28th November 1847
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One month after the assasination of Major Denis Mahon, the Rev. John Lloyd of Smith Hill, Elphin, was famously murdered by his tenant Owen Beirne of Caldra.

From 1837–47 Smithhill House was the seat of the Reverend John Lloyd, rector of Aughrim. Smith Hill was in the demesne of The Palace at Elphin. The house is situated about 1.5 km east of Elphin, in Ardnagowna.

The following account of Lloyd's murder, is taken from an article by Turtle Bunbury:

On Sunday 28th November 1847, the Rev. John Lloyd and his servant were making their way home in a horse-drawn gig from Aughrim Church (near Rockville) where he had just preached a sermon. Approximately a mile from his residence at Smith-hill, the assassins struck.[i] Two men armed with pistols appeared in front of his horse. ‘Say your prayers, for you are going to be shot’, announced one. ‘What have I done that I should be murdered?’ protested the Rev. Lloyd. To which, his assassin apparently replied, ‘You put out a tenant two years ago on your estate in Leitrim; and, I tell you, say your prayers, for your time is come.’

And then ‘the ruffian levelled his gun, deliberately took aim, and fired. Two balls entered the chest of the unfortunate gentleman, who fell a lifeless corpse upon the road. The servant rode on to give the alarm. The murderer escaped.’[ii]

Another account by Patrick Rooney, Lloyd’s 17-year-old driver, states that when the assassins explained their intent, the Rev. Lloyd shouted ‘Pull away, boys’ at the horses and that he had shouted ‘Don’t kill my master’ just as the fatal shots were fired.[iii]

The Rev. Lloyd’s crime may have been his involvement in proselytising movement. Or maybe it was because he had taken part in the eviction of some tenants at Caltra, near Elphin, some years earlier. It may also have been connected to the proposed eviction of some under-tenants on some lands which he held through the King family.

Born in 1789, the Rev. Lloyd was the oldest surviving son of Robert Jones Lloyd (1761-1832) of Ardnagowan (or Smith Hall), Co. Roscommon, and his wife Susanna Devenish of Rush Hall, Co Roscommon. This branch of the Lloyd family is believed to have come to Ireland from North Wales during the 17th century, and claim descent in the male line from one Osborn 'Wyddel' Fitzgerald, a half Welsh, half Irish ancestor, whose arms they bear. It is thought Osborn was related to the Earls of Desmond. The Lloyds of Ardnagowan were relatives of Oliver Goldsmith as well as the Caulfeilds, Kings, Drurys and other well known Anglo-Irish gentry families. A piece on the Devenish family of Rush Hall appeared on Robert O'Byrne's Irish Aesthete blog in 2012.

The Rev. Lloyd had succeeded his father at Ardnagowan in 1832 and moved in with his wife Emma (nee Lloyd, of Paulville, Co. Roscommon) and six children. Three of their children died as infants and a fourth drowned at the Cobh, Co. Cork, aged 18 in 1842. Only Robert Jones Lloyd and Owen Tudor Lloyd had survived by the time Burke’s genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the landed gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 1, was published in 1847.

When the Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette reported the ‘outrage’ on 4th December 1847, it excited considerable emotion given that Major Denis Mahon of the nearby Strokestown estate has been assassinated less than three weeks earlier. The Dublin Evening Mail stoked fears when it reported that a list had been posted on a road in the Strokestown vicinity naming several other people who were due to be murdered, the first named being a Roman Catholic gentleman with ‘considerable property’ in the county.[iv]

Many of Roscommon’s gentry fled, which may have saved the county some expense. When the Crown Assurance Company was made liable to the extent of 7,000l following the Rev. Mr. Lloyd’s assassination, it set in motion a new policy amongst assurance companies who now ‘determined to refuse granting policies on the lives of parties resident in Ireland, unless in case of the assured being murdered, the county in which the murder takes place is called upon to pay the amount of the policy’.[v]

By December 9th, the murder of the Rev. Lloyd, ‘the divine servant of the Almighty’, had reached Westminster where his neighbour Lord Farnham raised the matter in the House of Lords. He described John Lloyd as ‘one of the very best of good men, charitable, kind, and humane to all persons, without any distinction, esteemed and loved by his parishioners and neighbours. Living not many miles from him from my infancy, I never heard he intentionally offended or injured any person. I cannot account for this melancholy murder, otherwise than that he might have been mistaken for some other person, or that there is now such a thirst for blood that he was shot to intimidate others.’[vi]

On December 11th the Roscommon Gazette reported that ‘two persons [had been] apprehended and committed to Roscommon Gaol’ in connection with the murder. By January 1st 1848, twelve people had been rounded up and imprisoned, including Thomas Donoghue (or Donohoe) and ‘and the wretch Flanagan’.[vii] Patrick Rooney, Lloyd’s driver, identified Donoghue as the man who fired the fatal shot and Flanagan as the man who held the clergyman’s horse while Donoghue fired. He said Donoghue urged Flanagan to fire his gun also but Flanagan’s gun would not go off.

Constable William O’Brien of Fourmilehouse Police Station got on the case. According to a subsequent interview of suspect Michael Walsh by the Attorney General, reported in the Nenagh Guardian (26 Feb 1848), it sounds like there was a gathering of men at the house of Owen Byrne the Sunday before the Rev. Lloyd was shot, attended by Walsh, Owen Byrne, Michael Byrne, Martin Travers, Pat Regan and John Flanagan. Owen Byrne proposed killing the Rev. Lloyd; Walsh and Regan objected but the others were in favour. Walsh claimed Donoghue, whom he had known ‘three years before’, had said {although to whom is unclear] that he was prepared ‘to come any day at all’ but, as that day was wet, he was concerned ‘the pistol might not go off’.

The following Sunday, Walsh returned to Owen Byrne’s house and found Donoghue, Flanagan, Owen Byrne and his brother Michael Byrne as well as ‘two pistols lying on the corn in the barn’. The conversation again turned to the Rev. Lloyd but seemingly ‘not as much as the other day’. It was another wet day and one of the men said ‘there was no luck in it.’ Walsh then left for his own home a few fields away. He later saw two men cross the field from Byrne’s to where the Rev. Lloyd was shot. That same evening he saw Flanagan heading home with a case of pistols and another man although he could not tell who the second man was.

Another witness Patrick Holmes claimed he heard the shots which killed the Rev. Lloyd shortly before he saw Flanagan and Donoghue, armed with pistols, meeting a man called Coghlan who congratulated them saying ‘well done boys, ye took down the old fellow.’

In a letter to the Sub-Inspector of Health, Roscommon, dated 27th April 1848, Constable O’Brien stated that a Mary NacNamara had informed him ‘of that particular place Donoghue resided, about four miles distant from this station’. It seems that at the time of the murder, Tom Donoghue was working at Derham, or Durham, also called ‘Garvoher', an estate in the parish of Elphin which belonged to Mr. Luke Corr.[viii]

On January 1st, the Roscommon Gazette also stated that the Rev. Lloyds tenants had collected £7 to pay Tom Donoghue to shoot the Rev. Lloyd, £5 of which was paid in advance, ‘in the presence of his wife’. On January 8th, Viscount Lorton ordered all tenants to hand in their fire-arms to the Rent Office. A week later, there was an auction at Smith-Hill.

An Irish County Gaol with the Famine in full flow was not a good place to be. Indeed, ‘more than half of the entire population of Boyle Union’ was described as being in a ‘state of destitution.’ The conspirators who had murdered the Rev. Lloyd paid for their crime painfully. The first of them died of fever on 15th January. On February 5th, both the Roscommon Gazette and The Nation reported that Flanagan and Travers had died from fever in the County Gaol. On March 18th 1848, the Roscommon Gazette noted that a prisoner called Donohoe, connected to the assassination, had also died of fever. It is not clear if or how he was connected to Thomas Donoghue.

On 6th March 1848, Donoghue forwarded a petition to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for clemency. This was most irregular for prisoners on death row but Donoghue’s petition, signed by himself, is held by the National Archives. In the petition he states that ‘he was persuaded to murder the Revd Lloyd and when the crime was about to be perpetrated, he desisted but held the reins of the horse till another committed the foul deed.’ He asked that his sentence of death be commuted to transportation for life, and he requested that ‘if his Excellency could not extend this mercy to him, then his body should be given to his friends ‘and not to have been buried within the precincts of the gaol.’

The petition was also signed by Fathers Hanly and Quinn, the parish priest and curate respectively of Kilbride parish where he had resided. However, the last page contained the Lord Lieutenant’s response: ‘Let the law take its course’.

On 1st April 1848, The Nation reported on the Roscommon Assizes where, at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of the previous Monday, he awaited sentence from Baron Lefroy (aka Thomas Langlois Lefroy, who had been a paramour of Jane Austen in his youth). The prisoner, ‘looking towards his lordship, begged leave to say a few words’ and delivered the following confession:

‘I am, my lord, well known in this country these fifteen years, and never did any such act before. I lived between Mr. Corr’s of Durham, and Mr. Digby’s. I was always fond of work, and if I got only 3d. a-day, I would sooner work than be idle. I went this year to England, and earned 5l and sent 30s of it home to my wife. Mr. Corr employed me because he found me able to do as much as three men, and I defy him or anyone to give me a bad character. I had a house and place from Mr. Sandes, and he turned me and some more off his land, and he had a lonesome road to go after from Roscommon, and he never could say that I had a mind to do anything to him. I was working in Mr. Corr’s barn that unfortunate day, and there came a man to me that I did not know, and my wife, that brought him to the barn and asked me, ‘d you not know this man?’ I said I did not. The man did not tell me his business but said that a man named Patt Regan and a boy called Carney were to box at Elphin and that they wanted me. I did not much give into him, but still id did not refuse to go with him. Ill fortune, then, brought me to Owen Byrne’s house, and the next morning, shortly after rising from my bed, there assembled a number of men there, and they had a book and made me swear, and forced me to go before Mr. Lloyd that day, for they said that he had served with them notice, and that they only wanted to swear him not to follow up the notices. Well I consented to go along with another man, but, before my God, I declare I did not commit the murder. The other man and I met a man named Coghlan; we went to the ground. Holmes, the man who swore against me, I did not see at all near the place; John Flanagan and I took hold of the horse, and with that Flanagan fired the shot, and I said, ‘you rascal why did you murder the gentleman?’ I was in this manner brought innocently into it, and the servant never saw me fire a shot. I never saw Mr. Lloyd before that. I did not eat an ounce of food since three days before this trial, and the Lord is enabling me to speak. I now beg of your lordship to give me a little time to pray for my soul. I had another request, my lord, to make. I had a mother, that, while she live, I always gave her part of my earnings, and I hope you’ll be pleased to allow my poor body to be laid by her side. As I said before, I never did anything to any one, except if a man done anything to me, I might have given him a box or a blow of a stick, and no more. I have done now, and I am thankful to you, my lord, for allowing me to sleep’.

‘His lordship seemed much affected with the culprit’s declaration, and, after a pause of a few minutes, passed sentence in the usual form, appointing Wednesday, the 22nd of March, as the day of his execution, and his body to be interred within the precincts of the prison. ‘

Thirty-two people were executed in Ireland in 1848, the highest number for any year between 1835 and 1899. (Only 8 were executed in 1847 and 16 in 1849). Three of those 32 men were executed for the murder of the Rev. Lloyd. Thomas Donoghue was first of them to swing. On 22nd March he was hanged before a small crowd at Roscommon on 22nd March 1848.

On 8th August 1848, Owen Byrne (or Beirne) was executed for conspiring to murder the Rev. Mr. Lloyd, alongside Patrick Hasty, who was one of those charged with the murder of Major Mahon. On 16th September 1848, Martin Ryan was executed for having shot at the Rev. Lloyd, but further details of this are at present unknown.

The Rev. Lloyd's murder came during a time of considerable agrarian unrest and hardship. One of the more radical groups were the Ribbonmen, so named for the green ribbbon they wore as a badge, who sought to prevent landlords like the Rev. Mr. Lloyd from changing or evicting tenants, posting warning notices on the roads and such like. The Ribbonmen were also affiliated with the Molly Maguire's who had inherited the Whiteboys penchant for leveling borders, destroying fences and ploughing up land which had been set aside for pasture. It is certainly to be noted that on 7th February 1846, the Roscommon Gazette noted that there had been a shoot out in Aughrim between police at Hillstreet and the Molly Maguires; some were hit and arrested while others escaped toward Carrigallen.[ix] In March 1846, there were also reports of land being dug up and horses shot. So perhaps, with starvation across the land and Major Mahon’s assassination, the killing of a Protestant clergyman was merely the next inevitable step.

When Adam Winstanley came onto ‘Genealogy Roadshow’ in Galway in the summer of 2011, he said his family believed their ancestor was a man named Donoghue who had committed a terrible crime in County Roscommon during the 1840s. He did not know the exact name of his forefather but he had looked through the archives and noted that Thomas Donoghue, a married man, looked like a good match. Unfortunately, while Adam’s theory certainly seems like a valid one, we have been unable to find any concrete evidence of the link. Donoghue’s identity is an ongoing mystery. Contemporary papers say he was brought in from outside of the county but nobody knows where he came from. His origin is not given on the Outrage Papers for Roscommon in 1848 in the National Archives, or on his petition for clemency. Nor did the Elphin Diocesan Census reveal anything. His confession also suggests that he was not a native of Roscommon although he also claimed to have been ‘known in these parts these 15 years’, suggesting he had perhaps been engaged in seasonal employment since the early 1830s. A Ballykilcline account describes a number of the assassins as landless labourers and he may have been one of those.

I'm told that direct descendants of Rev. Lloyd are still alive in Australia, and visited County Roscommon in 2011, where they were entertained to tea at Smith Hill by the then owner, Mrs Hanly, aged 95.

With thanks to Adam Winstanley, Tim Guilbride and Rachael Lloyd.


[i] According to one account he was only half a mile from home (the Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette) while another states he was in ‘the townland of Lisaville, two miles from Elphin’. (‘Hanging Crimes: when Ireland used the Gallows’). Smith-hill was reputedly the birthplace of his ancestor Oliver Goldsmith.

[ii] The Nation, Saturday, December 04, 1847, p. 5. The Sydney Morning Herald, Ireland – Murder of a Clergyman, Wednesday 29 March 1848, p.3. Another account says the murderer ‘immediately deprived the unfortunate gentleman of his life’.

[iii] Rev. Lloyd was buried in Elphin Cathedral.

[iv] http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/12899352

[v] The Nation, Friday, December 24, 1847.

[vi] Crime in Ireland, HL Deb 09 December 1847 vol 95 cc856-8. The Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette similarly lauded him as ‘one of the best hearted men in the county – one who has fed, with an unsparing and, the destitute poor about him, and who was even anxious not only to administer food and clothing but actually, in times of sickness, procured medicine at his own expense and even often saw that it was administered as ordered!! The awful death of the above excellent character is proof of ingratitude, and is well calculated to bring down the wrath of an offended God, upon our blood-stained country’.

[vii] On March 3, 1849, the Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette stated that Michael Beirne and J. Walsh had been found not guilty on charge of murder of Rev. Lloyd. In October 2015 I was contacted by Lynn Smilow, great-great-great-granddaughter of John Walsh. She notes that John and another defendant Luke Walsh are found together in the 1824 Tithe Applotment records in Runnaroddaun, near Lissavilla. Another defendant, John Flanigan, who died in prison awaiting trial, may also be related as John Walsh's wife was Brigid Flanigan.

[viii] During the Assizes, Owen Beirne’s brother Martin stated that the night before the shooting ‘he went to Tom Donoghue’s place of employment at Duram' A woman named Betty Reynolds stated in evidence that she worked for a Mr Luke Corr at Duram and that Thomas Donoghue was also employed there. Luke Corr is also mentioned here: http://www.landedestates.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=1585

[ix] A history of the Mayo-Roscommon border area around Ballaghaderreen mentions an incident where 2 residents of the townland of Derrynabrack, including John Towey, were killed by the "Molly McGuires" in 1848. See p. 84 of "Mid-Connacht - The Ancient Territory of Sliabh Lugha" by Maire McDonnell-Garvey, Drumlin Publications, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, 1995.


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