From the archives: Recalling tragic Clooneen murder of 1907
By Tom Gillespie
SOUTH Mayo historian and genealogist Ger Delaney, in the 2019 edition of the Roundfort, Robeen and Carras Parish Magazine, recalled a 1907 murder following a tragic domestic dispute, which occurred 115 years ago this week.
John Sherlock was put on trial in Castlebar in July 1907 for the murder of his son-in-law, 35-year-old Michael Morrin, on May 12, 1907, in Clooneen, Hollymount.
Sherlock pleaded not guilty and a jury was selected to decide the case. It consisted of James Quinn of Castlecarra (chairman), James Daly, Bracklagh, James Givern, Tonragee, Achill, James Treston, Cottage, Ballyhaunis, Patrick Scott, Westport, John Browne, Ballina, Patrick Walsh, Culilea, John Blowick, Belcarra, Bernard Moran, Castlebar, Denis Keane, Kilcolman, Michael McNulty and Patrick Hughes.
John Sherlock’s wife was Bridget Prendergast. They had five children but three of them died young. The oldest, Michael, emigrated to Pendleton, Manchester, where he married and settled down. Bridget, the youngest, married Michael Morrin in 1904.
At the time John Sherlock farmed 10 acres at Clooneen as a tenant of the Marquis of Sligo. As part of the marriage agreement he handed over the land to Michael Morrin but retained the customary right to reside in the house.
At first they all got on well but as time passed relations soured between Morrin and his father-in-law.
The tragedy happened early on Sunday morning, May 12, 1907. On the Saturday, Michael Morrin attended the funeral of a 25-year-old former neighbour, Mrs. Mary Niland (nee Feerick), in Claremorris. Morrin returned home around nine o’clock in his horse and cart and under the influence of drink.
Instead of putting the horse in the stable, he brought it into the kitchen. His wife, their three infant sons and his father-in-law were there. Sherlock told him to take the horse out and remove the harness. Morrin then commenced to beat the animal and Sherlock remonstrated with him.
Morrin then hit Sherlock two blows with his fist and knocked off his hat. Sherlock retaliated by hitting Morrin with his stick which knocked him against a chair and inflicted a gash to his head. They then went outside and continued wrestling on the ground. Bridget ran for help and neighbours Martin Coleman, Mrs. Hegarty, Michael Hegarty and Mrs. Feerick came and separated them.
Sherlock then went for the police to Hollymount barracks and returned with Sergeant Lambe and Constable Cullen around 11 p.m.
By now Morrin had calmed down and had been put to bed. The police were reluctant to get involved in a domestic dispute that had apparently ended, therefore they returned to the barracks.
John Sherlock then went to his room and barricaded himself in. Bridget remained in the kitchen. Her husband woke at one o’clock and complained of the cold. He lay down on a makeshift bed in the kitchen.
In the middle of the night Bridget heard her husband arise and go to her father’s bedroom door. She saw no weapon in his hand.
Later she remembered that there was a knife on the tackle the previous day. She tried to stop her husband pushing in the bedroom door but he brushed her aside.
She ran 500 yards for help to Peter Hughes' house and when she returned she saw her father sitting by the fire and her husband with a wound in his forehead. He was on the ground in a sitting posture at the door of her father’s bedroom.
She heard no shot fired but saw a knife on the floor between her husband’s feet. Sherlock told Peter Hughes: "It was either one or the other of us the time."
The police and doctor were sent for. John Sherlock made a statement that he saw his son-in-law breaking into his bedroom with a knife and he shot him in the left eye at very close range with a shotgun which he had in the room.
He explained that the gun was loaded some months previously. Morrin’s left hand was also injured which suggested that he had raised it high as his face height when the gun went off. The gun used was an old single barrel muzzle-loading shotgun. The stock and barrel were held together with wire bands braced in with wooded wedges.
Sherlock was taken into custody by Sergeant Lambe and Constables Murrihy and Cullen. Alan Bell, Resident Magistrate, came to the barracks and remanded him to Castlebar jail on the Monday.
An inquest was held in Hegarty’s house in Clooneen the same day by John Kelly J.P., Castlebar, Coroner for West Mayo (acting for Dr. J.E. Nally, Coroner for South Mayo).
Dr. J.A. Hanraahan, Hollymount, and Dr. J.J. Hopkins conducted the post-mortem. Fr. Francis Clarke, C.C., Roundfort, was present.
The inquest jury consisted of local men P. Cormican (foreman), Michael Macken, Michael Flannery, Peter Butler, Patrick Joyce (District Councillor), Martin McHugh, Michael Hegarty, Pat Colemen, Thomas Maughan, James McHugh, Pat Mellett, John Mannix and James Ryan. They agreed that death was caused by a gunshot.
Michael Morrin was buried in the old cemetery in Churchquarter on the Tuesday. There was a large crowd at the funeral.
A magisterial investigation was held in Hollymount Courthouse on Saturday, May 25, where over 20 witnesses were examined by John Garvey, C.S., on behalf of the crown.
At the Assizes in Castlebar in July, the jury had to decide if John Sherlock was guilty of the wilful murder of his son-in-law. If not, was it under circumstances of great provocation that obliged the accused to shoot and kill him.
The jury were out for half an hour and agreed a verdict that Sherlock shot Morrin in self-defence.
Right Hon. Mr. Justice Madden said the verdict amounted to one of not guilty and Sherlock was discharged.
John Sherlock died 11 years later in Clooneen on December 21, 1918, aged 79 years.
Michael Morrin and Bridget Sherlock had three sons. They were Ambrose (died unmarried in 1956), Patrick (died 1962 in Philadelphia) and John (died 1969). Bridget died in 1972, aged 88 years. She was 65 years a widow.
Footnote: Constable Mortimer Murrihy (who took Sherlock into custody) was a native of Co. Clare. After he left the Royal Irish Constabulary he became a shopkeeper in Hollymount and died in 1934.
Alan Bell (who remanded Sherlock in custody) was a native of Banagher, Co. Offaly, and was shot dead in Dublin in 1920 by Michael Collins’ squad.