An ‘outrage’: desecration of a vault in Cork, 1895

St. Senan’s graveyard, Inniscarra, Co. Cork

In late May 1895, Cork city and county was intrigued by the ‘outrage at Inniscarra’. A number of soldiers of the 10th Royal Hussar regiment – stationed in Ballincollig, a few miles from Inniscarra – were arrested on suspicion of desecrating a vault owned by the Colthurst family, a gentry family from Blarney Castle estate. The Colthursts buried their dead in Inniscarra graveyard, a picturesque burial ground surrounding a ruined eighteenth-century church, which was situated on a bend of the River Lee. The family had once lived in Ardrum House overlooking the river valley, but the Colthursts moved to Blarney in 1874. In 1895, Miss Harriet Curry of Ardrum worked as their caretaker in Inniscarra, supervising their property and their burial vaults. 1

On 22 May, Miss Curry, accompanied by 2 policemen, visited the Colthurst vault. She noticed that the door and its lock were broken but this did not prepare her for the gruesome sight within. On opening the door, she saw a corpse in its graveclothes standing on a bench, face towards the door. The legs of a body protruded from the remains of a broken coffin, while a skull lay on top of another coffin. After surveying the grisly scene, Miss Curry concluded that 4 coffins had been opened and one was empty. The corpse standing in the corner was that of Mrs Peggy Colthurst, who had died in April 1863, aged 87 years. Her gloves had been torn off and Miss Curry observed marks on the fourth finger of her left hand that suggested she had been wearing a ring. (A friend of the late Mrs Peggy Colthurst told a court on 8 June that the old lady’s wedding ring was placed on her finger after her death, in spite of the undertaker’s objections.) The body hanging out of its coffin was that of Sir Nicholas Colthurst 2 whose three coffins – 2 wooden ones surrounding a leaden coffin – had been broken open and peeled back to expose his corpse. The skull belonged to John Bowen Colthurst, Major of the 97th Regiment, who had died in May 1848. 3 His body was clad in uniform although Miss Curry noticed that ‘shrouding and shavings’ around his hands had been ripped off. Miss Curry and the policemen returned the bodies to their coffins, but not before observing that the bodies were in a ‘good state of preservation’. 4

One of 4 vaults, this one matches descriptions in court evidence.

The police were fortunate that there were witnesses to this ‘dastardly and extraordinary’ event, who came forward once the desecration was discovered. Daniel Sexton, aged 9 years, and his two friends had been playing in the fields when a group of soldiers in the graveyard attracted their attention. Indeed, the sight of a naked man emerging from a burial vault would have been hard to ignore. (The River Lee was a favourite bathing place for soldiers and the shore next to the graveyard is suitable for swimming.) They were chased off by another soldier wielding a ‘cutlass’ so did not see what was happening in the vault. 5 The children’s evidence was the only hope the police had of catching the soldiers responsible. Accordingly, the soldiers at Ballincollig barracks were paraded before the boys, who recognised 2 men from the graveyard. When arrested, these men implicated 3 others, 2 of whom had transferred with part of the regiment to Newbridge.

The 10th Hussars, courtesy R. Bennett

Privates Arthur Grice, Frederick Beake, Herbert Griffiths, and William Henry Flack were charged with unlawfully disinterring Mrs Peggy Colthurst and with maliciously damaging the vault to the value of £15 7s 6d. Only 2 – Beake and Grice – were ultimately convicted at the summer Assizes, having confessed to being solely responsible for interfering with the coffins and bodies. 6 Beake claimed ‘It was done for a lark; not for stealing’. 7 All were sober at the time. Mrs Peggy Colthurst’s wedding ring was recovered from the guard room of Ballincollig Barracks after Grice revealed where he had hidden it. 8 Grice and Beake were imprisoned for 6 months, with hard labour, for a crime the judge described as ‘a thoughtless freak’. 9 The officer in charge of these men, Captain Arthur Poole, had left his wife’s death bed to testify in court to their good character, but they could not escape a prison sentence. 10

Arthur E. Poole, courtesy of HorsePower, Museum of King’s Royal Hussars

This remarkable event was not forgotten in Inniscarra. In the Schools Collection, a folklore project compiled in the 1930s, a local story recounted how soldiers of the 10th Hussars raided a ‘very well-kept vault’ for valuables. After the perpetrators were caught, the regiment became the object of local ridicule, being nicknamed ‘the body snatchers’. Apparently many officers left the regiment to escape the ignominy. Local lore remembers that ‘the entire regiment was penalised: ‘For years after they were compelled to do extra duty for an hour each evening’. 11 Although locals may have recalled the event years later, the regiment itself did not record this ignominious incident. 12 A regiment as fashionable as 10th Hussars, known as ‘The Shiners’ or ‘The Shiny 10th’, had no desire to remember the grotesque antics of ordinary soldiers. At the time, Albert, the Prince of Wales was regimental colonel. Such an embarrassing event was studiously ignored by the men compiling the regimental records. Regional newspapers across Britain covered the story but it did not become a major scandal, probably because the offenders were humble soldiers rather than officers. Today, the old Colthurst vaults in Inniscarra are crumbling and collapsing; there is little evidence that a caretaker attends on them now. The Colthurst family now use a vault underneath Blarney parish church, where the dead lie undisturbed by soldiers on a ‘lark’. 13

A two-storey Colthurst vault.

For more on Ballincollig Barracks and its associated cemetery see,

The Irish duty of the 10th Hussars in the 1890s is recorded in photographs taken by Major Pillinger

Irish connections to the 10th Hussars are explored here

  1. The only Harriet Curry in Ardrum appears in the 1911 census, working as a ‘Foresteress’, an occupation that suggests land supervision. Her landlord was Sir George Colthurst, who owned 6 of the 10 holdings in this area
  2. She did not specify if this was the 3rd or 4th Baronet.
  3. The Major was married to Peggy Colthurst, whose body was removed from its coffin,
  4. Curry testimony to the court, Cork Constitution, 8 June 1895.
  5. The ‘cutlass’ was probably iron spikes from a vault window. Soldiers did not carry swords.
  6. Cork Constitution, 24 June 1895 and 19 July 1895.
  7. Cork Constitution, 8 June 1895
  8. Cork Constitution, 24 June 1895.
  9. Cork Constitution, 20 July 1895.
  10. She died that day, and was buried in Ballincollig military cemetery,
  12. Thanks to the staff and volunteers of the HorsePower, the Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars, for searching the regimental papers and daily record of service for this incident. Their help was invaluable.
  13. Irish Times, 3 March 1951.
Posted in Anglican, Ballincollig, Barracks, Britain, Catholic, Cavalry, Cemetery, Church, Church of Ireland, Co Cork, History, Ireland, Memorials, Military, Police, Prison, Protestant, Punishment, Sport, Uncategorized, Women | 4 Comments

“The Battle of Kinsale refought”: a riot and a song, 12 July 1859

Kinsale Barracks, Trooper’s Close (barracks was burnt in 1922). Source

On the afternoon of 12 July, fighting, window breaking and shouting disturbed the residents of Kinsale, a small Cork town with a large barracks on the outskirts. A group of Antrim militiamen who had been drinking in a local pub began to break windows and overturn milk churns, ignoring the remonstrances of the town’s Anglican clergyman. 1 A Catholic priest of ‘delicate’ health was beaten. 2  According to local witnesses, the men used ‘party’ expressions, which indicated their support for the Orange Order’s celebration of 12 July. Other militiamen, who were not part of the violent group, were attacked by townspeople who turned on anyone wearing the Antrim militia uniform. Pickets were sent out to restore order, but discipline broke down when these men encountered their beaten comrades and skirmishes between military and civilians continued. The police tried to intervene but were forced to withdraw in the face of well-armed military opposition. 3 Order was finally restored when a party of Royal Artillery from Charles Fort, 3 km away from the town, arrived to forcibly escort the militia back to barracks. The next day, soldiers from the Scots Greys and the Royal Horse Artillery arrived from Cork city to keep order.

This riot was instantly a ‘party’ matter, in which religious denomination and political sympathies determined responses. Two inquiries – one civil, one military – were held to determine the cause of the violence and it’s extent. These open public inquiries were extensively documented in Cork newspapers and received particular attention in Belfast, an area in the militia’s recruiting district. At the investigation’s conclusion, the nationalist Cork Examiner was certain that ‘the whole affair was an Orange display’. 4 The Southern Reporter, ‘a whig-radical journal’ 5 ignored the causative factors of Orangeism while concluding that both sides were at fault. It did remind readers that the militiamen were more seriously injured than the townspeople, indicating some sympathy for the military side. 6 In Belfast, the Daily Mercury, which was read by ‘conservatively minded Protestant Liberals’, 7 believed that the riot was ‘entirely caused by the brutal and savage conduct of the townspeople’. The editorial writer explained that ‘low population of the South – bloated with ignorance and superstition – regard Protestant Ulster with a deadly hatred – a hatred all the more intense because it is based on fear’. 8 Although initially critical of the Antrim militia, the evidence convinced the Unionist Belfast Newsletter that these were not ‘Orange Riots’. 9 The violence was ‘of Romish origin’ and was ‘premeditated by the townspeople who took part in them’. 10 Another Belfast paper, the Morning Post chose to reproduce the Southern Reporter editorial, which ignored Orangeism altogether. 11 The Irishman, a resolutely Catholic and fervently nationalist publication, did not wait for the public inquiry and immediately decried ‘Military Ruffianism at Kinsale’. 12 Unsurprisingly, violence on 12 July between Antrim Protestants and Southern Catholics divided newspaper editors.

The incident gave rise to a ballad, which was helpfully preserved in the press when the inquiry refused to accept it as evidence. 13 Ballads were often composed to mark local scandals, but only a fraction of these have survived. I have reproduced it in full below, even though the tune remains a mystery. This song was heard on the streets of Kinsale in the days following the riot, in spite of an order to suppress it. 14

July the 12th in Kinsale town we had a famous battle,
When Orangemen we made lie down when at us they did rattle,
Papist blood they said they would spill, and each man drew his bayonet,
But a brave small band of Kinsale men those Orange dogs defeated.

From their barracks they did march, Papist for to slaughter,
In memory of that glorious day that Billy crossed the water;
We boldly met them in the streets, and gave them no quarter,
And they will remember Kinsale town now and ever after.

Those Orangemen were very brave at breaking door by dozens;
Smashing windows in the streets, kicking milk pails and churns;
With Orange lilies in their breasts, the sergeants were the leaders;
Oh, they’re poor props to King and Crown, the Belfast filthy weavers.

Those Orangemen were four to one, and thought they would be victorious;
But we very soon made them give way and made them fly before us.
Thirty-five we did put down, the rest from the streets we hunted,
And eight of them will soon see h-ll for they are mortally wounded.

They thought our chapel to break down, but we had them well guarded,
And these Antrim Orange dogs had not the pluck to dare it;
For we were reinforced by peasantry, and we soon became well armed
With guns and pikes, and swords and scythes, and a line of battle formed.

Then we marched through Kinsale town to see if they would oppose us;
But the Orange had very well known that we would mow them down before us,
And when they go to the Black North, themselves can tell the story,
How the Os and the Macs, the sturdy whacks, pulled down their Orange glory.

You Orangemen of this green isle, come now lay down your arms,
And no more insult the Os and Macs, for they will give you no quarters;
Priest hunting days are all gone by, when you pulled down our altars,
And King Billy down to h-ll is gone where you all will go hereafter.
(Cork Examiner, 27 July 1859.)

So what started the riot? Was it sectarian? The civil inquiry concluded it was all about a girl, Mary Connor, who was the first person called to give evidence. 15 She stated that on 10 July her brother was about to beat her for being out late when a number of militiamen intervened to stop him. 16 A fight started, and two soldiers were badly injured. The bad feeling that arose from this incident was the root cause of the riot, according to the civil investigation. This wasn’t the only example of conflict between the Antrims and townspeople. In June, a local woman had been assaulted and warned against keeping company with Orangemen. 17 On 9 July, a ‘simple man’ – a man with intellectual disabilities – complained to the police that militiamen asked if he was a Roman Catholic and assaulted him when he replied in the affirmative. 18

Conflict between civilians and military men was relatively common in garrison towns, but the political dimension of these assaults bothered authorities. On hearing rumours of a planned Orange demonstration, the magistrates and police called the militia’s officers to a meeting. The officers argued that no compelling reason existed to confine the men to barracks on 12 July. 19 Sub-Inspector Richard Hadnett was not convinced: on 11 July, he brought 10 additional policemen into Kinsale. 20 With their preparations made, the police could only wait and watch. When a party of drunken Antrims issued from a pub on the afternoon of 12 July, Hadnett must have feared the worst. A toxic mix of personal animosity, alcohol and ‘party’ spirit caused a serious riot that led to the Antrim militia being removed to England to complete its service.

Kinsale Harbour in A history of the city and county of Cork by Mary F.C. Cusack (1875)
  1. Kinsale riot reports (House of Commons, 1860), p 8. Full text here:
  2. A Rev. Carton, whose evidence appears in Kinsale riot reports, p 10.
  3. Kinsale riot reports, p 14.
  4. Cork Examiner, 29 July 1859
  5. John Windele, Historical and Descriptive Notices of the City of Cork, (1840) p 140.
  6. Southern Reporter 27 July 1859.
  8. Belfast Daily Mercury, 29 July 1859
  9. Belfast Newsletter, 25 July 1859.
  10. Belfast Newsletter, 30 July 1859.
  11. Belfast Morning Post, 29 July 1859.
  12. Irishman, 16 July 1859.
  13. C.P. Wallis, solicitor for the Antrim militia, argued that the song was evidence of local provocation Cork Examiner, 27 July 1859.
  14. Cork Examiner, 27 July 1859.
  15. Kinsale riot reports, p 5.
  16. Kinsale riot reports, p 5; On p 12, RIC Head Constable Gale claimed that her brother admitted to hitting her.
  17. Kinsale riot reports, p 13.
  18. Kinsale riot reports, p 11.
  19. Kinsale riot reports, p 13.
  20. Kinsale riot reports, p 14.
Posted in Anglican, Barracks, Belfast, Britain, Catholic, Clergy, Co Antrim, Co Cork, History, Ireland, Kinsale, Military, Militia, Music, Orange Order, Police, Protestant, Riot, Urban, Women | Comments Off on “The Battle of Kinsale refought”: a riot and a song, 12 July 1859

St Michael, the Warrior Saint

Archangel St Michael window, Altar Church, Toormore Co Cork

This window, to the memory of Michael Allen who fought in the Indian Rebellion, was placed in Altar Church by his daughter 77 years after that bloody conflict. 1

Dedication plaque to St Michael window

The Archangel Michael, the warrior saint, crushes Satan beneath his feet before raising his spear to skewer the ghoulish fallen angel. Viewed alongside the explicit dedication plaque, the triumph of the blond, white Michael over the dark-skinned monster becomes a literal representation of the victory of British forces over restive colonial subjects in India. The ‘Indian Mutiny’, 1857-58, entered into British military myth, commemorated in reviews and pageants for decades afterwards. The brutality of rebellious Indians haunted the popular imagination, who lauded the military heroes of Lucknow and Dehli as saviours of European virtue. This window’s explicit colonial message disturbs me, especially because St Michael did not have to be portrayed this way.

Other windows in County Cork show St Michael battling a dragon. In Corkbeg church, named St Michael and All Saints, there are two windows featuring Michael, which commemorate military men. 2 One window shows Michael slaying a dragon, in an image that recalls depictions of St George. (Michael is distinguished from George by his wings.) 3

St Michael, Corkbeg Church, Co Cork

The dedication reads:
To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Myers Woolsey Priest Sometime Rector of this Parish and his Son Frank of the 23rd Bombay Rifle Regiment. RIP.

Frank died of sunstroke at Raykote in 1892. His father died in Corkbeg in 1881. 4

The other window shows St Michael with a scales, referring to his role in the Last Judgement, when he will weigh the souls. Although he is holding his sword and wearing armour, Michael here is more stern judge than triumphant warrior.

St Michael, Corkbeg Church, Co Cork

The dedication on this window reads:
To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of Frances Edwards who died at Parkstone Dorset Jany 2nd 1895. Also of Frank Hodges Captn in the Clare Artillery and Royal West Regt who died at Fort Carlisle May 22nd 1896. He served in the Soudan with the 50th Regiment and was present at the Battle of Ginnis.

Although this window commemorates colonial service, it is a more equivocal image that invites multiple readings than the St Michael window in Altar.

As well as being named for a warrior saint, Corkbeg church was effectively the garrison church for the nearby Fort Carlisle. The Rector was chaplain to the troops, for which he received 50 pounds a year. He was also the chaplain and visitor to the school in the Fort where soldier’s children were educated. Every Sunday, the Anglican officers and men paraded to their local church, St Michael’s, led by a military band.

Fort Carlisle, from the 6″ OSI map.

St Michael was not a very popular choice for stained glass in the Church of Ireland, featuring in just 39 windows in the Gloine survey. 5 Important biblical stories such as the Angel and Women at the Tomb were depicted in 100 windows, while 171 portrayals of the Ascension are recorded. But the stained glass windows of the warrior saint shows how the glory of war was part of the devotional fabric of some church buildings.

**Corkbeg images are from the Gloine website. There is no equivalent survey of the Roman Catholic churches of Ireland.**


Posted in Anglican, Barracks, Church, Church of Ireland, Clergy, Co Cork, History, Indian Mutiny, Ireland, Memorials, Military, St Michael, Stained glass | Comments Off on St Michael, the Warrior Saint