The village of Enniscrone in west Sligo along the Atlantic coast has long been a popular holiday destination, going back as far as the 19th century when the Victorians began visiting the seaside village, located on the shores of Killala Bay in County Sligo. It has been a popular destination since the 1850’s, when the local landlord, Robert Orme built the Cliff bathhouse for tourists to enjoy the Atlantic ocean. The old bathhouse building still exists to this very day.
In the winter of 1909, a newly married couple visited the village on a short holiday, while one of the spouse’s planned a short relaxing break, the other had more grisly plans.
On the 10th December 1908, Michael Gallagher a native of Mayo and a Constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary, married Sarah Knox, a 22-year-old young woman from Crossmolina in Mayo. Michael was older at 30 years old and had joined the RIC in 1898. He was described as a powerfully built man and nearly six foot tall.
Michael told Sarah as he was eleven years in the force he needed to have a longer service before getting married and so the marriage was to be kept secret. Sarah remained living at her family home at Cloonkee, Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, unaware that it was after seven years a member of the R.I.C. could marry.
In November 1909, Sarah received the following letter written from the barracks at Aclare, Co. Sligo.
Dear Sarah – Just a line to let you know I received your welcome letter a few days ago. I am glad to see by it you are well. I will meet you Thursday next, 4th Inst. at Ballina at the usual place. Then we can have a few hours before we start for the seaside. Keep your mind to yourself, and I will get a few days at home about the matter. Excuse haste – post leaving. – Yours as ever.
x x x
At Enniscrone, County Sligo the couple stopped off at a hostelry and Michael asked for two rooms for himself and his ‘sister’. There were no rooms available and they secured a room elsewhere as man and wife. Later that day, the couple were observed by the Coastguard as they went for a walk on Saturday evening at 5 pm strolling along the pier.
Two hours later, at 7 pm, Michael returned to their accommodation alone and didn’t alert anyone to Sarah been missing. Michael paid the hotel bill and left Enniscrone village and cycled back to the RIC barracks in Aclare in south Sligo, a distance of 19 miles (31 kilometres).
On Sunday morning, the body of Sarah was discovered by two fishermen. An investigation was quickly launched and it wasn’t long before the woman was traced back to the hotel and walking with a man the previous evening.
Michael Gallagher was tracked to the RIC barracks in Aclare in County Sligo and denied being at Enniscrone with a woman. His police colleagues allowed him to sit at the fire in the dayroom as a search was carried out of his personal belongings.
Gallagher was granted permission to go to his room he “dashed out the back door into the dark night. In a moment all was confusion and alarm. The police abandoned their search and snatching lanterns ran in pursuit of the fugitive. Some jumped on bicycles and rode furiously down the different roads.”
Back in Enniscrone at the Inquest into Sarah’s death, held a few days later, when her brother was being questioned, a jury member remarked
“I suppose he got a fortune when he got married”
“Yes” said witness, “but not all.”
Dowry system in Ireland
Dowry (generally called ‘fortune’ in Ireland; spré in Irish) is money or property brought by a bride to her husband at marriage. It was an important matter in nineteenth-century Ireland. In the past, many marriages in Ireland were set by financial standing, and by today’s standards it would be nice to think love and compatibility came into the equation, this was not the main reason for marriage in Edwardian times, despite this, in the majority of cases love did grow through companionship and endearment, sadly this wasn’t the case for Sarah and Michael.
Though some brides married without dowries, payment could be substantial for others. The need for dowries helped parents to control their children’s choice of marriage partner. Not surprisingly, dowries were often the cause of disputes, particularly because they were sometimes paid by instalments or full payment was delayed.
The Inquest was opened by Dr J. Flannery and was held at the Enniscrone coastguard building, as the landlady of the hotel was giving evidence, a telegram was received, the fugitive Michael Gallagher had been found with his throat cut at Harlech’s Lodge in Aclare, Sligo.
“The reading of the wire was received by the Jury with loud applause, which the Coroner promptly suppressed. The Jury found that Sarah Gallagher had been murdered by her husband who drowned her.”
Sarah’s funeral attracted many mourners, “The whole countryside afterwards followed the funeral cortege for miles along the roads home.”, which was in stark contrast to Michael’s funeral.
The funeral of Michael Gallagher took place from Aclare to Bohey near Crossmolina. Practically unanimously all car-owners refused to hire out their vehicles for the occasion. There was vigorous booing as the funeral passed and one woman flung mud at the hearse. A special force of police from Crossmolina met the cortege as it passed through Sarah Knox’s village. It was quite dark when the body was laid in the grave, and no priest was present.
Poignantly, on the morning of her murder, Sarah had complained to a fellow guest that “she had lost her wedding ring and cried long and bitterly because she thought it was an ill-omen.”
A wedding ring was later found in Michael Gallagher’s possession when he was searched.
The Coroner thought it was money related and Michael had been insane, but it was thought it was premeditated if he took the ring from Sarah in the morning. Her brother said Michael had sent 10 shillings on one occasion, that the marriage was known about in Sarah’s parish but he did not know if Michael’s family knew. Perhaps he married her for money but did not get all he was expecting if the marriage became known to his superior’s it would have been a black mark on his career. He had Sarah coached to call him Tommy at the boardinghouse but she slipped up a couple of times and called him Michael. Her brother said she often complained that Michael did not bring her away, but the excuse for not being long enough in the service was believed by Sarah’s family.
Newspapers articles also make reference to a search carried out on Gallagher’s room and in among his belongings were photographs of forty other women. Who these other women were, was never determined by the Police. It also raises questions, in an age when having your portrait taken at a photography studio and giving a copy of your photograph to someone else was a luxury and not done lightly. Was Gallagher possibly engaged previously when he was stationed in a RIC barracks in Cavan?
With animosities among the community and the RIC still lingering from land evictions in the county. There were also local rumours that Gallagher’s escape and his death had been staged, with an empty coffin buried. Gallagher having made his escape to Australia with the help of some colleagues.
Sources: Newspaper archive - Independent, 14/11/1909 Newspaper archive - The Sligo Champion - 11/1909 Facebook group: Royal Irish Constabulary 1816-1922 Irish census 1901 RIC rules: http://www.royalirishconstabulary.com/ Dowry System: http://multitext.ucc.ie/d/Dowry_and_Marriage Dowry endearment quote: http://thewildgeese.irish Photos: National Library of Ireland In conversation with relatives of Sarah Knox