CARNAUN NATIONAL SCHOOL
Did the Evicted Tenant's Son
shoot the Landlord? By Ann Healy
if you will what it was like to live in rural Ireland a little over a century
ago. Only the landed gentry (all of English descent), who had money
and land, could vote. Their vote only mattered to the English Parliament,
as Ireland had no independent government of her own.
The luxury of democracy,
which we take for granted today, did not exist for the Irish citizen.
Of course, if any of us were alive then, we would not be too worried about
a vote that only worked in England. We would have been more concerned
about the everyday needs of survival. Landlords demanded high rents
and imposed heavy taxes on farm yields. As a result their tenants
had little chance 'of improving their lot'. With no political representation
and no vote the Irish people were completely under British rule.
It is hard for us today
to imagine the effects of the social and political restrictions imposed
upon the Irish then. The majority however, accepted their fate and
felt impotent to react against the imperialistic system. Perhaps
their lack of education and the gruelling domestic situation in which they
wallowed helped to make any hope of freedom an impossibility. Such
educational and social deprivation only helped to convince the Irish peasantry
that the English were indeed a superior race who almost deserved the right
to exercise the dominion of vassalage over them and their lands.
It was not until the likes of Michael Davitt, Parnell and John Redmond
came along that the Irish people felt they had a right to be free and that
there was any hope of achieving that right.
It must be said, however,
that the English landlord system, which reigned supreme in Ireland at the
time, was not all bad and indeed, some government representatives were
enlightened enough to know that England could not and would not rule Ireland.
One such man was Isaac Butt. He was
a Tory barrister who came from Donegal where his father was a Church of
Ireland clergyman. He was one of the most eminent and respected barristers
to live and work in Ireland during the heyday of the English landlord system.
Once in a letter to Lord Lifford, Butt wrote: " . . . the personal character
of a landlord is but a poor security for the tenant". This very
simple statement reflects the sensitivity and understanding which Butt
displayed towards the Irish situation. One must remember that Butt
was a Tory 'pur sang". Yet he displayed an intelligence and capacity
for experience that was uncommon to most Irish Tories. He was not
above thinking that the Irish deserved to be independent and when given
the chance he never failed to make his feelings known.
Butt founded his views
on his own first-hand experiences and the belief that the Irish people
were easily influenced by good example, authority of station and the power
of intelligence. He made it clear that in his opinion, many landlords
did not exercise these qualities. In his opinion, the Irish revered
high lineage-and to some extent this is still true. He believed that
the estrangement of classes at the time led to a mutual distrust between
landlord and tenant because, as he said himself, "There is in the Irish
gentry a hereditary distrust of the Irish people. They are taught
from their youth up to believe in 'Irish contempt of law, and the rights
of property'. The people reciprocate the hostile feelings of the
gentry". Because of these views, Butt believed that many landlords
were placed in situations whereby they were "unfitted" to rule and control
the lives of their tenants.
With such views, it comes
as no surprise to learn that Isaac Butt started Home Rule in the 1870s.
Quite apart from his social and political views, Butt also had a reputation
for being a firebrand in the courtroom. He had successfully defended
members of the I. R. B. during the 1860's and his colleagues said that
"The cause of the poor was as dear to him as his own". Butt
was in his element when a case held a human interest which appealed to
his sympathies and sense of compassion. He was not interested in
fees but rather in seeing the case of the Irish properly represented in
the English court of law.
Having such a reputation,
not to mention the validity of his views concerning the landlord system
in Ireland at the time, it was obvious why Isaac Butt should have taken
it upon himself to defend an Irishman, Peter Barrett, formerly of Moorpark,
Athenry, on a charge of shooting at Captain Thomas Eyre Lambert, Castle
Lambert, Athenry, with the intent to murder him, on Sunday, July 11th.
In the context of its historical setting, an
attempted assassination of a landlord by his ex tenant lit a fuse of emotion
among the local Irish people which later helped to ignite the national
will to fight for freedom. Today, the significance of this trial
fades with the passage of time. However, at the time in question,
this trial, the legal procedures, the feelings of hatred and injustice
it stirred up among the social classes, and the final outcome bear testimony
to the situation in Ireland at the time, its influence on our present political
and social situation, and not least, to the flawless views put forward
by Isaac Butt, a Tory, and a man of English descent, on the suspect landlord
system of the time.
Events Leading up to the Trial
Captain Thomas Eyre Lambert inherited his father's
estate in 1867, at Castle Lambert, a few miles northwest of Athenry.
Two years later he evicted Barrett's father, his wife and family from a
70-acre holding in Moorpark, near Castle Lambert. It is believed
that the reason for the eviction was jealousy. Apparently Barretts
had a large thatched farmhouse and a good holding, while Captain Lambert's
brother, Tom (who was also his tenant), lived in a modest house just across
the road from them. It is alleged that the hunt met one morning outside
Tom Lambert's gate and one of them, pointing at Barrett's house, asked
if Mr. Tom Lambert lived there. To his chagrin, everyone laughed
when it was discovered that the house in question belonged to some tenants,
Shortly afterwards, Captain Lambert evicted the
Barrett family who were then forced to move to a house in Swangate, Athenry.
Luckily some of their children were grown and one of them, Peter Barrett,
was working as a postman in London.
The Assassination Attempt
Shortly after the eviction, on Sunday, July 11th
, 1869, Captain Lambert was shot when walking alone up the avenue to his
house, between nine and ten o'clock in the evening.
He had gone to dine with his brother in Moorpark and walked back
after dinner, which was at five o'clock, accompanied by his sister and
two nieces. After the women had taken some refreshments at his house
and picked some fruit from the garden, he escorted them as far as his gate-lodge.
On his way back along the avenue, leading to
his own house, Captain Lambert noticed a man in a bowler hat standing
in the shadow of some tall lime trees. Lambert asked the intruder
to identify himself and when he failed to do so, Lambert set a small dog
on him. The man then faced Lambert, pointed a small revolver at him
and fired five shots in quick succession, at a distance of twelve yards,
before escaping through a clump of trees known as 'The Rookery'.
Lambert fell to the ground. He had been shot twice in the
stomach, while another bullet had lodged in his temple. It was this
head wound which knocked Lambert to the ground and convinced his attacker,
before he fled, that Lambert was fatally wounded. On the contrary,
Lambert had been wearing a hard hat and this had saved his skull from the
full impact of the bullet. It is believed that his pocket watch had
also saved him from receiving a chest wound which could have proved fatal.
After his attacker fled, Lambert managed to get up and stumble into the
house. Shortly afterwards the alarm was raised and police later sealed
off all exits to Athenry.
The shooting occurred some time after nine o'clock
and Castle Lambert was approximately three miles from Athenry. Barrett
arrived at Athenry station, wearing a tall hat, and bought a ticket for
London shortly before ten o'clock. He then entered the Railway Hotel
and waited in the bar for the train to arrive. While there, Barrett
drew attention to himself by asking a member of the staff the correct time,
even though a clock showing the correct time was clearly visible to him.
In so doing, Barrett had made his presence in the hotel at that precise
time known to all within earshot.
Shortly afterwards, Barrett boarded the Dublin-bound
train. The police presence in Athenry that particular day was smaller
than usual as most of them had been relocated to Belfast for extra duty
work, for the July 12th celebrations due to be held the next day.
However, sub-constable Hayden, stationed at Athenry,
boarded the Dublin-bound train. He later noticed Barrett asleep in
one of the train's compartments, following a description given by Lambert
of his assailant being a slight, young man in a dark suit. Barrett
fitted this description and he was arrested on the train. They got
off the train at Woodlawn and the following morning Barrett was taken to
Castle Lambert where Lambert identified him as his attacker.
Barrett had been searched on the train but no
pistol was found on him. His presence in Athenry, however, and the rapidity
of his return put him under great suspicion.
A Man with a Motive
No explanation was given for Barrett's behaviour.
He was a peasant's son with a strong motive for shooting Lambert.
On the other hand, Lambert was a magistrate, a soldier and a man of property.
Lambert's unshakeable evidence, the circumstantial evidence, and the background
of the case, all combined to weigh heavily against the prisoner.
This was the perfect case for a man of Isaac
Butt's legal calibre. Barrett's case was calculated to demand all
of his attention. Butt successfully set off most of his client's
suspect behaviour by so completely shaking Lambert's credibility as a witness
that it seemed as if Lambert was intent on making evidence to convict Barrett
at any cost.
During the trial that followed, Lambert was adamant
that he recognised Peter Barrett as the man who shot him. Yet when
he was questioned shortly after the attack he could only describe his attacker's
appearance without giving any name. When the police presented Barrett
the next morning he did not hesitate to identify him. Butt wasted
no time in highlighting Lambert's apparent excess of zeal in obtaining
the conviction of Barrett. This anxiety, displayed by Lambert to
obtain Barrett's conviction, was not very edifying and cast doubts on his
In his cross-examination, Butt uncovered the
truth that Lambert had suppressed some of the facts, including his knowledge
of the exact time of the shooting and that some of the trees under which
his assailant had stood had been cut down soon after the shooting.
Butt got Lambert to admit that he had held back
the detail of the exact time of the shooting because he did not want Barrett's
legal advisors to know everything. The surprising admission by Lambert
that two of the trees under which his attacker had stood were cut down
within twelve days of the crime also placed his evidence under greater
suspicion. In court, Lambert's brother stated that the face of a
man standing under the trees would have been hidden by the foliage, thus
adding greater significance to the evidence. Lambert denied knowing
anything about the trees and said his wife had ordered their felling as
they were spoiling the view. A map of the area had been made after
the crime, which Lambert denied having seen. Under persistent questioning
by Butt, Lambert finally admitted to having seen it.
The case of 'Regina versus Barrett', was
first heard at a Special Commission, in September 1869, in Galway.
However, the jury were unable to agree on a verdict and discharged.
The Crown moved to have a second trial heard in another county, on the
grounds that a fair and impartial trial could not be heard in Galway, where
public opinion favoured the prisoner. The Attorney General suggested
Dublin as a fair and impartial venue.
It was finally agreed to hold a second trial
in Dublin as affidavits of the resident magistrate at Galway, of the Crown
Solicitor, Galway, of Mr. Jackson, one of the jurors at the former trial,
and of some members of the constabulary, suggested that before and after
the offence many outrages had been perpetrated in Co. Galway. There
existed among the peasantry a strong sympathy for such offences and a disinclination
to aid the government in detecting the criminals. Jurors known to
favour Barrett's conviction and the Judges entering and leaving the court-house
during the trial were stoned by mobs whose sympathies lay with the prisoner.
Even by resorting to a Special Jury Panel, it was felt that a fair trail
could not be held in Galway.
Affidavits made on behalf of Barrett stated that
a fair trial could be held in Galway with a selection from the special
jury panel. It also stated that a fair trial could only be held in
Galway where the true character of Captain Lambert would be known to the
jurors, who knew that his oath had been disbelieved at a former trial in
his own county. Affidavits from jurors at the first trial also stated
that they had not been intimidated by anyone during the trial.
In the defendant's affidavits, it was stated
that since the trial in September, Captain Lambert had encouraged and instigated
a witness, who was then examined, to leave this country for America and
that Captain Lambert had done other acts to injuriously affect the evidence
against the prisoner at the second trial; and therefore the trial should
take place where Captain Lambert's testimony would be properly scrutinised.
An affidavit for the prosecution was made denying
that Galway was in a tranquil state and also denying any interference with
Attorney-General Barry, (with him Sergeant Dowse
and Edmund Jordan) supported the motion that the case be heard in Dublin.
Butt's Speech to the Jury
In his speech for the prisoner, Butt counselled the Dublin jury
not to convict on Lambert's evidence. He reminded them that
in Galway, Lambert would have been known as a man 'rash in statement,
reckless in his vengeance, obstinate in his assertions and violent in his
prejudices'. Captain Lambert, in Butt's view, did not deserve
to be a landlord and Barrett did not deserve to be punished on the word
of a man whose character had been called into question.
Whether Barrett was guilty or not, the jury agreed
that they would never reach a unanimous decision, and so he was freed of
all charges. He became a local hero to the people of Castle Lambert
and the subject of verse and song.
The Trial in Galway
The jury heard the evidence of Captain Lambert,
who claimed he knew Peter Barrett well and that he was the man who had
shot him. There were no other witnesses to the crime.
A number of witnesses who claimed to have seen
Barrett in Athenry that evening were called to the stand. Timothy
Kinneen, who knew Barrett, stated that he saw him in the Railway Hotel
between 9.30 and 9.45 the evening of the shooting. Another witness,
Michael Cullen, also gave evidence that he saw Peter Barrett on July 11th,
near the North Gate at approximately 9.05 p.m. Biddy Murphy, who it was
alleged gave Barrett some bread and milk at her house in Frenchfort, Oranmore,
just two and a half miles from Castle Lambert, the evening of the shooting,
also gave evidence. In court she said she did not recognise the prisoner
and said to the judge, 'My Lord, he was more like yourself' referring
to the man she had fed.
It is known that three men were sitting on a
gate that summer's evening when Lambert was shot. In court two of
them gave evidence that they saw a man walking along the road towards Castle
Lambert, shortly before the shooting. They claimed they did not know
the man and could not identify him as Peter Barrett. The third man,
however, said he knew the man to be Peter Barrett. It is said that
in order to find out who was telling the truth, Isaac Butt took a cambridge
needle from his lapel (the cambridge has the smallest eye). He gave
this needle to each man in turn to thread. The two men who could
not identify Barrett threaded the needle while the third man failed.
Their evidence was crucial in the jury's decision to free Barrett.
Their locks and keys he threw aside,
The law he soon expounded O,
And every foe of Barrett's now
He nobly did confound them O.
With talent rich and speech sublime
He freed his client clever O,
Long may he live to wear the gown,
Brave Butt, he is a ripper O.
Michael Kelly, who was a gardener at Castle Lambert,
also gave evidence in court. He said that he had seen a man walking
on the lawns and had ordered him to get off the grass. He
said he could not identify the man as Peter Barrett.
Mr. Wolloms who owned a firearms shop in Tottenham
Court Road, London, gave evidence that Barrett bought a small gun off him
on July 9th. He gave the excuse that he was left minding an empty
house for a few days and that he needed the protection of a gun.
Mrs. Sterling, Barrett's landlady in London, gave evidence that
Barrett was always very quiet and never gave her any trouble. She
saw him last on Saturday morning, July 10th, when he told her he was taking
a few days off to visit a friend named Lally.
Barrett had told his employers at the Post Office
that he had hurt his leg and he had received a doctor's certificate to
verify this, in order to take leave of his work for a few days.
After the jury had heard this evidence they could
not agree and the charges were dismissed. The outcome of the trial,
decided by the jury, was described by the Chief Justice as 'a great misfortune
for the administration of justice'.
Who knows for sure if he was fully justified
in saying so!
Peter Barrett, once freed of all charges, became
a local folk hero and became known as the 'First Rory of the Hills'.
The story of his trial and the final verdict became the inspiration for
many songs and stories.
The real hero of the day must surely be Isaac
Butt, about whom these lines were written in the song,
'Lines Written on the Liberation of Barrett':
The work of Butt's young apprentice, Mr. McDermott,
both in the courtroom and behind the scenes, must not be overlooked.
He is remembered for his diligent work on the case which undoubtedly helped
ensure the defendant's release.
After the trial Peter Barrett went to America.
He returned to Athenry ten years later. While on holidays he stayed
with Mr. Corbearsy at St. John's, Athenry. It is alleged that both
men went into Galway one day. They were walking down Shop Street
when they met with Mr. Thomas Lambert from Moorpark. He did
not recognise Barrett, who was well dressed in the American fashion.
He asked Mr. Corbearsy to introduce him to his friend. Knowing the
outcome of such an introduction, Mr. Corbearsy seemed hesitant to do so.
When finally he introduced Barrett to Lambert, the latter declined to shake
hands, turned and walked away.
Nothing remains of Castle Lambert House today.
The only thing worth noting is the Lambert burial chamber, situated at
Moorpark cemetery, a couple of miles from Castle Lambert and adjacent to
the place now known as 'Barrett's Hill'.
Editors Note: The Londan Times of the Day
mistakenly reported that it was Giles Eyre Lambert who was attacked by
Peter Barret but the Court records clearly show that it was his brother
Thomas owner of the Castle Lambert Estate who was in fact shot.
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