My wife’s mother, Grace McFadden, lived on land that once belonged to the Earls of Leitrim near the town of Carrigart (Mevagh Parish) in County Donegal. Her McFadden and Coll ancestors were tenants of the Clements family.
In the 1700s, the Clements family, the Earls of Leitrim, acquired land in Counties Kildare, Galway, Leitrim and Donegal. The Clements were absentee landlords who mostly lived on their estate in Manorhamilton in County Leitrim, but they also owned an estate in Rawros, County Donegal. Their lands in Donegal were located on both sides of Mulroy Bay and included a great portion of the Fanad Peninsula.
My wife’s ancestors, the McFaddens, farmed a narrow plot of land in Straham Townland that stretched from the Carrigart-Milford Road down to the shores of Mulroy Bay . They survived the Great Famine on this land thanks to the beneficence of Charles Clements, the 2nd Earl of Leitrim. However, this changed in 1854 when Charles died. He was succeeded by his son, William Sydney Clements, the infamous 3rd Earl of Leitrim. In 1865, the new earl built a residence, called Manorvaughn, in Rawros, County Donegal, just north of the McFadden farm.
The 3rd Earl was always hot-tempered and quarrelsome. It took little for him to evict tenants for minor offences such as cutting tree limbs or improving properties without permission. He once evicted all of the tenants on five townlands. It was said that he wished to protect the land from being exhausted from overpopulation. He preferred his land to be covered with fleecy animals instead of humans. He was tyrannical and hated by all of his tenants. Somehow, my wife’s McFadden ancestors managed to suffer through Lord Leitrim’s tantrums and were never evicted.
Lord Leitrim was especially hated by his tenants on the Fanad peninsula. In 1878, a Fanad girl was found drowned. Allegations were made that he seduced and killed her. People also claimed that he compelled girls to work for him under threat of eviction of their families from his land.
Michael McElwee, Niel Shields, and Michael Heraghty of Fanad plotted Leitrim’s murder. In 1878, they took a boat and crossed Mulroy Bay to Mevagh Parish and laid in wait for Lord Leitrim to leave his Donegal estate, and travel the road to Milford on his way home to County Leitrim.
Two carriages were taken for Leitrim’s trip. Leitrim was in the first car with his clerk William Makim, and his driver, Charles Buchanan. Leitrim’s luggage was in the second car with his valet, William Kincaid, and the driver, Michael Logue. Some believe that Logue was in on the plot to kill Leitrim because he stopped his car after arriving at the Milford Road and checked his horse for lameness. The jaunting car carrying Leitrim continued on the road toward Milford.
Michael Heraghty left his post at the ambush site and walked down the road to prevent a passing carriage from returning toward Carrigart. He left his gun behind with MccElwee and Shiels.
When Leitrim’s carriage passed the ambush site, McElwee opened fire and killed the driver. Shiels shot and wounded Leitrim’s clerk. Shiels then picked up Heraghty’s gun and shot at Leitrim but missed. Leitrim leaped out of the carriage to meet his attackers. He grabbed McElwee but Shiels struck him with a gun and crushed his skull. The butt of the rifle broke during the attack and they left it at the scene as McElwee and Shiels ran off and took their boat back to Fanad. Heraghty found his way back to Fanad via a different route.
Eleven men were arrested for the crime but eight were soon discharged. The three men still in custody were Bernard and Thomas McGranahan, and Michael Heraghty. The gun butt was traced to Heraghty. Paper for the wadding used to load the rifle was traced to a school copybook owned by the McGranahans.
Heraghty died in Lifford Jail before trial. The McGranahans were released for lack of real evidence. The actual murderers were never arrested. McElwee died of fever before being implicated, and Shiels lived until 1921.
In 1960, a Celtic Cross monument was erected in Fanad to the “patriots” who killed the 3rd Earl of Leitrim “in the cause against landlordism.”
There is the murder of a tyrannical landlord in my novel, DONEGAL GENERATIONS. It is of course fictional. To my knowledge, there was no murder of that sort in the Finn Valley. However, it is easily seen that I based this killing on the actual events that occurred on April 2, 1878 as described here.