RIOTS AND MURDER IN LIMERICK (1859)
The Riots and Loss of Life at Limerick
An “on the spot” account of the Election Riots at Limerick in 1859.
The moment the results of the poll was ascertained, it is impossible to describe the enthusiasm with which the entire population of Limerick was seized. At 5:00 o'clock major Gavin appeared in the streets, mounted on his favorite white Arab charger absolutely mad with excitement. Followed by enormous numbers, he proceeded over the Matthew bridge, down merchants key to the city courthouse. At the Englishtown side of Baal’s bridge, in a line with Mister Meskill's house, a detachment of soldiery, at the head of which was Dr. Gore JP, was drawn with bayonets fixed and the people passing on cheered them vociferously.
Passing by the house of a person named Richard Gamble, in Broad Street, some few of the small broken stones on the street were flung at the windows by 2 or 3 boys in the crowd, and a few panes of glass were broken. Missiles were in return flung from the upper windows of Gamble’s house, and the people at once interfering, an immediate stop was put to this mark of the indignation of those persons who foolishly wreaked their resentment on this individual for voting for the Derbyite candidate, for whom, it is alleged, he worked with wonderful zeal and assiduity during the election.
Major Gavin was considerably in advance when this occurred, and was totally unaware of the circumstances, it did not occupy one minute, and created no sensation. Opposite Campbell's house, a party of police under Sub Inspector Milling and commanded by Mister E Gonn Bell RM was drawn up at this time. As the Major and those immediately about him were passing, some missiles were thrown from Gamble’s second-floor window. It is said by very many that there were no stones or missiles thrown until this occurred at Gambles. Stones were then thrown at Gamble’s windows, and some panes of glass were broken, but no further injury was done, neither the sashes nor the doors, the shutters, the walls or any other portion of the house were in the slightest degree damaged.
The police, then, with fixed bayonets, charged by order of Mister Bell, a large number of persons up the street, towards Old John’s Gate, or the Market House, and crowds, separating in every direction, ran as rapidly as possible into the adjoining lanes, West Water Lane, Flag Lane, crying out “murder,” an in the greatest possible state of alarm.
The police then came down the street again in a body, headed by Mister Bell, but between the old Market House and Gamble's house there was no crowd whatever, and very many females had the windows up enjoying the scene before them.
At the Market Cross the police were observed loading by those down the street, who could not imagine why they loaded , particularly as the streets were nearly emptied, with exception of some 20 or 30 boys and girls, who were throwing stones at Gamble’s windows, some of which, it is said, fell on the police, but none of that body sustained anything like injury.
It is said that Mister Bell read the riot act and gave orders to the police to fire. To the inexpressible horror and dismay of the unfortunate people, no sooner was the word given then it was obeyed! One tall policeman walked a few paces in front of the others and fired. A volley was then fired by the platoon, then another, then another volley, in all about 50 shots of ball cartridge on a retreating and defenseless people, the majority of whom had nothing whatever to do with the stone throwing at Gamble’s windows.
In a moment the scene was converted into one of horror and agony. A fine young man named Grace, a carpenter, about 3 months married, was shot through the mouth, the ball passing out through the back of the head, his fate was instant death. He was not near Gamble’s and had nothing whatever to do with the stone throwing. He was returning to his house after his day's work, a home of sorrow and desolation which he was never destined to behold. The wounded persons were conveyed to their own residences amidst screams, curses, and lamentations of the multitude. Three men were carried to Barrington’s Hospital. Grace was already dead when laid on the table of the surgery. The piercing cries of his wretched wife, who was carried out after fainting away, were echoed by the multitude, very few of whom could refrain from tears. Poor Grace was shot through the mouth, the ball piercing the brain. His countenance wore an expression of great anguish.
Young Clohessy, a boy, aged about 14 years, the son of a widow in Garryowen, and an apprentice to a Shoemaker named Holmes, was shot through the abdomen. His agony was excruciating, and he expired last night at the hospital. His mother, in horrendous grief and terror, ran to the hospital soon after the occurrence, and hearing the dreadful story, fainted in the arms of some female friends by whom she was surrounded.
John McNamara, a young man from the Island and the son of a widow, was shot through the eye, and he is in a precarious condition in the hospital, the ball having passed through the flesh.
John O’Brien, a young lad from the Fairgreen, near the Blackboy, was shot through the shoulder, and his case is a very serious one also.
A fine boy, a son of Mister Meskill, bootmaker, of Mary Street, was shot, though far distant from Gamble’s house, at the opposite side of Baal’s bridge. He was hit by a spent ball. Three balls perforated the shop window of Mister Meskill’s house, which is situated at the corner of Baal’s bridge, at the opposite side of the River from Gamble’s house, and other members of his family escaped by a miracle of Providence.
Some of the police, firing less murderously than others, hit signboards and houses over shop fronts, and the sign of Mister Carr, near Gambles, as though struck, as were the front of many houses in the neighborhood.
The Mayor was speedily on the spot, and his worship asked Mister Bell had he read the riot act. Mister Bell showed a small card and said he had read the riot act. He also added that he was roughly handled, but he bore no traces on his person of rough usage, neither did the police, who were questioned by Sub Inspector O’Reilly as to the injuries they received, and one of them alleged that he got a stroke of a stone on the ankle, but it did not appear to maim or cause him inconvenience.
The Irish Times, 10th May 1859