The Abduction Craze

As the night grows deeper and the sounds of the city soften, a carriage turns to cross the Essex Bridge. Inside is a beautiful young lady, a wealthy heiress with little on her mind other than who she might dance with at the castle ball.

Suddenly the carriage halts upon the bridge and a young messenger flings open the door. There is not a moment to waste, he is to accompany her home as her brother is ill! She immediately agrees, he quietly instructs the coachman and joins her in the carriage. She knows not yet, but she has assisted in her own abduction.

Younger sons of good families had great expectations of life but little to boast of in the bank. Perhaps a quiet life ministering in the church could be hoped for or a vainglorious career in the army - usually accompanied by a lifetime of indebtedness. Not for him the older brother’s hunting, fishing, shooting lifestyle on the family estate. What younger sons wanted was to bag an heiress. The trouble was heirs usually married heiresses because marriage was seldom about love and all about about dynasty. Now some young men, of bolder spirits, brave hearts and weaker morals, simply took an heiress without asking. They plucked them off the streets of Dublin, whisked them away to places unknown and held them against their will until their reputations had suffered ruinous damage.

Not even their great fortunes could save the innocent maids from their unenviable fate of marriage to their abductor. Society simply demanded it. These young men were so bold as to set up clubs where they drew lots for any eligible heiress who came to their attention and then assisted the lucky winner in the abduction. Tragedy, was of course, the inevitable outcome of many abductions - John McNaughton a graduate of Trinity College, was hanged for his troubles in kidnapping the lovely Miss Knox, marrying her, losing her again to her father and finally, horrifically, shooting her dead.
James Strange and Garrett Byrne thought they would outwit the law when kidnapping the young Kennedy sisters, Catherine and Anne. It would not be abduction if the girls were to sit before the men on the horses! And so they did, leading their pursuers on a merry chase across the country for many weeks until finally the girls were rescued from a ship in Wicklow Bay. Despite their family connections, Strange and Byrne were hanged, the judiciary determined to stamp out the craze for abduction.

As for the young heiress last seen on Essex Bridge - she was among the lucky ones, escaping her abductor and though her story scandalised Dublin society, her identity was never revealed. She could dance at the castle balls once more, with her head held high.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 23rd August 2013