The Downes Brothers - Wren Boys from County Clare

Newspaper Reports of the Clare Assizes

Seafield harbour
Seafield harbour, May 2000
(Photo: Trish Downes)

The Ennis Chronicle and Clare Advertiser
Wednesday March 14th, 1827

Ennis Spring Assizes, 1827

The following are the convictions which took place at our Assizes:-

Michael Carroll, for assaulting the habitation of Edward Synge Esq, to be hanged at Ennis on Saturday the 12th of May;
Timothy Sheedy, for Rape, sentence of death recorded;
Michael Fogarty, coining, sentence of death recorded;
John Gorman, for manslaughter, to be transported for seven years;
John Downes, Michael Downes and James Mungovan, for manslaughter, like sentence;
Cornelius Cleary and Patrick Naughten, for manslaughter, to be imprisoned for twelve months;
Michael Mullins, Thomas Smith and Patrick Hayes, for manslaughter, to be imprisoned six months, and give bail;
John Hogan, for manslaughter, to be imprisoned six months;
Augustine Fitzpatrick, for sheep stealing, to be transported for seven years;
Thomas Healy and Thomas Glinn, for sheep stealing, to be transported for seven years;
John Halway, for sheep stealing, to be transported for seven years;
Patrick Comery, for sheep stealing, imprisoned three months and privately whipped;
Patrick Kenny, killing sheep with intent to steal, imprisoned six months;
Jas McManus, for cow stealing, transported seven years;
Robert McMahon, bigamy, transported seven years;
David Conway, larceny, transported seven years;
John Galvin, larceny, transported seven years;
Denis McNamara, larceny, transported seven years;
Mary Molony, larceny, imprisoned six months;
Elizabeth Farrell, larceny, imprisoned six months;
Catherine Poland, larceny, transported seven years;
Thady Hinchy, Thos Hinchy and John Hinchy, larceny, imprisoned one month;
Jeremiah Sullivan alias Wisted, larceny, transported seven years;
James Pine and George Pine, illicit distillation, imprisoned one month.

The Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser
Wednesday March 14th, 1827

ENNIS, MARCH 8. — Mr. Justice Torrens took his seat on the bench. The depth of snow prevented the Jury assembling for a considerable time. The Grand Jury were sworn, of whom General Sir Augustine Fitzgerald was Foreman. The calendar was heavy, no less than 138, several of whom were for murder and burglary. The Learned Judge, in his charge, adverted to the large claims made upon the county, to the amount of 30,000l., and recommended scrupulous examination before they would inflict so heavy a burthen. Robert McMahon was tried for bigamy and convicted.

MARCH 9. — John Thomas and Michael Downes [sic!], were tried for the murder of Timothy Angling; it proved, however, to be a manslaughter only. One of the witnesses, who could not speak English, was examined through the interpreter; the question was, whether the witness belonged to the party of the Downes, or the party of the Anglings, and the interpreter, in putting the question in Irish, omitted to give any Irish word for "party", but repeated the English word itself, which did not escape the notice of the Learned Judge.

Mr. Justice Torrens — "Interpreter, have you no Irish word for PARTY?"

Interpreter — "No, my Lord, there is none in the language."

Mr. Justice Torrens — "That is very extraordinary indeed." (A laugh.)

Counsellor O'Gorman — "Neither, my Lord, is there any Irish for the English word INGRATITUDE." (A laugh.)

The prisoners were convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to transportation for seven years.

The Ennis Chronicle & Clare Advertiser
Wednesday, Feb 14, 1827

Mrs Fry left town on Friday last, upon a tour, for the purpose of visiting the gaols of Ireland. The extraordinary and successful exertions of this benevolent woman in the prison of Newgate are well known — she has entirely reformed the female department — turning the most vicious and dissipated habits to industrious results. Her influence and regulations even extend to the transports for the conveyance abroad of the convicts. She had an interview with the Secretary of State on Monday, and she proceeds on her perilous undertaking under his especial care and sanction. — "London Paper"

The Ennis Chronicle & Clare Advertiser
Wednesday, Apr 4, 1827

On Monday last our town was thronged with a large concourse of the rank and respectability of our County, assembled to meet the celebrated and benevolent Mrs Fry, who was announced in our paper of Saturday to have appointed that day to visit our Jail, Infirmary etc, but they were disappointed, as she and her friends did not arrive until two o'clock on Tuesday, when she stopped at the house of Thomas Mahon Esq, from which soon after she, Mr Gurney (her brother) and four or five other persons who accompanied her, proceeded to the jail, where, after minutely inspecting the whole of the establishment, and conversing with most of the prisoners, she, at some length, addressed the persons assembled on religious subjects, appearing to give much satisfaction by her discourse; she and her friends then proceeded to visit the Poor-House and Infirmary, after which she and they set off to Dromoland, the seat of Sir Edward O'Brien, Esq, on their route to Limerick.

The Ennis Chronicle & Clare Advertiser
Saturday, Apr 7, 1827

In our last we stated the arrival in our town of the benevolent Mrs Fry, and Mr Gurney, her brother, and several others, and their having visited our Jail. The following is the entry made on the visiting book of the jail by Mr Gurney:-

Visited the Prison in company with Elizabeth Fry and other friends, and we are much pleased with the cleanliness and order of the Institution, and pain already taken in the employment and instruction of its inmates. It further observes that much advantage will arise from the formation of a Ladies Visiting Committee, and recommends constant employment, as otherwise there must be a deterioration in the morals of prisoners, especially when the classification cannot from circumstances be perfect.

Before Mrs Fry left the jail a Visiting Committee was formed consisting of the following Ladies:

Lady Fitz-Gerald, Patroness - Lady O'Brien, Miss Butler, Mrs T. Mahon, Miss Armstrong, Mrs M Fitz-Gerald, Mrs Crowe, Mrs Kenny, Mrs Keane, Hermitage; Mrs England, Mrs C. Fitzgerald, Mrs O'Donnell, Mrs Parkinson, Mrs Keane, Beachpark; Mrs Dr O'Brien, Mrs Fleming, Mrs Tweedy, Miss Anne Keane, Miss Helina Keane. Miss Armstrong has kindly undertaken to act as Secretary to the Committee.

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel
Friday, Aug 15, 1828

Last week, the Mayo County Police arrested near Westport, in that county, a notorious character, named Patrick Shanahan, alias Fox, charged with the murder of Timothy Anglim, at Seafield, in the county Clare, on the 1st of January 1826.   Four of this fellow's companions were convicted at Spring Assizes, 1826, for the same crime.   Shanahan was escorted to Ennis, on Tuesday, by a party of the Clare County Constabulary, and committed to Jail by Thomas Mahon, Esq.

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel
Tuesday Aug 26, 1828

Quinlivan, a prisoner at present in Ennis Gaol, charged with the murder of Anglim, was fired at by the Nenagh Police, (when endeavouring to make his escape,) and a ball entered his thigh from whence it was extracted by Dr. Castles, yesterday.

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel
Friday Aug 29, 1828

Committed to Ennis Gaol, by Sir H. D. Massy, Bart., and others, at Doondas Petty Sessions, Catherine O'Neill, for larceny;  By H. D. Massy, Esq. Michael Quinlan, alias Shannahan, for the murder of Timothy Anglim.

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel
Friday Sep 5, 1828

On the night of the 23rd instant, a Sergeant with three Policemen, came to the house of a farmer of the name of James Murray, in Nenagh, in the parish of Castletown, near Nenagh, in search of a workman of his, a native of Kilkee, in the County of Clare, against whom they had a warrant.   The unfortunate Clare man on hearing that the Policemen were at the door, effected his escape through one of the windows, when the Sergeant discharged his pistol, and lodged its contents in the man's thigh. — Murray, his servant boy, and two of his maids were eye-witnesses.   Half the melancholy consequences of the violence of the Police at the last Fair of Toomevara are not yet known, another of their hapless victims this moment lingers in the agonies of death, and is not expected to survive this night.2

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel
Friday Mar 13, 1829 ten o'clock Patrick Shanahan was put to the bar charged with aiding in the murder of Timothy Anglim, at Seafield, on the 26th December, 1826.

Timothy Gallagher was the first witness examined after being sworn, he deposed that he knew the prisoner at the bar; that he also knew the deceased; that the latter was dead; that he recollected the 26th of December, or rather St Stephen's Day, two years; he was at Seafield upon that day and so were the deceased and the prisoner; there were a party of what are called wren boys with them; there was a riot between the party; a fight was about taking place; the deceased interfered, and was about to make peace; witness saw prisoner and his brother Tom Shanahan (he who killed the deceased); some of the party, not the wren boy party, attacked Anglim; Shanahan the prisoner, was one of them; he did not belong to the wren party; he saw the prisoner coming down with a pitchfork, and making an offer at Anglim -- could not say that he struck him; saw Tom Shanahan strike him with a Spade-tree; Patt, the prisoner was not then present; was down a little on the road; Anglim knocked him down; was struck after he fell. Tim Anglim, deceased, gave no offence to anyone; he had a stick in his hand; after the affair there was a search for the prisoner, and he was not to be found.

Cross examined -- He (witness) was not a wren boy; could not say how many were among them; the occurrence took place a mile from Anglim's; did not occur near the barrack road; they had no drum; had a fife; three men were already transported for being concerned in this murder; he certainly gave his evidence if that might be considered transporting them; their neighbours had a right to be frightened in consequence.

Patrick Anglim, brother to the deceased, examined. He was with a party of wren boys on St Stephen's Day two years; went to Seafield that day; another party came across them on the road, and had arms; knows prisoner, saw him attempt to stick prisoner with a pitch-fork; he endeavoured to prevent the blow and caught the iron prong; prisoner struck his (witness) brother with the handle on the neck; he then gave him another blow, and threw him into a ditch; he sought for prisoner after this, but he was not to be found; he went to County Mayo.

Cross examined -- He was with the wren boys on that day; had no belt, nor his brother; did not head the Anglim party; he had a lash in his hand; he did not strike prisoner; prisoner got the first blow.

Counsel -- Was he able to get up after it?

Witness after a pause -- Sure if he was not, he couldn't be here to-day; (a laugh) they (the witnesses) had the larger party.

John Roach was next examined. He belonged to the Waterguard, was at Seafield the day in question, knew prisoner -- saw him come down the road with a pitchfork and a stick -- the two Shanahans were together.


Michael Hardner3 saw Anglim's party on St Stephen's day at Seafield gate, deceased came upon horseback; the party were dressed with belts, cockades, handkerchiefs, and had drums and fifes; were from 80 to 100 of them when they came near Sharabay, the latter were keeping them off; Pat. Anglim (the witness, lately on the table) struck prisoner. It was the first blow which was given; prisoner could not strike a blow; heard deceased say that if he and his party wished they would not leave a cabin that they would not pull down.

Cross-examined -- Prisoner had the handle of a pitchfork; is sure he did not use it , he could not have struck deceased without his (witness) seeing it, prisoner left his home.

The learned judge then addressed the Jury, and said, there were three individuals transported for this murder before. He did not know when they were tried before, but he was sure there was sufficient evidence to justify such a sentence. On the present occasion, however, it did not appear sufficiently satisfactory that the prisoner struck the deceased; he had notwithstanding, a pitchfork in his hand and under the circumstances he would deem him guilty of manslaughter.

The Jury returned a verdict to that effect and the prisoner was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment.

The Clare Journal & Ennis Advertiser
Thursday 12 Mar 1829

Ennis Assizes

Patrick Shannahan was put to the bar, charged with the murder of Timothy Anglim, on the 26th of December, 1826.

Timothy Gallagher, examined by Counsellor Quinn -- Knows the prisoner; identified him; knew deceased; was at Seafield on St Stephen's Day, in 1826; there were wren parties there; saw others there who were not wren boys; a riot occurred there; deceased thought to prevent it, in which he was joined by his brothers; the prisoner at the bar was there; was near enough to hear the deceased talk to the prisoner; saw the prisoner with a pitchfork in his hand which he was wheeling around; cannot tell whether he struck deceased or not; some persons said he did strike him; saw Thomas Shannahan (a brother of the prisoner) knock him down, and when down kick him; it was into a dyke he was thrown; did not see the deceased strike or offend anyone; did not know where the prisoner went after the murder had been committed; the police and some country people were in search of them.

Cross-examined by Counsellor Gibson -- was not of the party that day; could not tell how many was in the party; does not know if one, two or three hundred persons were there; where the riot occurred is not far from the prisoner's house; there were no drums there, but there was one fife there; there were other persons charged with the crime, some of whom were transported; he was an evidence against them.

Patrick Anglim, (an Irish witness) examined by Counsellor Plunkett -- Witness is brother to the deceased; recollects being with the "droleen boys"4 on the St Stephen's day stated; knows the prisoner at the bar; saw him attempt to stab his brother with a pitchfork; went between them, and caught the iron of the fork in his hand; the first blow staggered him, and then Thomas Shanahan struck him down in the dyke; four others also beat him when down; prisoner did not remain in the Country [sic] but went to Mayo, where he was arrested.

Cross-examined by Counsellor Gibson -- was along with the "droleen boys" on the day in question; he had neither a cockade or a belt, the party was not headed by either his brother or himself; witness did not strike the prisoner first; it was the prisoner got the first blow; if prisoner had been knocked down he would not have been here now; witness struck the prisoner when he saw how his brother was treated; there were more in the party to which deceased belonged than in the other, he believed.

John Roche examined by Counsellor Quinn -- Belongs to the Waterguards; identified the prisoner; was at Seafield on St Stephen's day, in 1826; saw the prisoner wheeling a pitchfork in his hand; some of his friends were trying to prevent him.

The witness underwent no cross-examination. -- The case here closed for the prosecution.

Michael Haren examined by Counsellor Gibson -- Recollects the 26th of December, 1826; saw the Anglim party that day; deceased was on horseback, and headed them, they had a large bush decorated with ribbons, &c. it was not a wren that was in it, it was an owl; they had a drum and fifes; each of them had bands tied around their hats; prisoner got a blow of a loaded whip from Patrick Anglim, and was obliged to fly into a house for protection, from which he made his escape by the back way, dressed in woman's clothes.

Cross-examined by Counsellor Plunkett -- Cannot tell what prisoner had in his hand; he could not have used the pitchfork without seeing him; prisoner left the country [sic] immediately.

The case closed here, and the Learned Baron briefly commented upon the evidence, after which, the Jury, without leaving the box, returned a verdict of Manslaughter. -- Six months' imprisonment.

The Clare Journal & Ennis Advertiser
Thursday 11 February 1830 p3 col d


That I have surrendered myself, and am now in custody in Ennis Jail, to stand my trial at the next Assizes to be held in Ennis, for the alleged murder of Timothy Anglim in a Riot at Seafield, on the 26th day of December, 1826

Thomas Shannahan his X mark
Ennis Jail, February 9th 1830
To All whom it may Concern

The Clare Journal & Ennis Advertiser
Monday 8 March 1830

Thomas Shanahan was indicted for the murder of Timothy Anglim, at Seafield, on the 26th December 1826.

Patrick Anglim (an Irish witness) was examined by Counsellor Woulfe. -- The deceased was his brother; recollects the St. Stephen's day of 1826; the deceased had gone out with a large party wren-hunting, when they met another party armed with scythes, spades, &c., one of whom struck the deceased with a stone and knocked him down, and on stooping down to take up his hat, the prisoner came up and struck him with a pitchfork on the head; he lingered for about three days; deceased's party took him up and brought him home; did not know where Shanahan had been this time back.

Cross-examined by Counsellor Gibson -- Witness did not speak English to Counsel at the last Assizes; his brother did not lead a party that day; the prisoner's party had no wren; there was some fighting before his brother was knocked down; the deceased was on horseback, and was riding up to make peace when he was struck; witness was not a leader that day.

A conversation here took place between the Court and Counsel on both sides, when it was agreed that a verdict of manslaughter should be given.

The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel
Friday Mar 12, 1830 p2 col d

The following have been tried at this Assizes:

Thomas Shanahan, charged with being of a party who murdered Timothy Anglim, at Seafield, on St Stephen's day, 1826, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.


  1. All newspapers on microfilm in the National Library of Ireland. The Freeman's Journal for 1763 - 1924 and The Limerick Evening Post & Clare Sentinel for 1828 - 1833 also on microfilm in the National Library of Australia.
  2. I am indebted to Nick Reddan of Canberra for these last four references.
  3. Surname probably Haren, a local family name.
  4. Dreolin is the Irish word for wren. (Information provided by Joseph Downes.)

The Downes Brothers - Wren Boys from County Clare

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