Danger Lurking in Shadows

The frivolous indulgences of genteel society types who flocked to Lucan up to the mid-1800s, starkly contrasted with the lives of their blighted fellow countrymen, the desperate poor. While one group took to the health enhancing waters, danced until dawn and negotiated mutually beneficial marriages, the other fought man and nature in a daily battle for survival.

Stacked as they were at opposite ends of the class spectrum, they yet had common enemies whom they greatly feared - the bandits and the highwaymen. When darkness fell all boundaries were blurred and travelling was a very hazardous affair. The lone traveller was easy pickings. Having crossed the Lucan Bridge and taken the Dublin road one early morning, Mathew Hanlon was attacked and left for dead with a pistol ball through his heart. His only provocation was to make his way to market to sell his sheep, perhaps muttering prayers for protection but falling foul of the highwayman’s old trick of stringing a rope across a country road and fleecing his fallen victim.

Rigging shuttered windows with bells did not dissuade a desperate gang of roaming burglars from crossing the Lucan Bridge and terrorising the populace, rich and poor, as they did in 1797. They came in many guises, at times knocking to gain admittance as bailiffs and sheriff’s men, reading bogus writs and ransacking the house. Nor were men of God exempt from this human malevolence.Father MacCartan had had a busy few days, saying the stations in houses around Lucan. On that fateful summer’s night he stopped for dinner with the steward of Palmerstown House, Lord Donoughmore’s residence, taking his leave about 10 o’clock.

At the crossroads above the village, the sounds of the Liffey soft to his ears and home just footsteps away, the black clothed clergyman was attacked. In return for ten shillings and a silver watch, Thomas Weir seized him by the throat and put a bullet through his heart. He was found by the turnpike keeper, lying on his back in a pool of blood, his right hand reaching out for mercy. Weir was tried with his fellow conspirator, Christopher Walsh. Their defence was simple; The Act of Union had taken away their livelihoods. Desperate times made desperate men. On being found guilty, Weir, 19 and Walsh, 34 were hanged the very next morning, as was customary in those times, on the spot on which the crime was committed, the top of Lucan Hill.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 22nd August 2013