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The John Tuohy Files: Discovering Nicholas Sheehy

Shanrahan Cemetery

 John Tuohy spoke of many things, some of which related to Nicholas Sheehy, the subject of my interview. A man of many interests, his mind jumped from topic to topic. (A touch of ADD, perhaps?) I furiously scribbled notes, sometimes to discover he was telling a totally unrelated story.

Yet, once the side stories were weeded out, I learned many intriguing bits of information. He described some of the backbreaking Penal Laws of the eighteenth century:

  • Catholic farmers of substance were required to split their land among all children, creating smaller and smaller plots.
  • They could not own a horse worth more than five pounds Sterling.
  • Tithes had to be paid to the state church in addition to their own Catholic parish.
  • Curiously, Catholics could not erect tombstones to their dead.
  • Cornelius O’Callaghan mausoleum
  • But most devastating of all, common areas were fenced in by the gentry, eliminating grazing land for the poor.

According to Tuohy, these unbearable laws were designed to push the native Irish out to the mountains and bogs. As a push back, large gangs of men known as Levellers, or Whiteboys, rode at night in white tunics, knocking down (leveling) the offending fences put up by the landowners.

Father Sheehy said that everyone had a right to commonage. John Tuohy told me, “He believed that natural law overrode man’s law.” Nor did he object to the practice of leveling fences, although Tuohy said he did not direct Levellers to do so.

Adjacent farmhouse–the Griffiths?

For these reasons, Nicholas Sheehy was accused of treason. To avoid arrest, for an entire year, he hid out by day in the mausoleum of Cornelius O’Callaghan, a Catholic who converted to Protestantism to keep his land. Today, this mausoleum is only a few yards from Sheehy’s final resting place.

At night, he came out to be cared for by the Griffiths, a Protestant family living in a nearby farmhouse.

An hour into the interview, John Tuohy’s sister interrupted, insisting they go to the bank to sign important paperwork. Another person exasperated with poor John. I went alone to the cemetery at Shanrahan, a mile outside Clogheen.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was overwhelmed to be at the actual grave of Father Sheehy. Only that day, however, did I discover that it was also the location of Sheehy’s grisly hiding place. The misty weather, the ruins of an ancient church, and the hacking of raspy crows created the ambiance of a Poe short story.

I felt a connection to the place. It was not déjà vu; it was a sense of being where I was supposed to be and one to which I would return.

Shanrahan Cemetery. Father Sheehy’s grave is at
the base of the tower.
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