Murder in the Montiaghs on Christmas Night

by Jim McIllmurry

Charles MageeLurgan courthouse was packed to capacity on Thursday the 11th of January 1877 as three people appeared on the charge of murder.

William Gilkinson was murdered at Derrytagh North near Lurgan on Christmas night 1877. The first witness was Sarah Gilkinson, widow of the deceased. She identified the three accused as Patrick Haughian, James Donnelly and Mary Taggart. She said she was sitting with her husband and friends on Christmas night when the door knocked at 9.30pm. She said her six children were in bed. Her husband opened it to find the three accused stood there. She said they pushed in and said her husband was not raising his sons correctly. When her husband asked why, Haughian said they were cursing the pope. A man called Murray who was their guest that evening said it was not the sons of William Gilkinson that said it, but a man called Robert Docherty. His widow claimed Patrick Haughian then grabbed William Gilkinson by the throat and Mary Taggart pushed him from behind and they brought him to the front of the house, then she heard a dull bang and went out to find her husband lying still. Eliza Gilkinson and Samuel Gilkinson, brother and sister of the deceased who were also present that night gave similar evidence.

Doctor Hannah was called next, he said he had examined the man the next morning and found a three and a half inch fracture to the back of the skull. He examined the area where he fell and said it was soft boggy ground and a fall could not have caused the fracture. He said the man remained unconscious and later died. John Murray said he was in the home of William Gilkinson that Christmas night when Patrick Haughian, James Donnelly and Mary Taggart came in. He said William Gilkinson lifted a bread knife and ordered them out, he still had the knife in his hand as if left. He said he went out a short time later with Sarah Gilkinson after hearing a bang. He examined William Gilkinson and ran to get help, when he could not find help he returned to the house and helped carry William Gilkinson to a bed. He did not stay with the injured man because young Gilkinson was looking to leave the house to take life. All three were brought to prison to await trail in Armagh court for the offence of murder.

The trial took place on March the 1st in Armagh. Defence for Donnelly asked he be released as he had nothing to do with it, the judge accepted this and said he would release him after he gave evidence. Donnelly took the stand and said Patrick Haughian went to the house of Gilkinson after a dispute earlier in the day between them, he said Mary Taggart only entered the house to get Patrick Haughian out of it. He said William Gilkinson was the worse for wear with drink and came at Haughian with closed fists telling him he could never beat a Docherty, then he lifted a bread knife. He said they went outside of the house, Gilkinson was swinging the knife around in a wild fashion, he said it was a man called Mc Caughley hit Gilkinson over the head with a shovel, Haughian was several yards away from Gilkinson when it happened. He said this man McCaughley had since left the country. At the trial it was told that Patrick Haughian and Thomas Gilkinson were in fact close friends and often in each otherís houses.

The judge directed that both Donnelly and Taggart be released without charge. He directed the jury that Patrick Haughian be found guilty of manslaughter and not murder. The judge then passed sentence. He said you stand as a dreadful example of a friendship ruined by petty squabbling and intoxication. Because of this, you have left this woman a widow. Patrick Haughian was sentenced to seven years for the crime of Manslaughter. After the trail, Sarah Gilkinson brought a case of compensation for the loss of her husband of £1,000. She was awarded £220 and her children a total of £180.

Our thanks to Jim for his kindness in giving us permission to publish these stories here.

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