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The Colleen Bawn

The Colleen Bawn


Richard Lloyd Fitzgerald.

The murder of Ellen Hanly was one of the most sensational and widely publicised crimes of 19th Century Ireland. In 1819 John Scanlan, one of a family of minor gentry in Co. Limerick in the South of Ireland, set his eye on the 15-year old niece of a local peasant. He seduced her, went through a sham marriage, and took her away, along with her uncle's life savings. After a while he tired of her and had spent all the money, so he got his manservant Stephen Sullivan to murder her and dump the body in the river Shannon. It was washed up a few months later, and the culprits were identified by the rope which had been used to tie her body, which was identified by a local man as one he had lent Sullivan. Scanlan was soon captured and convicted, despite being defended by Daniel O'Connell, and hanged still protesting his innocence. Sullivan evaded capture for a while, but was finally caught, tried and executed. Between conviction and execution he made a detailed confession, saying he had acted entirely on Scanlan's orders.

Such was its notoriety that literary versions of the case were not long in coming. The first was The Poor Man's Daughter, by M.J. Whitty, in 1824; Gerald Griffin's novel The Collegians, Dion Boucicault's play The Colleen Bawn, and Julius Benedict's opera The Lily of Killarney followed. All of these were more or less fictionalised, and this stimulated Richard Lloyd Fitzgerald, the local rector, who had met her and took part in the inquest on her body, to print an accurate account.


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The Cultural Afterlife of the Colleen Bawn Murder by Eugene McNulty

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