SLEUTH Peter O’Shea gets hooked when he investigates Cork murders of yesteryear; so much so that he has published his third book on the subject, Murder Most Local, Historical Murders of West Cork.
Would the RNLI Ballycotton lifeboat mechanic who is a dad of three boys describe himself as a latter–day Agatha Christie?
“I was looking into a West Cork murder where a guy’s head was found in a field,” says Peter.
He was compelled to keep digging.
“I was really intrigued and then I just couldn’t stop!” says Peter, who has included over 25 gruesome 19th century murders carried out in Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Leap, Drinaghh, Castletownsend, Bantry and Cape Clear
This is a book that will keep you gripped and guessing as each murderous chapter unfolds.
After Peter got such a positive re-action to the North Cork book last year, he made the decision to keep going and carve up the county of Cork into five or six areas with a book for each.
Was that a lofty ambition?
“Once I got writing and my curiosity stayed keen, I got stuck into the research using military records, courts of assizes records, library archives and local folk-lore. Unravelling the stories of local west Cork murders was an amazing project!”
While the terrain in Peter’s books changes, the landscape doesn’t.
“What stays the same in all the books are the motives for murders that are dotted all around the west cork villages and towns,” says Peter.
What is a possible motive for murdering a spouse, neighbour, a stranger, a lover, an enemy?
“Land, money, madness, feuds, sex and jealousy,” says Peter.
“The motives remained the same all over Cork and probably everywhere else as well. Each case in West Cork though is unique in how it plays out. Some get away with it; while a few are accused in the wrong.”
Often local people suspect or know whodunit.
“In other murders it is known right from the start who did it,” says Peter. “But do they get charged?”
Sometimes an up-standing member of the community stands up for them.
“If the parish priest put in a good word; the perpreator could avoid justice,” says Peter.
“Some criminals are so driven to commit the crime they never consider for a second the circumstances.”
West Cork natives can recall a number of murders occurring on their turf.
“A few of the cases are well-known,” says Peter.
“Such as the shooting in Castletownsend, but others are long forgotten.”
Convicted murderers, getting what they deserved, were dealt with swiftly and harshly.
“Up to the 1820s justice was swift,” says Peter, who did painstaking extensive research into such murders as the unfortunate publican and boarding house owner, Mrs McCarthy Bridge Street Skibbereen who was slain by her son Cornelius McCarthy. He was deemed insane.
The Lord Chief Justice, realising the accused had no sense of responsibility or belief in religion, sentenced Cornelius to be held in an asylum for the remainder of his life.
Others fared less well, not living to tell the tale.
“Those found guilty of murder were executed within days in front of thousands of people,” says Peter.
“There was no time for an appeal back then and people maintained that those that didn’t confess at the last minute were innocent.
“West Cork Murders deals with several executions the last being in 1924, while the last in Ireland was 1954.”
No one escaped the hang-man’s noose if found guilty of murder most foul.
“We always suspect that murderers are men,” says Peter.
“One case in the book, Catherine Connolly in her 70s from Lahanaght Drimoleague, who proclaimed her innocence on the scaffold after being accused of murdering seven year old Mary Driscoll and with intent to kill Mary’s cousin Mary Morris - who Catherine Connolly attacked with a fire tongs.”
It was unusual for a woman to be found guilty of such a crime at the time, 1849.
“It was very unusual,” says Peter.
“For her to be sentenced to death and for that sentence to be carried out, was very rare.
“From that until the foundation of the Free State only 47 women were sentenced to death in Ireland, but only four executions were carried out.”
Peter has penned engrossing chapters containing elements of intrigue, mystery, subterfuge, suspicion, hidden bodies, disappearing bodies, and the demon drink. The devil is in the detail.
“I investigated all the West Cork murders in great depth,” says Peter.
Court room dramas dotted with family disputes, extra-marital affairs, drink-fuelled rows, and crucial climaxes that often led to death; either by execution or by murder, make Murder Most Local, Historical Murders of West Cork, a fascinating motive for reading it over the festive season.
“It is hard to imagine that these things took place in rural Ireland in the 19th century,” says Peter.
“But they all happened.”
Peter is encouraging people to shop local and support local book-shops this Christmas.
Murder Most Local West Cork Murders is available at Skibbereen Bookshop, Bantry Bookshop, Ken’s Bookshop Clonakilty,O’Keeffes Supervalu Bantry, Worm Books Skull, Bandon Books Plus, Bookstore Kinsale, Scally’s Supervalu Clonakilty, Collins’ Centra Dunmanway and all good Cork book outlets.