Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hugh Lane Controversy.

Hugh Lane Controversy.
                              Hugh Lane born in 1875 at Ballybrack House, county Cork.

Hugh Lanes 1904 exhibitions were critical in the history of the establishment of Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, (originally called The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art.  He launched one of the exhibitions of modern Irish art to tremendous success in the Guildhall, London, where over eighty thousand people paid admission to visit it.  It was the first time that modern Irish artists were exhibited side by side with the Impressionists painters.  Pictures by Monet, Manet, Degas, and Pissarro hung alongside Irish artists such as O'Brien, Osborne, Orpen, and J.B.Yeats amongst others. Lane saw the gallery as a place where people could see and appreciate art.

He went on to say that a gallery of modern art in Dublin would encourage both an interest in the arts and the purchase of art by the Irish people. He believed that people would not purchase art if they did not know about art and that such a gallery would serve as an inspiration to student artists which would enable them to express their soul.  Hugh Lane went on to exhibit three hundred and six paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy; one hundred and six of them were presented to the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art when it opened in 1908.  This was done without any public financial support and it was to show how Hugh Lane's of visual art was to play such an important role in the birth of modern Ireland.

The Hugh Lane Controversy.
On the 7th May 1915 the passenger ship RSM Lusitania was sank off the coast of Cork.  Among its dead was the art collector Sir Hugh Lane.  Lane was a private collector of art and the favourite nephew of Lady Gregory of Coole.  One of Lane’s greatest wishes was to present a large collection of important paintings to Dublin and the Irish nation but there was to be one condition, they must be housed in a suitable gallery.  His collection was opened in 1908 on a temporary basis in Clonmel House, Harcourt Street. 

However, Lane became irritated by Dublin’s failure to come up with a permanent home for his paintings and what he saw as a lack of commitment by the authorities.  In a fit of pique he withdrew thirty nine of the most important paintings from the gallery and made a will leaving them to the National Gallery of London.  Lane was to tell a colleague that he had done this in order to shake up the crowd in Dublin but at the end of the day it was his intention that Dublin should have them.  He wrote a codicil to this effect but unfortunately it was not witnessed. Here begins what became known as The Hugh Lane Controversy.

The National Gallery knew it had a great treasure and was not about to give it up.  The codicil attached to Hugh Lanes will was not witnessed and although a number of prominent people at the time insisted that it was Lane’s intention to bequeath the paintings to Dublin and the Irish nation, it was not to be.  In order to legalise the codicil it would take an Act of Parliament which no politician was willing to support.  The National Gallery was in possession and legally entitled to keep the paintings, morally there was a strong argument in favour of Hugh Lane and his last wishes but they were not giving up their legal right. 

This provoked a controversy that lasted throughout the twentieth century, many people including members of the ‘Coole Set’ such as W.B.Yeats and Lady Gregory campaigned to get the paintings returned to Dublin but to no avail.  To an extent the issue remains unsolved, however, a compromise was reached in 1959 and it was agreed that the main works in the collection were to be displayed at different times by both galleries.  It provides that the thirty nine Lane pictures will be divided into two groups, which will be lent, in turn, for public exhibition in Dublin for successive periods of five years, over a total period of twenty years. 

In 2008, the centenary of the opening of the Municipal Gallery, the centrepiece of the gallery’s display featured the full collection of thirty nine pictures for the first time since 1913. Hopefully we may see them permanently reunited one day to hang in the gallery that bears his name.

1st Image = Academy House 1938-1967 15 Ely Place. (
2nd Image = Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh lane (originally the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. ( 
3rd Image = Royal Hibernian Academy as it is today 15 Ely Place. (
4th Image = Royal Hibernian Academy, Lower abbey Street, Dublin. 1824. (

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Resurrection Men.

There was a time in Ireland when people feared the nocturnal activities of a group of men that went under the name ‘Resurrection Men’. They specialised in grave robbing and body snatching and were particularly prevalent during the early 1800s. Some of these nefarious characters would be happy just stealing the valuables that had been buried with the dead but some went further, they stole the bodies and sold them to supply doctors who used them in the study of human anatomy.
In order to thwart the activities of these grave robbers people resorted to a number of ingenious measures which included burying bodies in backyards or cellars until the remains were so far gone they were of no use as objects of anatomical research.  People stood guard over recently buried relatives and some people who could afford to erected grills, cages or iron bars around the grave site, these were known as ‘mortsafes’. Mortsafes date from the beginning of the nineteenth century and were designed to protect corpses. They came in a variety of designs and sizes and could be reused after six to eight weeks.

Two of the most notorious grave robbers were Irish and were active in Edinburgh, Scotland during the 1820s.  At the beginning of the eighteenth century Edinburgh had become an important centre for the study of anatomy. Students were assigned one cadaver – usually an executed criminal – on which to practice their studies. However this was not a sufficient amount and gradually students and surgeons began to seek other ways in which to obtain corpses to dissect. Grave robbing was such a common occurrence in Edinburgh at that time that some graveyards had high walls and railings around them and watchtowers were even erected with armed guards standing guard.

William Burke and William Hare were both from Ulster and had gone to Edinburgh to work as ‘navies’ on the New Union Canal.  They worked at this occupation during the day but once night fell they took to their other more sinister and profitable trade.  At first, grave robbing but eventually murder.  Their victims were the homeless who wouldn’t be missed but they soon began targeting drunks and others who they would follow down the dark streets before strangling them.  It was to be another Irish connection that would lead to the eventual end of their gruesome activities.  That connection was a recent arrival to Edinburgh in the shape of Mrs Docherty.  She had recently arrived from Ireland and Burke who met her in a local shop befriended her. He invited her home to his lodgings for a bite to eat and it was there he murdered her. It was believed that Burke and Hare murdered up to thirty people but Burke was the only one prosecuted and then it was for the murder of Mrs Docherty.  Hare turned Kings Evidence against him and Burke was hanged on 28th January 1829.  Hare was reported to have died a penniless pauper in London in 1858.

There is a twist to the story, Burke’s body was donated to medical science for dissection, and his skeleton is still displayed in Edinburgh’s University Medical School. His skin was used to make a pocket book and this is displayed at the Police Museum in Edinburgh.
The Anatomy Act 1832,  allowed the bodies of paupers who died in workhouses to be used for anatomical research, this helped to end the activities of the body snatchers.

Now let us return to the tale of the Irish Resurrection Men.
The fear of being buried alive is as old as the hills.  Famous bards such as Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe have written grisly stories regarding it.  Macabre tales of narrow escapes when people who were discovered buried alive when grave robbers opened their coffins.  Contorted, twisted, petrified bodies of those poor unfortunates who upon waking found themselves trapped in a box doomed to a horrific death.  Here follows a story of one such woman who found that being buried alive would become a terrible reality.

Margorie McCall c1705.

Margorie McCall was married to a doctor and they lived in Lurgan, County Armagh.  They were very happy and content with their lot in life. Unfortunately Margorie became ill and although her husband was a doctor he was extremely worried. It should be remembered that in the early 1700s medical science was not what it is today and simple illnesses we would consider as easily cured today could prove fatal at that time. Sadly poor Margorie was to succumb to her fever and she passed away, she was buried in Shankhill Church of Ireland Cemetery not far from where they lived in Church Place.  Her burial was a speedy one for at that time fever was feared as it was known to spread; this should have been the end of the story.

Margorie was buried still wearing a beautiful gold wedding ring.  Her husband could not remove it from her finger due to the fact that her fingers had swollen since her death. People talked of the buried treasure and the Resurrection Men were listening. Here was a chance to make some easy money, not only could they sell the body but they were in for a bonus. That evening, before the ground she was buried in had time to settle upon poor Margorie’s coffin the boys paid a visit.  In the graveyard they worked under cover of darkness, digging down silently until they heard the scrape of the spade upon the lid of her box, they reached down and prised of the lid.

They saw the glitter of gold upon her finger. Realising the story they had heard was true they attempted to remove the ring, it would not budge. Well times were hard and money was as tight as that ring so they decided they were not about to let such a prize go to the surgeon’s slab. She was dead already so she wouldn’t need her finger would she? It was agreed, that they would cut off the finger to free the ring.  Unfortunately for them the shock of the knife slicing through her finger was just what she needed to wake her up from the catatonic state she had been in.  She sat up, eyes wide and screamed like a Banshee. Some say that one of the body snatchers had a heart attack and dropped dead on the spot, others say they took off like the devil himself was after them never to be seen again.  They were even reported as giving up their rather profitable trade.  Margorie rose from her grave and began to stagger to her nearby home
Back at the house her husband was sat talking to some relatives that had remain behind after the burial when he heard a bang at the door. He stood up, went to the door and opened it.  There like a scene from The Shining stood his wife (HI Honey I’m Home).  She was still wearing her dirt covered death shroud and she was dripping blood from her part severed finger.  Some stories tell us that he dropped dead from fright and was buried in the plot of ground his wife had recently vacated.  The poor relatives are not mentioned and it’s unsure whether they were pleased to see her alive or upset to see him drop dead.

It is said that Margorie went on to re-marry and to have a number of children.  Some say she was even pregnant when she rose from the grave.  She is still seen wandering the cemetery at night, although you would think she had had enough of that place.  If you visit the graveyard you will see her gravestone, upon it is written “Here Lies Margorie McCall, Lived Once, Buried Twice.

It is also said that some people hide behind the curtains and jump out shouting “it's me, it’s me, it’s Margorie” Now off you go to bed, sweet dreams, and try to Keep Smiling.

This will be the last entry until after my exams. I shall return on the 1st June, until then Keep smiling and look after each other.

Top Image = Mortsafes in various sizes.
Middle Image = Margorie McCall's grave marker.
Lower Image = Security railings around a grave.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012



What is it that makes a series of horrific murders so fascinating for a particular group of people?  They were the first set of murders that caused a media frenzy.  The story went global, it remains unsolved and it is still as popular today as it was over 120 years ago. There have been countless books written about it, television programmes and films made about the events, stage shows and stories.  Yet no one was ever apprehended, no one was convicted, no one ever served a single day in prison, and right up to today the crimes remain unsolved.  There is as much speculation now as there was in 1888-1891 as to who committed these horrific murders.  The question remains "Who was Jack"?
The last to fall victim to the knife of the Ripper was an Irish woman called Mary Kelly but there was another Irish connection.  One of the least likely suspects was a rather dubious character who was called Francis Tumblety (1833-1903) who was thought to have been born in Ireland although he may have been born in Canada.  However, he certainly had Irish parents, James and Margaret and was one of eleven children.  He spent his early years in Rochester, New York and it was there that his rather unsavoury personality was forged.  Neighbours remembered him to be a dirty scruffy boy who was uneducated and always getting into trouble.  By the time he was a teenager Tumblety was working for a shady pharmacist and was also selling pornographic material.  It looks like his life was mapped out.

It’s possible that while working for the pharmacist Tumblety picked up a little knowledge as he began to practice as an “Indian Herb Doctor” or as we call them today “Quacks” selling pseudo cures and ‘snake oil’.  This may also account for his basic knowledge of the anatomy as he had no real medical training although he paraded himself as a doctor.  It is important to point this out as Jack the Ripper was suspected of having some knowledge of anatomy as was shown by the extraction of various organs from his victims.

In 1857, Francis Tumblety was known to have been in Montreal where once again he posed as a doctor.  He was actually arrested for trying to carry out an abortion by administering pills and liquid medication to an unfortunate prostitute, for some reason he was released within a week.  In 1860 he had made his way to St. John where once again he found himself in trouble with the law.  He was questioned regarding the death of one of his ‘patients’ who had died after taking medicine prescribed by Tumblety.  He went on the run to Maine and from there to Boston, all the while making a handsome profit from his medical pretence. This is another important point as some experts believe Jack was a wealthy man.

While in Boston, Tumblety hit on another addition to his deception, he began dressing in pseudo-military uniform and wearing service medals that he certainly had never earned the right to wear.  He began to ride around the streets on a white horse and developed a huge air of self importance and believed himself to be above everyone else.  A trait that Jack was to portray only too well.  He left Boston and began to move around the country, the Civil War saw he arrive in Washington, D.C. where he posed as a surgeon in the Union Army and he impressed all he met with stories of heroism.  He also claimed to have met many famous people including President Abraham Lincoln.  Another point worth considering is that while in Washington it transpired that Tumblety let it be known that he hated women with a passion.  Another link to Jack the Ripper.
Tumblety was reported as calling women nothing better than cattle especially fallen women.  When asked why he had such hatred he replied that he had once been married only to find out later that the woman in question was a prostitute.  What happened to her was never made clear.  At a dinner party given by Tumblety, one of the guests took note of a hideous collection of jars containing human uteruses, each marked by medical condition and category.  They were also marked regarding social class of the people they belonged to.  This was exactly how Jack the Ripper acted.  This does not mean that Tumblety was the Ripper but it certainly sounds suspicious.
Next we head to Missouri. Here Tumblety was arrested twice for wearing medals that he was not entitled to.  He was also arrested in connection with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (later released), and he was arrested for having homosexual affairs (quite possibly true).  He was also arrested in 1888 in Liverpool, for indecent exposure and indecent assault.  Jack the Ripper committed the first of his known murders in 1888.  Francis Tumblety was arrested on November 12th 1888 concerning the murder (he was a likely suspect in the case at that time).  He was bailed out on November 16th and fled the country eight days later heading to France (the murders stopped).  He returned to New York where the Police arrested him.  However, there was no proof that he had committed any of the Ripper murders so he was released and he then returned to Rochester.  Here he was to live with his sister; he died in 1903 in St. Louis after amassing considerable wealth as a medical quack.

There was never any proof that Tumblety was ever violent against women so all of this is just mere conjecture. In fact in 1888 when the first murder was committed Tumblety was 55, older than anyone described by witnesses at the time.  Homosexual serial killers usually prey on their own sex rather than on women.  However, serial killers are not exactly predictable.  So here we leave the story once again, it won’t be the last time you will read something on Jack, as long as no real evidence surfaces there will always be speculation.  I'll leave you to make your own mind up.

Upper Image-Artists impression of Jack the Ripper in Whitehall.
Lower Image- Francis Tumblety.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Island Magee Witches.

March 31st 1711 was to be the date of the last witch trial in Ireland.  No one was burned at the stake; no one was ducked or drowned.  However eight women were to serve one year in prison and time in the public stocks. Here they were to suffer the indignity of being pelted with rotten fruit and the jeering of their neighbours on market day. Some threw so violently they took at least one woman's eye out.
These eight women became known as the Island Magee Witches as all of them were from that area of County Antrim. They were tried at Carrickfergus court and were found guilty of bewitching a local girl by the name of Mary Dunbar.  It was said that Dunbar suffered fits, trances, and vomiting up household objects.  She was also known to throw bibles while uttering gross profanities.  She blamed all of this on witchcraft and said she had been cursed by those she accused.  The community and local clergy were easily led by this young girl as the women accused fell short of their sanctimonious charges.  They were all poor, some drank (frowned on by the community), some were disabled, and therefore they failed to meet the standards of womanly beauty and female behaviour. They must be witches.  They were an easy target, and it suited the politicians at the time as it was seen by them as furthering their goals.

However, in order to understand the background to the accusations and subsequent trial we need to go back a little further. A series of extraordinary incidents preceded the events that led up to the arrest of the accused. In September 1710, Mrs Anne Haltridge, widow of the Rev. John Haltridge, late Presbyterian minister at Island Magee was staying in the house of her son of the same address.  It was reported that every night she suffered great annoyance from invisible objects that threw stones and sods of turf at her bed. The curtains around her bed opened on their own, pillows were pulled from under her head by unseen hands and the bedclothes were pulled from the bed. Although a thorough search was made of the room nothing was discovered to account for these disturbances. She requested she be moved to another room as she was afraid to remain in that room on her own.

We now move forward to December 11th 1710, surprisingly Mrs Haltridge is still there.  Sitting by the kitchen fire at twilight she is joined by a little boy who sits beside her. He looks as if he is around eleven or twelve years of age, with short black hair, an old hat upon his head, he is wrapped in an old blanket that trails behind him and he wears an old torn vest.  He keeps his face hidden by the blanket.  Mrs Haltridge asked him if he is hungry, where he came from, who he is and so on but to no avail.  Instead of answering her he jumps up, dances around the kitchen, out the door and disappears into the nearby cowshed.  Mrs Haltridge sends the servants to search for him but they can find no trace of him. However, when they return to the house the boy is stood beside them.  Each time they try to catch him they fail. Eventually the boy vanishes and they are not troubled by him again until February 1711.

On the 11th February 1711, Mrs Haltridge, (yes, she is still there), is sat reading her book. She puts the book down for a moment, nobody but her is in the room.  She reaches for her book only to find it missing. The following day the apparition of the young boy reappeared, breaking a window he thrust in his hand with the missing book in it. He told a servant girl that was standing there that he had taken the book and that her mistress would never see it again.  When she asked him if he could read it he replied that he could, and that the devil had taught him. He further stated that within a few days a corpse would leave the house but he refused to name it.

Mr Robert Sinclair, the Presbyterian minister, and two of his elders came to the house and stayed there with the distressed family, spending much of their time in prayer.  Mrs Haltridge went to bed as usual in the haunted room but got very little rest and around midnight a scream was heard.  Mr Sinclair rushed to her room asking what had happened; Mrs Haltridge said she felt as if she had been stabbed in her back with a sharp knife.  Next morning she left the haunted room and went to another but the pain in her back persisted and by the end of the week, on the 22nd February, she died.

Now we come to Mary Dunbar. Around 27th February 1711, a young girl of around eighteen years old came to stay with Mrs Haltridge junior to keep her company after her mother in laws death.  There was already a rumour spreading that Old Mrs Haltridge had been bewitched into her grave and this had a bad effect upon Mrs Haltridge junior.  It was on the night of Mary’s arrival that strange things began to happen. When Mary and another girl retired to their room they found a number of their clothes had been removed from their trunk. When they went looking for the missing items they found them scattered throughout the house.  That night Mary was seized by a violent fit, when she recovered she cried out that she had been stabbed in her thigh and that she had been attacked by three women who she went on to describe. Around midnight she was to suffer a second fit in which she saw a vision of seven or eight women talking together and calling each other by name.

When Mary came out of her fit she gave the names as Janet Liston, Elizabeth Cellor, Kate McCalmont, Janet Carson, Janet Mean, Latimer, and one known as Mrs. Ann. She gave such a good description of the women that even those she did not name were guessed at. All the women were sent for and those she had not named were paired with other ‘innocent’ women, Dunbar then identified each of them as her tormentors. One was even picked out of a group of thirty women.

Between the 3rd and 24th March seven women were arrested, their names were

Janet Mean, of Braid Island.
Jane Latimer, of Irish quarter, Carrigfergus.
Margaret Mitchell, of Kilroot.
Catherine M'Calmont, of Island Magee.
Janet Liston, alias Sellar, of Island Magee.
Elizabeth Sellar, of same Island Magee.
Janet Carson, of same Island Magee.

The accused women were brought to trial on 31st March 1711 at Carrigfergus before judges Upton and McCartney.  Dunbar stated that her tormentors had told her she would be unable to give evidence against them in court and she was reported as being struck dumb the day before the trial, this was to continue through the whole trial.  The accussed had no legal representation and no medical evidence regarding Dunbar was ever given.  Of course they all denied the charges, they even went as far as to take communion and call upon god as their witness.  Judge Upton in his summing up instructed the jury that in his opinion they could not bring in a guilty verdict based upon the evidence of one person’s visions.  He went on to say that there was no doubt in his mind that there appeared to be some diabolical work going on but if the persons accussed were really witches and in league with the devil they would not attend service and partake of communion on such a regular basis. Unfortunately his brother judge on the bench was not so open-minded.  Judge McCartney instructed the jury to find them all guilty. The jury lost no time in doing so.

This ended the last trial for witchcraft in Ireland.  Judge Anthony Upton committed suicide in 1718.

We live in better times yet some people still view the disabled as 'not fitting in'. So we're only one step away.

Upper Image: A 17th century Ducking Stool.

Middle Image: A 17th century stocks.

Lower Image: A disabled woman, did 'not fit in' so she must have been a witch.