While visiting The Main Guard in Clonmel recently, (you can read about our visit here), we found out about a murder trial that took place in the building when it was used as a courthouse in the 18th century.
Nicholas Sheehy was born into a wealthy family in 1728 and was educated in France and ordained in Rome in 1752. In 1755, he returned home and became a Parish Priest in South Tipperary.
These were troubled times although the Penal laws were not generally enforced, economic conditions for labourers and small farmers were worsening, as land rents were raised and tithes placed on potato crops.
Father Nicholas Sheehy, was arrested for the murder of a John Bridge, the trial took place in the courthouse. Despite been away at the time of the disappearance of John Bridge and no body found. John Bridge was widely believed to have emigrated and another prisoner had also signed a confession to the alleged murder.
The charge was trumped up against Father Sheehy, as the authorities believed him to be a significant threat, as he had encouraged his Parishioners to withhold tithes. Father Sheehy was found guilty and hanged in 1766, his head was placed on a spike outside the jail on Gladstone Street for many years after in a warning to others.
It is a bit of a mystery about what actually happened to the alleged victim in the case, John Bridge, was he murdered and his body buried never to be found or was he possibly told to disappear by local magistrates, keen to bring a murder charge against Nicholas Sheehy. It was widely believed at the time, that he had emigrated, a simple name change and it would be straightforward to vanish from any records in the 18th century.