Mulligan Manslaughter Case

Fair Day Enniskerry
Source: Wicklow Library Service

Thomas Mulligan was a Roundwood farmer who was found dead in suspicious circumstances. When the Magesterial Investigation got under way the finger of suspicion soon pointed to two men. Michael Kavanagh was a blacksmith by trade and Benjamin Henderson was a labourer. The results of the investigation were heard at Enniskerry Court House. Mr. Toomey appeared for the defence and Sub Inspector Brownrigg appeared for the police. The Bench, on the evidence before them committed the prisoners for Trial at the Summer Assizes at Wicklow, bail applications for the defendants were refused. The two prisoners were immediately transported to Wicklow Gaol. They would sit in their cells for the next seven weeks. At the end of July 1875 the Summer Assizes opened in the county town in the presence of the High Sheriff, Sir John Esmonde Bart M.P. and Sub Sheriff John K. Toomey. The Jury was sworn in and were informed that they would be sworn in again at 2pm on the following Wednesday. It was here that the Right Honourable Baron Dowse took his seat at Wicklow Court House. His Lordship was feeling the heat and requested that the Sub Sheriff open all the windows. He was not a man for mincing his words as he declared: ‘the place was the most abominable Court House that he had ever sat in.’ The Sub Sheriff encountered problems trying to open one particular window and it was then noted that the window was last open four years previously. The window had resisted all attempts to open it since. His Lordship was having none of it: ‘are we all to be smothered; the court is like a cockpit!’ There was much laughter and mirth at this, but not from the Baron, he summoned the Courthouse keeper who became the immediate target of his ire: ‘if you don’t make it come down by nine o’ clock in the morning, something will come out of your pocket!’ More mirth and laughter echoed around the room. The irate Baron laid down the law and informed the hapless caretaker that he planned to fine him three pounds the next day if the offending window was not open. Fresh air and relief from the heat was much appreciated on the second day of the Assizes as all windows were open. It was business as usual. Kavanagh and Henderson appeared on a charge of the manslaughter of Thomas Mulligan at Enniskerry on March 24th 1875. Mr. Ryan QC stated: ‘it is most creditable to your county that one would seldom indeed have the painful duty of inquiring into the loss of life by one man from the hands of his fellow creature.’ The victim was a married and respected labouring man. On the night of the killing, the two accused had been drinking. Mulligan was in the drinking house that night also and a dispute arose over a debt. Loud arguments followed and such was the disturbance that the three men were ejected from the pub. The three however met up outside the entrance gates to Powerscourt Estate. It was claimed that the two accused had been lying in wait for Mulligan to show up. A man called Malone was with Mulligan and both men were attacked. At the insistance of Henderson, Malone was knocked out by Kavanagh, after he had already attacked Mulligan.The two victims were then left lying in the road and it was here they were found by a man called Sutton. Malone recovered from the assault but Mulligan expired from the kicks and blows he received from Kavanagh. Dr. Darby testified to the injuries received by Mulligan, particularly to his eyebrow and the clots on his brain. It was the contention of the defence that Mulligan had challenged both Kavanagh and Henderson to fight, and as there was no abrasion to the external injury of Mulligan, it might not come from a blow or a fall. Malone was drunk and it was a dark night and the question arose if he could really identify his attackers.


His Lordship addressed the Jury and instructed them that if they were of the opinion that the prisoners struck out in self defence, then they should bring in an acquittal. The Jury deliberated for thirty minutes and returned a verdict of guilty. His Lordship when addressing Kavanagh stated: ‘It would have justified the Grand Jury in finding you guilty of murder.’ Kavanagh was then sentenced to penal servitude for life. Henderson was declared equally guilty, he did intend injury to Mulligan but had not set out to murder him as he struck no blows to the victim. He too was sentenced to penal servitude for life.

Stan J. O’ Reilly.

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