1816 The Story of Wildgoose Lodge



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What follows are two accounts of the events at Wildgoose Lodge, events that took place in the early hours of the morning of 30 October 1816. This first article by William Carleton is taken from his Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, the first edition of which was published in 1833. This is from a 1893 edition printed by George Routledge & Sons Limited, Ludgate Hill, London. Illustrations are from the 1867 edition.





I had read the anonymous summons, but, from its general import, I believed it to be one of those special meetings convened for some purpose affecting the usual objects and proceedings of the body; at least, the terms in which it was conveyed to me had nothing extraordinary or mysterious in them beyond the simple fact that it was not to be a general but a select meeting: this mark of confidence flattered me, and I determined to attend punctually. I was, it is true, desired to keep the circumstance entirely to myself; but there was nothing startling in this, for I had often received summonses of a similar nature. I therefore resolved to attend, according to the letter of my instructions, "on the next night, at the solemn hour of midnight, to deliberate and act upon such matters as should then and there be submitted to my consideration." The morning after I received this message I arose and resumed my usual occupations; but, from whatever cause it may have proceeded, I felt a sense of approaching evil hang heavily upon me: the beats of my pulse were languid, and an undefinable feeling of anxiety pervaded my whole spirit even my face was pale, and my eye so heavy that my father and brothers concluded me to be ill; an opinion which I thought at the time to be correct, for I felt exactly that kind of depression which precedes a severe fever. I could not understand what I experienced, nor can I yet, except by supposing that there is in human nature some mysterious faculty by which, in coming calamities, the dread of some tearful evil is anticipated, and that it is possible to catch a dark presentiment of the sensations which they subsequently produce. For my part, I can neither analyze nor define it; but on that day I knew it by painful experience, and so have a thousand others in similar circumstances.


It was the middle of winter. The day was gloomy and tempestuous almost beyond any other I remember: dark clouds rolled over the hills about me, and a close, sleet-like rain fell in slanting drifts that chased each other rapidly towards the earth on the course of the blast. The outlying cattle sought the closest and calmest corners of the fields for shelter; the trees and young groves were tossed about, for the wind was so unusually high that it swept in hollow gusts through them with that hoarse murmur which deepens so powerfully on the mind the sense of dreariness and desolation.


As the shades of night fell, the storm, if possible, increased. The moon was half gone, and only a few stars were visible by glimpses, as a rush of wind left a temporary opening in the sky. I had determined, if the storm should not abate, to incur any penalty rather than attend the meeting; but the appointed hour was distant, and I resolved to be decided by the future state of the night.


Ten o'clock came, but still there was no change; eleven passed, and on opening the door to observe if there were any likelihood of its clearing up, a blast of wind, mingled with rain, nearly blew me off my feet. At length it was approaching to the hour of midnight ; and on examining a third time, I found it had calmed a little, and no longer rained.


I instantly got my oak stick, muffled myself in my great coat, strapped my hat about my ears, and, as the place of meeting was only a quarter of a mile distant, I presently set out.


The appearance of the heavens was lowering and angry, particularly in that point where the light of the moon fell against the clouds, from a seeming chasm in them, through which alone she was visible. The edges of this chasm were faintly bronzed, but the dense body of the masses that hung piled on each side of her was black and impenetrable to sight. In no other point of the heavens was there any part of the sky visible: a deep veil of clouds overhung the horizon, yet was the light sufficient to give occasional glimpses of the rapid shifting which took place in this dark canopy, and of the tempestuous agitation with which the midnight storm swept to and fro beneath it.


At length I arrived at a long slated house, situated in a solitary part of the neighbourhood; a little below it ran a small stream which was now swollen above its banks, and rushing with mimic roar over the flat meadows beside it. The appearance of the bare slated building in such a night was particularly sombre, and to those, like me, who knew the purpose to which it was usually devoted, it was, or ought to have been, peculiarly so. There it stood, silent and gloomy, without any appearance of human life or enjoyment about or within it. As I approached, the moon once more had broken out of the clouds, and shone dimly upon the wet, glittering slates and windows with a deathlike lustre, that gradually faded away as I left the point of observation and entered the folding-door. It was the parish chapel.


The scene which presented itself here was in keeping not only with the external appearance of the house, but with the darkness, the storm, and the hour, which was now a little after midnight. About eighty persons were sitting in dead silence upon the circular steps of the altar. They did not seem to move; and as I entered and advanced the echo of my footsteps rang through the building with a lonely distinctness, which added to the solemnity and mystery of the circumstances about me. The windows were secured with shutters on the inside, and on the altar a candle was lighted, which burned dimly amid the surrounding darkness, and lengthened the shadow of the altar itself, and those of six or seven persons who stood on its upper steps, until they mingled in the obscurity which shrouded the lower end of the chapel. The faces of the men who sat on the altar steps were not distinctly visible, yet their prominent and more characteristic features were in sufficient relief, and I observed that some of the most malignant and reckless spirits in the parish were assembled. In the eyes of those who stood at the altar, and whom I knew to be invested with authority over the others, I could perceive gleams of some latent and ferocious purpose, kindled, as I soon observed, into a fiercer expression of vengeance by the additional excitement of ardent spirits, with which they had stimulated themselves to a point of determination that mocked at the apprehension of all future responsibility, either in this world or the next.


The welcome which I received on joining them was far different from the boisterous good-humour that used to mark our greetings on other occasions: just a nod of the head from this or that person, on the part of those who sat, with a ghud dhemur tha thu?[1] in a suppressed voice, even below a common whisper: but from the standing group, who were evidently the projectors of the enterprise, I received a convulsive grasp of the hand, accompanied by a fierce and desperate look, that seemed to search my eye and countenance, to try if I were a person not likely to shrink from whatever they had resolved to execute. It is surprising to think of the powerful expression which a moment of intense interest or great danger is capable of giving to the eye, the features, and the slightest actions, especially in those whose station in society does not require them to constrain nature, by the force of social courtesies, into habits that conceal their natural emotions. None of the standing group spoke; but as each of them wrung my hand in silence, his eye was fixed on mine with an expression of drunken confidence and secrecy, and an insolent determination not to be gainsayed without peril. If looks could be translated with certainty, they seemed to say, "We are bound upon a project of vengeance, and if you do not join us, remember that we can revenge." Along with this grasp they did not forget to remind me of the common bond by which we were united, for each man gave me the secret grip of Ribbonism a manner that made the joints of my fingers ache for some minutes afterwards.


There was one present, however - the highest in authority - whose actions and demeanour were calm and. unexcited. He seemed to labour under no unusual influence whatever, but evinced a serenity so placid and philosophical that I attributed the silence of the sitting group, and the restraint which curbed in the out-breaking passions of those who stood, entirely to his presence. He was a schoolmaster, who taught his daily school in that chapel, and acted also, on Sunday, in the capacity of clerk to the priest - an excellent and amiable old man, who knew little of his illegal connections and atrocious conduct.


When the ceremonies of brotherly recognition and friendship were past, the captain (by which title I shall designate the last-mentioned person) stooped, and raising a jar of whisky on the corner of the altar, held a wine-glass to its neck, which he filled, and, with a calm nod, handed it to me to drink. I shrunk back, with an instinctive horror at the profaneness of such an act, in the house, and on the altar, of God, and peremptorily refused to taste the proffered draught. He smiled mildly at what he considered my superstition, and added quietly, and in a low voice, "You'll be wantin' it, I'm thinkin', afther the wettin' you got."


"Wet or dry," said I -


"Stop, man!" he replied, in the same tone; " spake low. But why wouldn't you take the whisky? Sure there's as holy people to the fore as you: didn't they all take it ? An' I wish we may never do worse nor dhrink a harmless glass o' whisky to keep the cowld out, anyway."


"Well," said I, "I'll jist trust to God and the consequences for the cowld, Paddy, ma bouchal; but a blessed dhrop of it won't be crossin' my lips, avick ; so no more ghosther about it - dhrink it yourself, if you like. Maybe you want it as much as I do; wherein I've the patthern of a good big coat upon me, so thick, your sowl, that if it was rainin' bullocks a dhrop wouldn't get under the nap of it."


He gave me a calm but keen glance, as I spoke.


"Well, Jim," said he, "it's a good comrade you've got for the weather that's in it; but, in the manetime, to set you a dacent patthern, I'll just take this myself" - saying which, with the jar still upon its side, and the forefinger of his left hand in its neck, he swallowed the spirits. "It's the first I dhrank to-night," he added, "nor would I dhrink it now, only to show you that I've heart an' spirit to do the thing that we're all bound an' sworn to, when the proper time comes;" after which he laid down the glass, and turned up the jar, with much coolness, upon the altar.


During our conversation those who had been summoned to this mysterious meeting were pouring in fast; and as each person approached the altar he received from one to two or three glasses of whisky, according as he chose to limit himself; but, to do them justice, there were not a few of those present who, in spite of their own desire, and the captain's express invitation, refused to taste it in the house of God's worship. Such, however, as were scrupulous he afterwards recommended to take it on the outside of the chapel door, which they did, as, by that means, the sacrilege of the act was supposed to be evaded.


About one o'clock they were all assembled except six; at least, so the captain asserted, on looking at a written paper.


"Now, boys," said he, in the same low voice, "we are all present except the thraitors whose names I am goin' to read to you; not that we are to count thim thraitors, till we know whether or not it was in their power to come. Anyhow, the night's terrible - but, boys, you're to know that neither fire nor wather is to prevint yees, when duly summoned to attind a meeting - particularly whin the summons is widout a name, as you have been told that there is always something of consequence to be done thin."


He then read out the names of those who were absent, in order that the real cause of their absence might be ascertained, declaring that they would be dealt with accordingly. After this, with his usual caution, he shut and bolted the door; and having put the key in his pocket, ascended the steps of the altar, and for some time traversed the little platform, from which the priest usually addresses the congregation.


Until this night I had never contemplated the man's countenance with any particular interest; but as he walked the platform I had an opportunity of observing him more closely. He was slight in person, apparently not thirty; and, on a first view, appeared to have nothing remarkable in his dress or features. I, however, was not the only person whose eyes mere fixed upon him at that moment; in fact, everyone present observed him with equal interest, for hitherto he had kept the object of the meeting perfectly secret, and of course we all felt anxious to know it. It was while he traversed the platform that I scrutinised his features with a hope, if possible, to glean from them some evidence of what was passing within him. I could, however, mark but little, and that little was at first rather from the intelligence which seemed to subsist between him and those whom I have already mentioned as standing against the altar than from any indication of his own. Their gleaming eyes were fixed upon him with an intensity of savage and demon-like hope which blazed out in flashes of malignant triumph, as, upon turning, he threw a cool but rapid glance at them, to intimate the progress he was making in the subject to which he devoted the undivided energies of his mind. But in the course of his meditation I could observe, on one or two occasions, a dark shade come over his countenance, that contracted his brow into a deep furrow, and it was then, for the first time, that I saw the Satanic expression of which his face, by a very slight motion of its muscles, was capable. His hands, during this silence, closed and opened convulsively; his eyes shot out two or three baleful glances, first to his confederates, and afterwards vacantly into the deep gloom of the lower part of the chapel; his teeth ground against each other like those of a man whose revenge burns to reach a distant enemy, and finally, after having wound himself up to a certain determination, his features relapsed into their original calm and undisturbed expression.


At this moment a loud laugh, having something supernatural in it, rang out wildly from the darkness of the chapel: he stopped, and putting his open hand over his brows, peered down into the gloom, and said calmly, in Irish, "Bee dhu husth; ha nihl anam inh - hold you tongue, it is not yet the time."


Every eye was now directed to the same spot, but, in consequence of its distance from the dim light on the altar, none could perceive the person from whom the laugh proceeded. It was, by this time, near two o'clock in the morning.


He now stood for a few moments on the platform, and his chest heaved with a depth of anxiety equal to the difficulty of the design he wished to accomplish.


"Brothers," said he - "for we are all brothers - sworn upon all that's blessed an' holy to obey whatever them that's over us, manin' among ourselves[2], wishes us to do - are you now ready, in the name of God, upon whose althar I stand, to fulfil yer oaths ?"


The words were scarcely uttered, when those who had stood beside the altar during the night sprang from their places, and descending its steps rapidly, turned round, and raising their arms, exclaimed, "By all that's sacred an' holy, we're willin'!'


In the meantime, those who sat upon the steps of the altar instantly rose, and following the example of those who had just spoken, exclaimed after them, "To be sure - by all that's sacred an' holy, we're willin'."


"Now boys," said the captain, "ar'n't yees big fools for your pains? an' one of yees doesn't know what I mane."


"You're our captain," said one of those who had stood at the altar, "an' has yer ordhers from higher quarthers; of coorse, whatever ye command upon us we're bound to obey you in."


"Well," said he, smiling, "I only wanted to thry yees; an' by the oath yees tuck, there's not a captain in the county has as good a right to be proud of his min as I have. Well, yees won't rue it, maybe, when the right time comes; and for that same rason every one of yees must have a glass from the jar; thim that won't dhrink it in the chapel can dhrink it widout; and here goes to open the door for them!'


He then distributed another glass to every man who would accept it, and brought the jar afterwards to the chapel door, to satisfy the scruples of those who would not drink within. When this was performed, and all duly excited, he proceeded:


"Now, brothers, you are solemnly sworn to obay me, and I'm sure there's no thraithur here that ud parjure himself for a thrifle; but I'm sworn to obay them that's above me, manin' still among ourselves; an' to show you that I don't scruple to do it, here goes!''


He then turned round, and taking the Missal between his hands, placed it upon the altar. Hitherto every word was uttered in a low, precautionary tone; but on grasping the book he again turned round, and looking upon his confederates with the same Satanic expression which marked his countenance before, exclaimed, in a voice of deep determination:


"By this sacred an' holy book of God, I will perform the action which we have met this night to accomplish, be that what it may; an this I swear upon God's book an' God's althar!"


On concluding he struck the book violently with his open hand.


At this moment the candle which burned before him went suddenly out, and the chapel was wrapped in pitchy darkness; the sound as if of rushing wings fell upon our ears, and fifty voices dwelt upon the last words of his oath with wild and supernatural tones, that seemed to echo and to mock what he had sworn. There was a pause, and an exclamation of horror from all present: but the captain was too cool and steady to be disconcerted. He immediately groped about until he got the candle, and proceeding calmly to a remote corner of the chapel, took up a half-burned turf which lay there, and after some trouble, succeeded in lighting it again. He then explained what had taken place; which indeed was easily done, as the candle happened to be extinguished by a pigeon which sat directly above it. The chapel, I should have observed, was at this time, like many country chapels, unfinished inside, and the pigeons of a neighbouring dove-cote had built nests along the rafters of the unceiled roof; which circumstance also explained the rushing of the wings, for the birds had been affrighted by the sudden loudness of the noise. The mocking voices were nothing but the echoes, rendered naturally more awful by the scene, the mysterious object of the meeting, and the solemn hour of the night.


When the candle was again lighted, and these startling circumstances accounted for, the persons whose vengeance had been deepening more and more during the night rushed to the altar in a body, where each, in a voice trembling with passionate eagerness, repeated the oath, and as every word was pronounced, the same echoes heightened the wildness of the horrible ceremony by their long and unearthly tones. The countenances of these human tigers were livid with suppressed rage: their knit brows, compressed lips, and kindled eyes fell under the dim light of the taper with an expression calculated to sicken any heart not absolutely diabolical.


As soon as this dreadful rite was completed we were again startled by several loud bursts of laughter, which proceeded from the lower darkness of the chapel, and the captain, on hearing them, turned to the place, and reflecting for a moment, said in Irish, "Gutsho nish, avokelhee - come hither now, boys."


A rush immediately took place from the corner in which they had secreted themselves all the night ; and seven men appeared, whom we instantly .recognised as brothers and cousins of certain persons who had been convicted, some time before, for breaking into the house of an honest poor man in the neighbourhood, from whom, after having treated him with barbarous violence, they took away such fire-arms as he kept for his own protection.


It was evidently not the captain's intention to have produced these persons until the oath should have been generally taken, but the exulting mirth with which they enjoyed the success of his scheme betrayed them, and put him to the necessity of bringing them forward somewhat before the concerted moment.


The scene which now took place was beyond all power of description; peals of wild, fiend-like yells rang through the chapel, as the party which stood on the altar, and that which had crouched in the darkness, met; wringing of hands, leaping in triumph, striking of sticks and fire-arms against the ground and the altar itself, dancing and cracking of fingers, marked the triumph of some hellish determination. Even the captain for a time was unable to restrain their fury; but at length he mounted the platform before the altar once more, and, with a stamp of his foot, recalled their attention to himself and the matter in hand.


"Boys," said he, "enough of this, and too much; an' well for us it is that the chapel is in a lonely place, or our foolish noise might do us no good. Let thim that swore so manfully jist now stand a one side, till the rest kiss the book, one by one."


The proceedings, however, had by this time taken too fearful a shape for even the captain to compel them to a blindfold oath; the first man he called flatly refused to answer until he should hear the nature of the service that was required. This was echoed by the remainder, who, taking courage from the firmness of this person, declared generally that until they first knew the business they were to execute none of them would take the oath. The captain's lip quivered slightly, and his brow again became knit with the same hellish expression, which I have remarked gave him so much the appearance of an embodied fiend; but this speedily passed away, and was succeeded by a malignant sneer, in which lurked, if there ever did in a sneer, "a laughing devil," calmly, determinedly atrocious.


"It wasn't worth yer whiles to refuse the oath," said he, mildly, "for the truth is I had next to nothing for yees to do. Not a hand, maybe, would have to rise, only jist to look on, an' if any resistance would be made, to show yourselves; yer numbers would soon make them see that resistance would be no use whatever in the present case. At all evints, the oath of secrecy must be taken, or woe be to him that will refuse that; he won't know the day, nor the hour, nor the minute, when he'll be made a spatchcock ov."


He then turned round, and placing his right hand on the Missal, swore, "In the presence of God, and before his holy altar, that whatever might take place that night he would keep secret from man or mortal, except the priest, and that neither bribery, nor imprisonment, nor death would wring it from his heart."


Having done this, he again struck the book violently, as if to confirm the energy with which he swore, and then calmly descending the steps, stood with a serene countenance, like a man conscious of having performed a good action. As this oath did not pledge those who refused to take the other to the perpetration of any specific crime, it was readily taken by all present. Preparations were then made to execute what was intended; the half-burned turf was placed in a little pot; another glass of whisky was distributed; and the door being locked by the captain, who kept the key as parish clerk and master, the crowd departed silently from the chapel.


The moment those who lay in the darkness during the night made their appearance at the altar, we knew at once the persons we were to visit; for, as I said before, they were related to the miscreants whom one of those persons had convicted, in consequence of their midnight attack upon himself and his family. The captain's object in keeping them unseen was that those present, not being aware of the duty about to be imposed on them, might have less hesitation about swearing to its fulfilment. Our conjectures were correct, for on leaving the chapel we directed our steps to the house in which this devoted man resided.


The night was still stormy, but without rain; it was rather dark, too, though not so as to prevent us from seeing the clouds careering swiftly through the air. The dense curtain which had overhung and obscured the horizon was now broken, and large sections of the sky were clear, and thinly studded with stars that looked dim and watery, as did indeed the whole firmament; for in some places black clouds were still visible, threatening a continuance of tempestuous weather. The road appeared washed and gravelly; every dike was full of yellow water; and every little rivulet and larger stream dashed its hoarse music in our ears; every blast, too, was cold, fierce, and wintry, sometimes driving us back to a standstill, and again, when a turn in the road would bring it in our backs, whirling us along for a few steps with involuntary rapidity. At length the fated dwelling became visible, and a short consultation was held in a sheltered place between the captain and the two parties who seemed so eager for its destruction. The fire-arms were now loaded, and their bayonets and short pikes, the latter shod and pointed with iron, were also got ready. The live coal which was brought in the small pot had become extinguished; but to remedy this two or three persons from a remote part of the county entered a cabin on the wayside, and under pretence of lighting their own and their comrades' pipes, procured a coal of fire, for so they called a lighted turf. From the time we left the chapel until this moment a profound silence had been maintained, a circumstance which, when I considered. the number of persons present, and the mysterious and dreaded object of their journey, had a most appalling effect upon my spirits.


At length we arrived within fifty perches of the house walking in a compact body, and with as little noise as possible; but it seemed as if the very elements had conspired to frustrate our design, for on advancing within the shade of the farm-hedge, two or three persons found themselves up to the middle in water, and on stooping to ascertain more accurately the state of the place, we could see nothing but one immense sheet of it - spread like a lake over the meadows which surrounded the spot we wished to reach.


Fatal night! The very recollection of it, when associated with the fearful tempests of the elements, grows, if that were possible, yet more wild and revolting. Had we been engaged in any innocent or benevolent enterprise, there was something in our situation just then that had a touch of interest in it to a mind imbued with a relish for the savage beauties of nature. There we stood, about a hundred and thirty in number, our dark forms bent forward, peering into the dusky expanse of water, with its dim gleams of reflected light, broken by the weltering of the mimic waves into ten thousand fragments, whilst the few stars that overhung it in the firmament appeared to shoot through it in broken lines, and to be multiplied fifty-fold in the gloomy mirror on which we gazed.


Over us was a stormy sky, and around us a darkness through which we could only distinguish, in outline, the nearest objects, whilst the wind swept strongly and dismally upon us. When it was discovered that the common pathway to the house was inundated, we were about to abandon our object and return home. The captain, however, stooped down low for a moment, and, almost closing his eyes, looked along the surface of the waters, and then, raising himself very calmly, said, in his usual quiet tone, " Yees needn't go back, boys, I've found a way; jist follow me."


He immediately took a more circuitous direction, by which we reached a causeway that had been raised for the purpose of giving a free passage to and from the house during such inundations as the present. Along this we had advanced more than half way, when we discovered a breach in it, which, as afterwards appeared, had that night been made by the strength of the flood. This, by means of our sticks and pikes, we found to be about three feet deep and eight yards broad. Again we were at a loss how to proceed, when the fertile brain of the captain devised a method of crossing it.


"Boys," said he, "of coorse you've all played at leap-frog; very well, strip and go in, a dozen of you, lean one upon the back of mother from this to the opposite bank, where one must stand facing the outside man, both their shoulders agin one another, that the outside man may be supported. Then we can creep over you, an' a dacent bridge you'll be, anyway."


This was the work of only a few minutes, and in less than ten we were all safely over.


Merciful heaven! how I sicken at the recollection of what is to follow! On reaching the dry bank, we proceeded instantly, and in profound silence, to the house; the captain divided us into companies, and then assigned to each division its proper station. The two parties who had been so vindictive all the night he kept about himself; for of those who were present they only were in his confidence, and knew his nefarious purpose: their number was about fifteen. Having made these dispositions, he, at the head of about five of them, approached the house on the windy side, for the fiend possessed a coolness which enabled him to seize upon every possible advantage. That he had combustibles about him was evident, for in less than fifteen minutes nearly one-half of the house was enveloped in flames. On seeing this, the others rushed over to the spot where he and his gang were standing, and remonstrated earnestly, but in vain; the flames now burst forth with renewed violence, and as they flung their strong light upon the faces of the foremost group, I think hell itself could hardly present anything more Satanic than their countenances, now worked up into a paroxysm of infernal triumph at their own revenge. The captain's look had lost all its calmness, every feature stared out into distinct malignity, the curve of his brow was deep, and ran up to the root of the hair, dividing his is face into two segments, that did not seem to have been designed for each other. His lips were half open, and the corners of his mouth a little brought back on each side, like those of a man expressing intense hatred and triumph over an enemy who is in the death struggle under his grasp. His eyes blazed from beneath his knit eyebrows with a fire that seemed to be lighted up in the infernal pit itself. It is unnecessary and only painful to describe the rest of his gang; demons might have been proud of such horrible visages as they exhibited: for they worked under all the power of hatred, revenge, and joy; and these passions blended into one terrible scowl, enough almost to blast any human eye that would venture to look upon it.


When the others attempted to intercede for the lives of the inmates, there were at least fifteen guns and pistols levelled at them.


"Another word," said the captain, "an' you're a corpse where you stand, or the first man who will dare to spake for them; no, no, it wasn't to spare them we came here. 'No mercy' is the password for the night, an' by the sacred oath I swore beyant in the chapel, anyone among yees that will attempt to show it will find none at my hand. Surround the house, boys, I tell ye, I hear them stirring. ' No quarther - no mercy,' is the ordher of the night."


Such was his command over these misguided creatures, that in an instant there was a ring round the house to prevent the escape of the unhappy inmates, should the raging element give them time to attempt it; for none present durst withdraw themselves from the scene, not only from an apprehension of the captain's present vengeance, or that of his gang, but because they knew that, even had they then escaped, an early and certain death awaited them from a quarter against which they had no means of defence. The hour now was about half-past two o'clock. Scarcely had the last words escaped from the captain's lips, when one of the windows of the house was broken, and a human head, having the hair in a blaze, was descried, apparently a woman's, if one might judge by the profusion of burning tresses, and the softness of the tones, notwithstanding that it called, or rather shrieked aloud, for help and mercy. The only reply to this was the whoop from the captain and his gang of  "No mercy - no mercy!" and that instant the former and one of the latter rushed to the spot, and ere the action could be perceived the head was transfixed with a bayonet and a pike, both having entered it together. The word mercy was divided in her mouth; a short silence ensued; the head hung down on the window, but was instantly tossed back into the flames!


This action occasioned a cry of horror from all present, except the gang and their leader, which startled and enraged the latter so much that he ran towards one of them, and had his bayonet, now reeking with the blood of its innocent victim, raised to plunge it in his body, when, dropping the point, he said in a piercing whisper, that hissed in the ears of all, "It's no use now, you know; if one's to hang, all will hang; so our safest may, you persave, is to lave none of them to tell the story. Ye may go now, if you wish; but it won't save a hair of your heads. You cowardly set! I knew if I had tould yees the sport, that none of yees, except my own boys, would come, so I jist played a thrick upon you; but remimber what you are sworn to, and stand to the oath ye tuck."


Unhappily, notwithstanding the wetness of the preceding weather the materials of the house were extremely combustible; the whole dwelling was now one body of glowing flame, yet the shouts and shrieks within rose awfully above its crackling and the voice of the storm, for the wind once more blew in gusts and with great violence. The doors and windows were all torn open, and such of those within as had escaped the flames rushed towards them, for the purpose of further escape, and of claiming mercy at the hands of their destroyers; but whenever they appeared the unearthly cry of "NO MERCY'' rung upon their ears for a moment, and for a moment only, for they were flung back at the points of the weapons which the demons had brought with them to make the work of vengeance more certain.


As yet there were many persons in the house whose cry for life was strong as despair, and who clung to it with all the awakened powers of reason and instinct. The ear of man could hear nothing so strongly calculated to stifle the demon of cruelty and revenge within him as the long and wailing shrieks which rose beyond the elements in tones that were carried off rapidly upon the blast, until they died away in the darkness that lay behind the surrounding hills. Had not the house been in a solitary situation, and the hour the dead of night, any person sleeping within a moderate distance must have heard them, for such a cry of sorrow rising into a yell of despair was almost sufficient to have awakened the dead. It was lost, however, upon the hearts and ears that heard it: to them, though in justice be it said, to only comparatively a few of them, it was as delightful as the tones of soft and entrancing music.


The claims of the surviving sufferers were now modified; they supplicated merely to suffer death by the weapons of their enemies; they were willing to bear that, provided they should be allowed to escape from the flames; but no - the horrors of the conflagration were calmly and malignantly gloried in by their merciless assassins, who deliberately flung them back into all their tortures. In the course of a few minutes a man appeared upon the side-mall of the house, nearly naked; his figure, as he stood against the sky in horrible relief, was so finished a picture of woe-begone agony and supplication that it is yet as distinct in my memory as if I were again present at the scene. Every muscle, now in motion by the powerful agitation of his sufferings, stood out upon his limbs and neck, giving him an appearance of desperate strength, to which by this time he must have been wrought up; the perspiration poured from his frame, and the veins and arteries of his neck were inflated to a surprising thickness. Every moment he looked down into the flames which were rising to where he stood; and as he looked the indescribable horror which flitted over his features might have worked upon the devil himself to relent. His words were few.


"My child," said he, "is still safe; she is an infant, a young crathur that never harmed you nor anyone - she is still safe. Your mothers, your wives, have young innocent childhre like it. Oh, spare her; think for a moment that it's one of your own: spare it, as you hope to meet a just God, or if you don't, in mercy shoot me first - put an end to me before I see her burned!"


The captain approached him coolly and deliberately. "You'll prosecute no one now, you bloody informer," said he: "you'll convict no more boys for takin' an ould gun an' pistol from you, or for givin' you a neighbourly knock or two into the bargain!"


Just then, from a window opposite him, proceeded the shrieks of a woman, who appeared at it with the infant in her arms. She herself was almost scorched to death; but, with the presence of mind and humanity of her sex, she was about to put the little babe out of the window. The captain noticed this, and, with characteristic atrocity, thrust, with a sharp bayonet, the little innocent, along with the person who endeavoured to rescue it, into the red flames, where they both perished. This was the work of an instant. Again he approached the man. "Your child is a coal now," said he, with deliberate mockery; "I pitched it in myself, on the point of this" - showing the weapon - "an' now is your turn" - saying which he clambered up, by the assistance of his gang, who stood with a front of pikes and bayonets bristling to receive the wretched man, should he attempt, in his despair, to throw himself from the wall. The captain got up, and placing the point of his bayonet against his shoulder, flung him into the fiery element that raged behind him. He uttered one wild and terrific cry as he fell back, and no more. After this nothing was heard but the crackling of the fire and the rushing of the blast: all that had possessed life within were consumed, amounting either to eleven or fifteen persons.


When this was accomplished, those who took an active part in the murder stood for some time about the conflagration; and as it threw its red light upon their fierce faces and rough persons, soiled as they now were with smoke and black streaks of ashes, the scene seemed to be changed to hell, the murderers to spirits of the damned, rejoicing over the arrival and the torture of some guilty soul. The faces of those who kept aloof from the slaughter were blanched to the whiteness of death: some of them fainted, and others were in such agitation that they were compelled to lean on their comrades. They became actually powerless with horror; yet to such a scene were they brought by the pernicious influence of Ribbonism.


It was only when the last victim went down that the conflagration shot up into the air with most unbounded fury. The house was large, deeply thatched, and well furnished; and the broad red pyramid rose up with fearful magnificence towards the sky. Abstractedly it had sublimity, but now it was associated with nothing in my mind but blood and terror. It was not, however, without a purpose that the captain and his gang stood to contemplate its effect. "Boys," said he, "we had betther be sartin that all's safe; who knows but there might be some of the sarpents crouchin' under a hape o' rubbish, to come out an' gibbet us to-morrow or next day; we had betther wait awhile, anyhow, if it was only to see the blaze."


Just then the flames rose majestically to a surprising height. Our eyes followed their direction; and we perceived, for the first time that the dark clouds above, together with the intermediate air, appeared to reflect back, or rather to have caught, the red hue of the fire. The hills and country about us appeared with an alarming distinctness; but the most picturesque part of it was the effect or reflection of the blaze on the floods that spread over the surrounding plains. These, in fact, appeared to be one broad mass of liquid copper, for the motion of the breaking waters caught from the blaze of the high waving column, as reflected in them, a glaring light, which eddied, and rose, and fluctuated as if the flood itself had been a lake of molten fire.


Fire, however, destroys rapidly. In a short time the flames sank - became weak and flickering - by-and-by they shot out only in fits  - the crackling of the timbers died away - the surrounding. darkness deepened - and, ere long, the faint light was overpowered by the thick volumes of smoke that rose from the ruins of the house and its murdered inhabitants.


"Now, boys," said the captain, "all is safe - we may go. Remember, every man of you, what you've sworn this night on the book an' altar of God - not on a heretic Bible. If you perjure yourselves, you may hang us; but let me tell you, for your comfort, that if you do there is them livin' that will take care the lase of your lives will but short."


After this we dispersed every man to his own home.


Reader, not many months elapsed ere I saw the bodies of this captain, whose name was Patrick Devann, and all those who were actively concerned in the perpetration of this deed of horror, withering in the wind, where they hung gibbetted near the scene of their nefarious villainy; and while I inwardly thanked heaven for my own narrow and almost undeserved escape, I thought in my heart how seldom, even in this world, justice fails to overtake the murderer, and to enforce the righteous judgment of God - that "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."

This tale of terror is, unfortunately, too true. The scene of hellish murder detailed in it lies at Wildgoose Lodge. in the county of Louth, within about four miles of Carrickmacross, and nine of Dundalk. No such multitudinous murder has occurred, under similar circumstances, except the burning of the Sheas in the county of Tipperary. The name of the family burned in Wildgoose Lodge was Lynch. One of them had, shortly before this fatal night, prosecuted and convicted some of the neighbouring Ribbonmen, who visited him with severe marks of their displeasure in consequence of his having refused to enrol himself as a member of their body.


The language of the story is partly fictitious; but the facts are pretty closely such as were developed during the trial of the murderers. Both parties were Roman Catholics. There were, if the author mistake not, either twenty-five or twenty-eight of those who took an active part in the burning hanged and gibbetted in different parts of the county of Louth. Devann, the ringleader, hung for some months in chains, within about a hundred yards of his own house, and about half a mile from Wildgoose Lodge. His mother could neither go into or out of her cabin without seeing his body swinging from the gibbet. Her usual exclamation on looking at him was, "God be good to the sowl of my poor marthyr!"  The peasantry, too, frequently exclaimed, on seeing him, "Poor Paddy!" a gloomy fact that speaks volumes.




[1] How are you?

[2] In opposition to the constituted authorities





The account below is taken from: Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal (Number 296) Saturday, September 30, 1837 [Editors: William & Robert Chambers].


The secret society to which this article refers was a local group of Ribbonmen.





In the county of Louth in Ireland, and at the distance of about nine miles from the town of Dundalk stood some years ago a house called Wild-Goose Lodge - a name conferred upon it from its whimsically chosen situation on a small peninsula jutting into a marsh meadow, which was occasionally transformed into a lake by the winter floods of the Louth. In summer, the residence was reached from the meadow without difficulty; but during winter, the case was very different, it being then approachable only by a narrow neck of land hemmed in by the surrounding waters. At the period to which we refer, Wild-Goose Lodge was tenanted by an industrious man, named Lynch, and his family. Lynch had been very successful in improving a few fields attached to his dwelling, and somewhat elevated above the yearly inundations; he was in the habit also of raising a considerable quantity of flax, which he manufactured into cloth, and carried to the adjoining markets of Dundalk or Newry, where it was readily sold to advantage. By these means he rose in respectability among his neighbours, and comfort and contentment smiled around his dwelling. But an evil hour came, and he himself was unhappily in some measure instrumental in bringing it on.


An illegal association, bound by secret oaths, sprung up among the Roman Catholics living around Wild-Goose Lodge. Lynch, though a moderate man, believed that such a combination, on the part of those who held the same opinions with himself, was necessary to counteract similar demonstrations on the opposite or Protestant side, and he therefore joined the association. A very short time sufficed to show him the imprudence of his conduct. Wild-Goose Lodge was a central point in a remote and secluded district, and the members of the association, not without the countenance, at first, of the occupier, began to make the house their usual point of assemblage. Their numbers, however, speedily increased so much as to submit the family to great inconvenience, and their views, besides, so far exceeded Lynch's own in violence, as to place him under such apprehensions lest he should be held as the leading promoter of all that might be said or done by those who made his dwelling their nightly haunt. Forced to act, in this dilemma, for the sake of himself and his family; he came to the resolution of desiring his neighbours to assemble no more under his roof. This interdict excited a strong feeling of ill will against him among the leaders of the combination, and they afterwards habitually gave him every annoyance they could think of, with the view of ejecting him from the place.


Once liberated, in some degree, from the consequences of his imprudence, Lynch persisted in the line of conduct he had entered upon. The result was, that one night, a party of men, disguised, entered his house, stripped him in presence of his family, and after flogging him, destroyed his furniture, insulted his wife, and cut the web in the loom from the one selvage thread to the other, down to the beam on which it rested. These wanton injuries to an honest, industrious, and (leaving aside his junction of and illegal union) well-conducted man, were galling and hard to bear. Lynch was the husband of an amiable, affectionate wife, and the father of a young family, depending on him for subsistence. Again, to denounce those with whom he had joined in an oath was a proceeding not only full of danger, but to which Lynch could with difficulty bring his mind. Anxious and irresolute, he appealed to the minister of his religion for protection, but it was of no avail. His midnight persecutors continued to harass him, and at last, seeing the ruin of his family inevitable, unless he bestirred himself, and, being able to point out and identify those who had injured him Lynch determined to brave the anger of his assailants, and appeal to the laws of his country. Having formed this resolution, he held to it, in spite of the most awful and ominous endeavours to intimidate him, and two of the party, who had attacked his house, were prosecuted, convicted, and suffered death.


Terrible was the wrath of the secret associates, among whom it chanced there were some men of such characters, as are happily rarely to be met with in the world. One of the oaths taken by this body was, that no one member should bring another before the bar of justice. Certainly this oath, bad as it was in every sense, never contemplated that one member was not to resent the gross injuries done to him himself by another. But, as might have been anticipated from the previous exhibition of feeling, Lynch was held, in the strongest sense of the word, to have violated the oaths he had taken.


Not far from Wild-Goose Lodge stood a chapel, where the association met after the ejection of its members from the house of Lynch. The leading man of the body, Patrick or Paddy Devann, was clerk to the priest of the district, and had the charge of the chapel. Within this building, consecrated for widely different purposes, the midnight band assembled on the night destined by the leaders of the party for the destruction of the unfortunate Lynch. Devann, the principal agent in the scene, in order to make a deeper impression on the minds of the crowd present in the chapel, assembled them around the altar, and, after administering an oath of secrecy to them, descanted on the falling off of Lynch, and the necessity of suppressing all defections among themselves. He then darkly hinted the object of the meeting to be Lynch's punishment and hoped that it would serve as a warning to them all to be firm to the obligations on which they had entered, and true to the interests of the body. Having finished his address, Devann lifted from before the altar a potsherd containing a piece of burning turf; and, moving from the chapel, desired them to follow him.


Some scores of the band were on horseback, having come from distant places at the imperative summons sent to them. Many more were on foot, and all these moved desultorily onwards, Devann preceeding them, towards the abode of the devoted victim. To the credit of human nature it must be stated, that few of this numerous party had the slightest idea of what was intended by the originators of the movement. As the men went along, they were inquiring among themselves, in whispers, what was to be done; even those who had heard Devann's threats did not believe that they would be enforced, or that any further injury would be done than had been inflicted before.


Silence reigned along the party's route. Nothing disturbed the general quiet, save the distant house­dog's bark, and the trembling unequal tread of the nocturnal band, as they approached the abode of the unoffending, unsuspecting, and sleeping family. No barrier opposed their advance; no watchful guarding stood between them and the objects of their vengeance; they drew nigh the house, and all was still and motionless.


While the majority of the persons present still remained ignorant of what was to be accomplished, but obeyed their leaders passively, an extensive circle at men was formed by Devann's directions around the devoted dwelling. Then, those few who were aware of all the enormity of the project crept forward along the ground, towards the house, the pike in one hand and the lighted turf in the other. Well did the wretches know that there was no chance of escape for those within, for the house was filled with the flax by which poor Lynch made his bread; and as soon as it was caught by the flame, extinction was a thing next to impossible. The turfs were applied, and in a few minutes the house was on fire - with a family of thirteen souls beneath its blazing roof! The flames rose towards the sky, and illuminated the adjacent scene. Speedily were heard from within the supplicating cries of the miserable victims, "Mercy! for God sake, mercy! mercy! mercy!" But the cry was vain. So far from evincing any feelings of compunction while the act of destruction was going on, the wretches who had caused it stood ready with their pikes to thrust back those who might attempt to escape. One attempt was made to move their pity; and had the men had hearts, they must have been moved. The wife of Lynch, while her own body was already enveloped in flames, had endeavoured to preserve the infant at her breast, and she appeared at the windows, content to die herself, but holding out her child for mercy and protection. Frantically she threw it from her. And how was it received? On the point of pikes, and instantly tossed back into the burning ruins, into which at the same time sunk its hapless mother. One other only of those within, and this was a man, one of Lynch's assailants, appeared on the walls, beseeching for mercy; but he likewise received none. The veins of his face were visible, swollen like cords, and horror was painted on his whole aspect. He, and all who were within, perished. Lynch himself, either cut off early, or resigned to his fate, never appeared, either to denounce the act of his persecutors, or to supplicate their pity.


It is impossible to say with what feelings the main party encircling the house at a little distance beheld the consummation of the purposes of the night. The majority of them certainly felt horror, while others, in whose minds a blind hatred of Lynch was predominant, felt mingled sensations of horror and exultation; and the conjoined feelings expended themselves in cries, that were re-echoed by the groans of the victims. The terrified peasantry of the neighbourhood who had not joined the associated throng, started from their pillows, and gazed towards the ascending flames of Wild-Goose Lodge with fear and shrinking, for they too well knew the feelings of the district to regard it as a common accident, which it would have been their duty and their pleasure to have aided in suppressing and relieving. Until all sounds of life, therefore, were extinct within the burning house, the authors of the deed looked on undisturbed. When all was over they skulked away, each to his own home.


The winds of autumn and the storms of winter had swept the ashes of Wild-Goose Lodge over the fields which Lynch had cultivated, ere anyone of the actors in this atrocious crime was brought to justice. But the presence of some of the less guilty of them having been discovered, and brought home beyond a doubt, these, in order to save themselves, made a revelation of all they knew and had seen. Anticipating this, the ringleaders fled to various parts of the country, but the arm of the offended law overtook them. Devann was found in the situation of a labourer in the dock-yards of Dublin, and others were taken at different times and places: Eleven were executed, and, to mark the atrocity of their crime, their bodies were hung in chains at Louth and other spots in the neighbourhood of Wild-Goose Lodge. Devann was executed within the roofless walls of the house in which his victims were immolated, and his body afterwards suspended beside those of his associates.


It has been already mentioned, that the greater number of those who were so far accessory to this crime, in having countenanced it with their presence, knew nothing of the real intentions of the ringleaders. Many of the same persons, also, it is but justice to add, would have saved the victims, had they dared or been able, and afterwards would even have devoted their own bodies to the flames to blot out the stain from the annals of their country. From the statements of these persons, and the evidence given at the trial, has been drawn up this little narrative. END




NOTE: Dr. Terence Dooley's book of the events at Wildgoose Lodge (see below) includes a critique of the above articles and points out errors of detail etc. contained in both. Dr. Dooley's book is well worth reading for its forensic examination of the murders and the events surrounding them and the aftermath, as well as the personalities involved.



For further information of the murders at Wildgoose Lodge see:


Paterson, T.G.F., 'The Burning of Wildgoose Lodge', in JCLAHS Vol XII, Number 2, 1950, pages 159-80 (illustrated)

Casey, Daniel J., 'Wildgoose Lodge: the Evidence and the Lore', in JCLAHS Vol XVIII, Number 2, 1974, pages 140-64

Casey, Daniel J., 'Wildgoose Lodge: the Evidence and the Lore', in JCLAHS Vol XVIII, Number 3, 1975, pages 211-31 (illustrated)

Dooley, Terence, The Murders at Wildgoose Lodge: Agrarian Crime and Punishment in pre-Famine Ireland, Four Courts Press, Ireland, 2007 (illustrated)

Ó Muirí, Réamonn, 'The Burning of Wildgoose Lodge', in JCLAHS Vol XXI, Number 2, 1986, pages 117-47 (illustrated)

Murray, Raymond, The Burning of Wildgoose Lodge: Ribbonism in Louth - Murder and the Gallows, CSAM, Monaghan 2005.



JCLAHS: Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society (www.clahs.ie)

CSAM: Cumann Seanchas Ard Mhacha (The Armagh Diocesan Historical Society)

(as pdf.)



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