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A Tipperary Martyr

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
–William Butler Yeats

I find Irish history overwhelming. Our entire United States history is around five hundred years long (if you start with Columbus). That’s a drop in the Irish bucket. Using The Course of Irish History as my starting point, I scanned and examined the pages discussing the 1760s, when my characters would flee the country.

The more I read, the more I wandered back into such a complex cause-and-effect maze, I quickly got lost in the millennia of events. It seemed in the number of clear-thinking years I have left, I could never fully grasp the times or what they meant.

Then on page 186, as though fated, two sentences caught my eye and attention.

“Because he had expressed sympathy with the peasantry in their distress, Father Nicholas Sheehy was convicted on a trumped-up charge of murder, in the town of Clonmel in 1766, and was hanged, drawn and quartered. His grave in Shandraghan soon became a place of pilgrimage, and his death provided later generations of Whiteboys with a patron saint.”

I had never heard of Nicholas Sheehy, the Whiteboys, or even the town of Clonmel at that point, but their story would soon weave its way into my heart and mind and take me on a journey of over four thousand miles and nearly two hundred fifty years.

My Father Sheehy research binder
I started with numerous internet searches and the wealth of information–from the tragic to the mysterious to the ridiculous–could keep me writing forever. This was where I learned the love and excitement of research.

A few teasers for future posts on this topic:

  • Father Nicholas Sheehy was either the virtuous, innocent victim of class hatred and religious fanaticism OR in cahoots with “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the Pretender to the English throne.
  • After being hung, drawn and quartered, and decapitated, Father Sheehy’s head was posted on a spike for twenty years.
  • The man Father Sheehy was convicted of murdering was reportedly seen in Newfoundland, Canada, two years later.
  • Legend says all the corrupt jurors and the hangman met unusual or humiliating deaths.
  • The main perpetrator of the injustice against the priest, Sir Thomas Maude, was said to have grown a tail.
Hey, you can’t fault the Irish for lack of imagination. The question is: Where does imagination stop and truth begin?

RESEARCH TIP: To find the distance from my home to Clonmel, Ireland, I used a very cool site called Google Maps Distance Calculator. ( You merely type in your starting point, then manipulate the map to find and click on your destination. The site calculates the distance in the measurement you want–miles, kilometers, even nautical miles. Great fun!

2 comments on “A Tipperary Martyr

  1. Ciara says:

    Hi, I am doing a project myself on Fr. Nicholas Sheehy and I was wondering if you could provide me with any information on him. Is there any way I can contact you?


  2. Mary Beth says:

    Sure, Ciara. I'm glad to share whatever I have. My email address is


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