‘there is nothing improbable in his assertion that he had sunstroke.’ He pointed out that marks on the back of Tobin’s neck had been examined: ‘they may have been and I think they were, marks of a seton, it is the fact that setons are used for diseases of the head, and often in the case of sunstroke.’ Dr. Falconer went on to say: ‘sunstroke did not produce permanent insanity.’ Tobin then took the stand. He told of his landing on Mauritius in 1856 and of many men dying of cholera. He was there for nine years: ‘in my young days I was in the Crimea as a trumpeter.’ A letter was also produced from the War Office which stated that Tobin was discharged after eighteen years service,during which he was awarded two good conduct badges.’ His Lordship told Dr. Falconer that he must go further if he wished to enter an insanity plea, Dr. Falconer had no further witnesses to call and as a result an insanity plea was ruled inadmissable. Dr. Falconer addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner: ‘If the Jury had the slightest doubts in their minds as to the evidence, it was their duty to give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt.’ He went on to criticise the evidence of witnesses and said that even Cooper could be the murderer, or that a stranger did it:

‘There were plenty of tramps and desperate characters roving through the country that day.’

The Crown he delared, had not proven their case. The Jury should acquit the prisoner. Mr. Anderson Q.C. Prosecutor for the Crown, declared that if the Jury were satisfied that Tobin was the murderer, it was their duty to deliver a guilty verdict. The Jury then retired until half past four in the afternoon, when they returned it was stated that one of their number was for acquittal. The Jury was again retired and returned an hour later. They delivered a guilty verdict. His Lordship asked Tobin if he had anything to say. In a firm voice he said: ‘I am not guilty my lord.’ His Lordship then addressed the prisoner:

‘Tobin, you have been found guilty by a Jury of your countrymen of the crime of murder, for that crime the punishment awarded by our law is death.’

His Lordship then put on the black cap and ruled that Tobin be taken to Wexford Gaol where on the 26th of August 1884:’you be then and there hanged by the neck till you are dead.’ Tobin was then to be buried within the precincts of Wexford Gaol. Tobin loudly exclaimed: ‘My Lord, you and every one of you will have my blood on your head.’ On the following Tuesday morning he was taken to Wexford Gaol and it was reported: ‘he seemed in no way to feel his terrible position, but appeared determined to avail himself to the full extent of the creature comforts mercifully allowed by the law to condemned criminals.’ Early on the morning of his execution Tobin was up to pray. He had found religion with visits from the nuns and clergy. He bemoaned being blamed for a lot of things in his early life, just because he was around when something happened. Before eight o’ clock the prison bell began to toll: ‘Tobin left the chapel where mass had been celebrated and proceeded to the scaffold.’

The Execution

Two clergymen, the prison Medical Officer, the Governor, and four Wardens went with him. The Governor handed him over to the Sub Sheriff for the county of Wicklow. He then placed him in the hands of Berry, the executioner. Tobin answered the prayers for the dead before thanking the gaol officials, clergy and Sisters of Mercy. Straps were attached to his hands and feet, the noose was placed around his neck. At two minutes past eight o’ clock the silence was shattered by the sound of the bolt being withdrawn. Tobin plunged into eternity. The black flag was hoisted. It was later reported that Tobin had consumed half a pound of cheese, one pound of bread and a pint of beer, the night before his execution. Each day in his cell he had eaten one pound of beef, two pounds of potatoes, eight ounces of bread and a pint of beer. He had indeed taken full advantage of the creature comforts allowed him. The Inquest was held in the Boardroom of Wexford Gaol. Dr. D. Halpin, Prison Surgeon, declared death to be instantaneous: ‘there was dislocation of the vertibrae of the neck with rupture of the spinal cord.’ A verdict in accordance with the evidence was returned with a rider added to it to the effect:

‘that Wicklow prisoners should in future be executed in Dublin.’

Tobin made the headlines again on the following November. In the Wicklow Newsletter of November 22nd, in the Local and General Items section, the editor launched an attack on local Land League members and commented on the political murders which took place at Maamtrasna:’ Some of our Wicklow Leagurers are cultivating the Maamtrasna pamphlet, perhaps we may have some result before long in an attempt to show that Tobin, the Rathdrum murderer was wrongfully executed because he was tried under the Crimes Act and many Jurors were ordered by the Crown to ‘stand by.’ Certainly the crime for which he suffered was not more brutal or more cowardly than that for which the Maamtrasna murderers met a just recompense. If Tobin had been little more of a patriot, he would have made a splendid martyr.’

Stan J. O’ Reilly.

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