BY CONOR POWER
A WEXFORD-based author has stumbled across an extraordinary West Cork murder case that goes back more than a century.
‘It was like a thread and I just started pulling at it,’ explains Pat Doran, a writer with a love for forgotten history and who has previously written two books.
It was while Pat was researching another book – Enniscorthy in the Year 1900 – that he came across the story of the murder of William Simms Byrd of Beach House in Bantry and of the conviction and subsequent hanging in January 1901 of a certain Timothy Cadogan of Coomhola for Byrd’s murder.
‘A lot of people were convicted at that time after a three-day trial,’ says Doran, ‘so to be convicted after two days suggested that there was something not quite right… then, the more I read of the evidence and all the transcripts of the trials, the more remarkable the story seemed to be… in this day and age, there’s no way that the Cadogan would have been even put on trial, never mind hanged.’
The murder victim was an agent for the vast estate of the Earl of Kenmare. In the 20 years leading up to Byrd’s assassination, there was a lot of resistance to ground rent which occasionally erupted in violence. Most of that was confined to Kerry, however. This murder took place in the middle of the day on a busy Fair Day in Bantry and was exceptional in its nature and its violence. Byrd was despatched by two shots to the chest and one coup de grâce to the back of the head as he lay on the floor of his first-floor office on Barrack Street – a building where there’s now an Indian restaurant.
Although Cadogan’s eviction by Byrd five years previously provided a motive for the killing, the only evidence against Timothy Cadogan was the word of one key witness who claimed to have clearly seen Cadogan for one second in a darkened hallway. Moreover, there was another man seen in the presence of Byrd less than two minutes before the murder took place. This man possessed a revolver and, even in the words of the trial judge, Cadogan and he must have crossed paths if Cadogan had carried out the murder.
Even more intriguing still was the will of Byrd’s sister. When she died in Brighton, England in 1923, she left £500 (€35,000 in today’s money) to each of the two main witnesses in the murder and £200 (€15,000) to each of the two policemen involved in the case.
According to Doran, the facts he uncovered in this case suggest a far more threadbare one than that which wrongly convicted Kerryman John Twiss of murder in 1895. He received a presidential pardon in 2021.
• All the facts in this fascinating story are laid bare in Doran’s book The Bantry Murder, now available in bookshops throughout West Cork.