[Fr.] Nicholas Sheehy


Life
1728-1766; patriot priest, P.P. at Clougheen, Co. Tipperary; b. Fethard, Clonmel, ed. Santiago and Salamanca; ord. 1750; served in Waterford, then P.P. in Shanraghen and Templetenny; he supported peasants against tithes extortion; arrested for supposed part in the destruction of a wall intended to close off common land, and acquitted; afterwards accused of complicity in the murder of John Bridge, an informer against the Whiteboys, and went into hiding, 1764; a reward of £50 raised to £300 for his discovery and arrest; offered to surrender if he could be tried in Dublin in letter to the Under-sec. of Ireland (Thomas Waite); tried in Dublin, 10 Feb. 1766, where he faced charges of High Treason; acquitted and immediately accused of the murder of Bridge - whose remains were never found and who was thought by some to have fled to Newfoundland; tried in Clonmel, 12 March 1766;
 
evidence for the prosecution supplied by Mary Brady (aka Molly Dunlea) of ‘abandoned character’; an alibi called Keating, in whose house he was at the time, was called unreliable by presiding clergyman-justice Mr. Hewetson, and imprisoned in Kilkenny, leaving the court free to find Sheehy guilty; executed by hanging, Clougheen, 15 March 1766, along with Ned Meehan, a prominent Catholic farmer who refused to bear witness against Sheehy when offered his liberty in prison; his head remained impaled outside Clonmel Gaol for ten years before being reunited with his remains at Shanrahan Churchyard, Clougheen, by his sister Catherine; a cousin, Nicholas Buck, who appeared at his trial, was subsequently hanged in 1775;
 
the Sheehy affair caused Edmund Burke - connected through his cousin Richard Burke who had married Catherine Sheehy, the priest’s sister - to fulminate against the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland and to espouse more closely his own royalist beliefs as a defence against the oligarchy; a monument was erected in Clougheen in 1991; the trial and execution of Fr. Sheehy forms the opening topic of R. R. Madden’s book on the United Irishmen. ODNB DIB

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Criticism
Mary Anne Sadleir, Fr Sheehy (1845); Philip O’Connell, ‘The Plot against Father Nicholas Sheehy’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record CVII, fifth ser., 1967, pp.372-84.

See also Thomas Power, Land, Politics, and Society in 17th Century Tipperary (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993); Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke (London: Sinclair Stevenson 1992); Luke Gibbons, Edmund Burke and Ireland: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Colonial Sublime (Cambridge UP 2003).

Edmund Burke’s response to the judicial murder of Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, et al.
Letter to Charles O’Hara of 8 April 1766 [on the Sheehy trial]: ‘I find you go on in Ireland plotting; alarming; informing; seizing; and imprisoning as usual; What surprises me is to find by one or two of your Letters, that you are little giving way to the ingenious bon ton of our Country. I see it is impossible totally to avoid it. You seem to think, that if they do not discover the cause of their distemper by the dissaction of Sheehy, they will leave off their villainous Theories of Rebellion and Massacres. Sic notus Ulysses? I hear they intend to poke the bowels of a few more for further discoveries. Why had I connection of feeling, or even of knowledge with such a Country! I am not sorry that our schemes for it; for the present at least, will not do.’ (Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. I, p.245; quoted in
 
Letter to O’Hara of May 24, 1766: ‘We are all in a Blaze here with your plots, assassinations, massacres, Rebellions, moonlight armies, French Officers, and French money. Are you not ashamed? You who told me, that if they could get no discovery from Sheehy, they would cool and leave off their detestable plot mongering? You think well of Ireland; but I think rightly of it; and know, that their unmeaning Senseless malice is insatiable; cedemus patria! I am told that these miserable wretches whom they have hanged, died with one Voice declaring their innocence: but truly for my part, I want no man dying, or risen from the dead, to tell me, that lies are lies, and nonsense is nonsense. I wish your absurdity was less mischievous. And less bloody. Are there not a thousand other ways in which fools may make themselves important? I assure you, I look on these things with horror; and cannot talk of such proceedings as the effects of an innocent credulity. If there be an army paid, and armed, and disciplined, and sworn to foreign powers in your country, cannot Government know it by some better means than the Evidence of whores and Horse Stealers. If these things be so, why is not the publick security provided for by a good body of Troops and a stronger military establishment? If not, why is the publick alarmed by such senseless Tales? But I know not why I reiterate such stuff to you; every company here is tormented with it - adieu! It is late; and I am vexed and ashamed, that the Government we live in, should not know those who endanger it, or who disturb it by false alarms; to punish the one with knowledge and vigour; or to silence the other with firmness. Adieu.’ (Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. I, p.255; quoted in Ted Meehan, email to Rootsweb, 29 July 2007 [online; accessed 08.03.2011.]

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Notes
Birthday boy: Thomas Moore chose the day of Sheehy’s execution as the birth-date of Captain Rock in Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824); see Seamus Deane, Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing since 1790 (1997), p.67.

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