Ireland Old News
April 23, 1838
MOST EXTRAORDINARY TRIAL
James REILLY, plaintiff; the Rev. Eugene SHERIDAN, Roman Catholic curate of Templemore, county of Cavan, defendant.
This was an action for 10/- sterling, being for expenses to which the plaintiff was put by reason of the defendant having falsely and maliciously preferred a charge of a most heinous nature against him.
Mr. ARMSTRONG briefly stated the case in forcible and eloquent language. He stated that the plaintiff, though in humble life, bore as irreproachable and respectable a character as any man in the community, no matter how high his tion(sic), and that no stigma had ever been cast on it, until it was reserved for his own priest, the rev. defendant, actuated by the worst passions that could debase mankind, to seek not only to destroy his character, but actually to take away his life. It was difficult to believe that a minister of religion could be guilty of such an awful crime, but he (Mr. ARMSTRONG) would prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that the charge against his client was invented for the worst purposes, and that he was as innocent as any man in that court, although the rev. defendant had sworn on his solemn oath that he was witness to its perpetration, on three different occasions. As the parties themselves were to be examined on the table, he would leave them to detail the facts more minutely, first remarking that the action was brought solely to clear his client's character, and it was immaterial whether the jury gave one farthing or 10/- damages, as hundreds would not compensate for what his unfortunate client had suffered by the loss of his peace of mind, in having such a dreadful charge hanging over him for many months.
The informations of the defendant were then given in evidence; they were sworn in evidence on the 7th of August, 1837, before Captain HASSARD, Mr. George FINLAY, Mr. Francis HASSARD, and Captain BENNISON; they stated the offence, which it is impossible to describe, as having been committed on the 23rd of June, between 6 and 7 o'clock in the evening; the second, on the 8th of July, at 11 o'clock a.m., and the third between 6 and 7 o'clock in the morning of the 26th of July.
Captain HASSARD sworn. Identified the informations as having been sworn by the defendant before him and his brother magistrates at petty sessions, on the 7th of August; REILLY had a summons on that day against Mr. SHERIDAN, for breaking his windows and assaulting his wife; he was convicted of that offence, as he recollects. When he was informed of the nature of the charge against REILLY, he directed the parties to wait until the business of the court was over, and the court cleared, as he thought it improper to investigate the charge before the public. REILLY knew nothing at that time of the nature of the charge. When the court was cleared the magistrates took the informations on the bench, and then told REILLY of the charge against him; he seemed thunderstruck, and unable to say a word at first, but afterwards said he ought to have an opportunity of defending himself. The magistrates took the informations, bound Mr. SHERIDAN to prosecute at the assizes, and also bound REILLY to attend with his witnesses on the next court day, the 14th, and also, as he recollects, told Mr. SHERIDAN to attend on said day; both parties accordingly attended on 14th, and REILLY told the magistrates he had his witnesses there, Mr. SHERIDAN refused to go into his case again, as he was bound to prosecute at the assizes; the magistrates had great doubts of the truth of Mr. SHERIDAN'S charge, and some of them arranged to go from the fair of Ballymagauran (which was to be held in the neighbourhood a few days after) to inspect the premises. Mr. HASSARD here went into a long detail of the localities, an inspection of which left no doubt upon his mind, and those gentlemen who accompanied him, that SHERIDAN had sworn falsely. REILLY was bound to stand his trial at the last Cavan Assizes. Saw him there during the whole assizes; he spoke to witness, and seemed most anxious to get his trial on, in order, as he said, that his character might be cleared. Believes him quite innocent of the charge brought against him.
Cross-examined by Mr. TULLY Did not act as a partisan in the transaction, but wished justice to be done. Cannot swear positively at this distance of time, but the impression on his mind is, that the magistrates desired Mr. SHERIDAN to attend the petty sessions on the 14th of August, when REILLY would have an opportunity of answering the charge. Is certain that both parties were there on that day, and that Mr. SHERIDAN declined to go into the case again. Could not, and did not, use his influence as a grand juror to get the bills ignored. Was not on the grand jury at the last assizes. Did not speak to any grand juror to have the bills thrown out. Believes it was REILLY's wish they should be found, and the matter sifted. Positively wears REILLY told him such was his wish, and knows he had his witnesses in attendance at the assizes. On the day that the magistrates inspected the premises they met Mr.SHERIDAN, and did not tell him that they were going there. He considered it unnecessary to do so, as there could not be any mistake about the locality sworn to by him. The magistrates had doubts of the truth of the charge, and considered that if their doubts were confirmed they ought to take bail for the offence, which was one reason for their inspecting the premises.
Mr. Francis HASSARD, Justice of Peace, examined Corroborated the last witnesses's testimony, and stated, in addition, another circumstance which induced the magistrates to take bail.
Nothing in the defendant's favour was elicited on the cross-examination.
Captain BENNISON corroborated his brother magistrates' evidence, and added, that Mr.SHERIDAN had waited on him about the 3rd or 4th of August, and wanted him to take his informations privately, which he declined, but directed him to attend before the magistrates at the sessions on the Monday following, which he did, and swore the informations; witness met REILLY in the interim, and told him that there was a heavy charge to be brought against him, but he did not mention to him the nature of it; when he was informed of it at petty sessions, he burst into tears, and said the priest must be the very Devil himself, and no man. He protested his innocence. Witness did not credit the charge, because REILLY was a person of excellent character, has a large family, and he thought it impossible that a man would be guilty of such a crime at his time of life. He (witness) wrote to Mr. DRUMMOND to know if the magistrates could take bail, and he replied it was their duty to do so, if they had reasonable grounds for discrediting the charge.
Two witnesses of the name DOLAN were examined to prove that Mr. SHERIDAN, had denounced REILLY from the altar, on Sunday, before the congregation. They were evidently in dread of giving such testimony, but, upon the learned barrister desiring them not to fear any man now, but to tell the truth, they stated sufficient to show that he had done so.
James REILLY, the plaintiff, was then sworn and examined. He appeared a respectable-looking farmer, between 50 and 60 years of age. He stated that he held about 40 acres of land in Owengallis, and another farm elsewhere; Mr. SHERIDAN came to reside next him about a year and a half ago; in fact, they lived under the same roof; witness had the charge of timber on the property. Shortly after Mr. SHERIDAN came there he commenced cutting timber, and brought other persons from a distance to cut it also. Told him he could not permit him to do so, as he was answerable for it to his employer. He persevered, however, and witness was driven to necessity of summoning him to the bench, but did not go on with the summons. From that time he was always annoying witness and his family, and whenever he got drunk, which he did constantly, he beat and abused his wife and children, and smashed his windows; witness constantly told him he would complain to his bishop, but he always replied that he did not care a pin. Was so harassed by him that he did go to the bishop, and complained of the treatment he received, and of being denounced from the altar, and that Mr. SHERIDAN had horsewhipped his wife. The bishop told witness that he (SHERIDAN) had always created disturbances wherever he went, and directed witness to summon him. Witness accordingly summoned him for the 7th of August, when he was convicted of assaulting his wife. Was told by the magistrates, after the case was tried, not to go away, as there was a serious charge against him. Was told the nature of it after the court was cleared, and after witness had been taken by a policeman. Was stunned on hearing it, and requested time till next court-day, which the magistrates granted, and directed both parties to be before them on the 14th. They attended, but Mr. SHERIDAN declined to go again into the business, as he had been bound to prosecute; by the solemn oath he has taken he is innocent of the charge against him; has a wife and seven children, six daughters and one son, all grown up, was most anxious to get his trial on at the assizes, and used every exertion to procure its being brought on, as he would rather have a pistol bullet through his head than be under the imputation of being guilty of such a crime; when the priest went home he reported that he had used interest and got his life spared, but that the warrant would hang over him for 10 years.
The witness underwent a severe searching cross-examination from Mr. TULLY, but without eliciting anything calenlated to serve his client, notwithstanding that he exercised all that tact and ingenuity for which he is distinguished in cross-examining.
For the defence the rev. defendant was the only witness examined. He said there was a mistake in the informations, as it was on the 25th, and not on the 23rd of June, that he swore the first offence had been committed. He described the circumstances again with the most perfect minuteness.
Cross-examined by Mr. ARMSTRONG Identifies his handwriting to the informations. Does not recollect whether he read them, but supposes he did not, as they are incorrect. It is not usual for a person of education to swear to the truth of a document, and to sign it without reading it. Believes he was asked by the magistrates in the usual manner "Have you read this?" and that he replied he had. Cannot now swear positively whether he read it or not. Is positive it was the 25th, and not the 23rd of June. Cannot recollect the day (after a great deal of forcing he said he believed it was on a Friday.) Is sure it was not on a Sunday.
(The almanack for 1837 was produced, and it appeared that the 23rd was on Friday, and the 25th on Sunday.)
During the examination into the dates, the defendant took out a small piece of paper and looked at it. He was warned by Mr. ARMSTRONG that if he refreshed his memory from it he would require it to be given in evidence. He then tore it in two, and the Barrister directed him to hand it up to him; but previously to his doing so, he tore a small corner off it, which the Barrister also desired to be sent up to the bench.
Examination resumed. The paper he tore was a private memorandum which he did not wish to have seen, as it contained private matters not connected with this trial; did not tell his bishop of what he had seen; did not mention it to his respected parish priest, Mr. MAGAURAN.
Mr. ARMSTRONG continued his cross-examination at considerable length, but it is unnecessary to particularise the answers, as it was clear to every one in court, even the priests own friends, that he was sinking himself deeper and deeper by every answer he gave.
The learned Barrister then took up the examination. The paper he tore was a memorandum of some private affairs which he did not wish seen; had no object in tearing it; does not know what was written on the small piece he tore off; swears positively he had no motive in endeavouring to destroy it; the piece now shown to him by the court is the small piece he tore off; the figures 23rd are on it; the Latin word "vesperi," opposite to the 23rd, signifies evening; swore just now the offence was committed in the morning; it must have been by mistake; the word "meridia" is opposite the 26th July; that means noon, or middle of the day; swore in his informations that it was between 6 and 7 in the morning he witnessed the offence; cannot now account for the difference; does not wish to persevere in swearing more about it, but persists that he saw the crime committed at the periods stated.
The case on both sides having closed, the learned Barrister charged the jury in a brief but most eloquent and impressive address. He said, that to warrant them in finding for the plaintiff, they must be satisfied that the charge was not only falsely but maliciously made by the defendant against the plaintiff. The falseness of it, without the malice would not do; but he presumed there could not be a doubt on the subject, for the defendant, by the exhibition he had made, must have removed any shadow of doubt. It was awful and melancholy to see any man, but more especially a minister of religion, conduct himself as the defendant had just done absolutely, whilst in the witness box, attempting to destroy the evidence of his own guilt. We find him in the first instance, inventing a most diabolical charge against the unfortunate plaintiff, and accusing him of a crime which all the books laid down as unfit to be named in Christian ears; and had he been found guilty of the crime, his life must have been the forfeit. We find him taking the Gospels of God in his hand, and swearing as true what every man in this court must feel to be a base invention, originating in one of the worst passions that can animate the human heart revenge; and all done by the man who was his pastor and had charge of his soul. If he (the Barrister) had been betrayed by his feelings to say anything in which the jury did not coincide, they would weigh the matter calmly and coolly, and find their verdict uninfluenced by what he had said, and based only on the evidence brought before them.
The Jury, after a short consultation, returned with a verdict for the plaintiff for the full amount.
The learned Barrister addressed the plaintiff to the following effect:- James REILLY, if it be any consolation to you to know my opinion of this case, I here declare to you before this court, on the solemn oath I have taken to do justice, that I believe the charge against you to be altogether an invention; and I think it due to you and the public to state, that in my opinion you leave this court as innocent of the crime charged against you as any man who hears me.
The Barrister, who was deeply affected during the delivery of this address, burst into tears at the conclusion, and there was scarcely a dry eye in the whole court; the people, of all classes and religions, seemed awe-struck at the enormity of the defendant's conduct, and the more so when they reflected that the unfortunate plaintiff's life might have been the result of this diabolical invention.
We regret that we cannot do justice to the beautiful and feeling address of the Barrister, which was listened to with breathless attention by a very crowded court.
Submitted by: County Cavan Newspaper Transcription Project
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