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The following events took place in the early hours of the morning of 30 October 1816. The secret society to which the article refers was a local group of Ribbonmen. The account below is taken from: Chambers' Edinburgh Journal (Number 296) Saturday, September 30, 1837.
In the county of Louth in Ireland, and at the distance of about nine miles from the town of Dundalk stood some years ago a house called Wild-Goose Lodge - a name conferred upon it from its whimsically chosen situation on a small peninsula jutting into a marsh meadow, which was occasionally transformed into a lake by the winter floods of the Louth. In summer, the residence was reached from the meadow without difficulty; but during winter, the case was very different, it being then approachable only by a narrow neck of land hemmed in by the surrounding waters. At the period to which we refer, Wild-Goose Lodge was tenanted by an industrious man, named Lynch, and his family. Lynch had been very successful in improving a few fields attached to his dwelling, and somewhat elevated above the yearly inundations; he was in the habit also of raising a considerable quantity of flax, which he manufactured into cloth, and carried to the adjoining markets of Dundalk or Newry, where it was readily sold to advantage. By these means he rose in respectability among his neighbours, and comfort and contentment smiled around his dwelling. But an evil hour came, and he himself was unhappily in some measure instrumental in bringing it on.
An illegal association, bound by secret oaths, sprung up among the Roman Catholics living around Wild-Goose Lodge. Lynch, though a moderate man, believed that such a combination, on the part of those who held the same opinions with himself, was necessary to counteract similar demonstrations on the opposite or Protestant side, and he therefore joined the association. A very short time sufficed to show him the imprudence of his conduct. Wild-Goose Lodge was a central point in a remote and secluded district, and the members of the association, not without the countenance, at first, of the occupier, began to make the house their usual point of assemblage. Their numbers, however, speedily increased so much as to submit the family to great inconvenience, and their views, besides, so far exceeded Lynch's own in violence, as to place him under such apprehensions lest he should be held as the leading promoter of all that might be said or done by those who made his dwelling their nightly haunt. Forced to act, in this dilemma, for the sake of himself and his family; he came to the resolution of desiring his neighbours to assemble no more under his roof. This interdict excited a strong feeling of ill will against him among the leaders of the combination, and they afterwards habitually gave him every annoyance they could think of, with the view of ejecting him from the place.
Once liberated, in some degree, from the consequences of his imprudence, Lynch persisted in the line of conduct he had entered upon. The result was, that one night, a party of men, disguised, entered his house, stripped him in presence of his family, and after flogging him, destroyed his furniture, insulted his wife, and cut the web in the loom from the one selvage thread to the other, down to the beam on which it rested. These wanton injuries to an honest, industrious, and (leaving aside his junction of and illegal union) well-conducted man, were galling and hard to bear. Lynch was the husband of an amiable, affectionate wife, and the father of a young family, depending on him for subsistence. Again, to denounce those with whom he had joined in an oath was a proceeding not only full of danger, but to which Lynch could with difficulty bring his mind. Anxious and irresolute, he appealed to the minister of his religion for protection, but it was of no avail. His midnight persecutors continued to harass him, and at last, seeing the ruin of his family inevitable, unless he bestirred himself, and, being able to point out and identify those who had injured him Lynch determined to brave the anger of his assailants, and appeal to the laws of his country. Having formed this resolution, he held to it, in spite of the most awful and ominous endeavours to intimidate him, and two of the party, who had attacked his house, were prosecuted, convicted, and suffered death.
Terrible was the wrath of the secret associates, among whom it chanced there were some men of such characters, as are happily rarely to be met with in the world. One of the oaths taken by this body was, that no one member should bring another before the bar of justice. Certainly this oath, bad as it was in every sense, never contemplated that one member was not to resent the gross injuries done to him himself by another. But, as might have been anticipated from the previous exhibition of feeling, Lynch was held, in the strongest sense of the word, to have violated the oaths he had taken.
Not far from Wild-Goose Lodge stood a chapel, where the association met after the ejection of its members from the house of Lynch. The leading man of the body, Patrick or Paddy Devann, was clerk to the priest of the district, and had the charge of the chapel. Within this building, consecrated for widely different purposes, the midnight band assembled on the night destined by the leaders of the party for the destruction of the unfortunate Lynch. Devann, the principal agent in the scene, in order to make a deeper impression on the minds of the crowd present in the chapel, assembled them around the altar, and, after administering an oath of secrecy to them, descanted on the falling off of Lynch, and the necessity of suppressing all defections among themselves. He then darkly hinted the object of the meeting to be Lynch's punishment and hoped that it would serve as a warning to them all to be firm to the obligations on which they had entered, and true to the interests of the body. Having finished his address, Devann lifted from before the altar a potsherd containing a piece of burning turf; and, moving from the chapel, desired them to follow him.
Some scores of the band were on horseback, having come from distant places at the imperative summons sent to them. Many more were on foot, and all these moved desultorily onwards, Devann preceeding them, towards the abode of the devoted victim. To the credit of human nature it must be stated, that few of this numerous party had the slightest idea of what was intended by the originators of the movement. As the men went along, they were inquiring among themselves, in whispers, what was to be done; even those who had heard Devann's threats did not believe that they would be enforced, or that any further injury would be done than had been inflicted before.
Silence reigned along the party's route. Nothing disturbed the general quiet, save the distant housedog's bark, and the trembling unequal tread of the nocturnal band, as they approached the abode of the unoffending, unsuspecting, and sleeping family. No barrier opposed their advance; no watchful guarding stood between them and the objects of their vengeance; they drew nigh the house, and all was still and motionless.
While the majority of the persons present still remained ignorant of what was to be accomplished, but obeyed their leaders passively, an extensive circle at men was formed by Devann's directions around the devoted dwelling. Then, those few who were aware of all the enormity of the project crept forward along the ground, towards the house, the pike in one hand and the lighted turf in the other. Well did the wretches know that there was no chance of escape for those within, for the house was filled with the flax by which poor Lynch made his bread; and as soon as it was caught by the flame, extinction was a thing next to impossible. The turfs were applied, and in a few minutes the house was on fire - with a family of thirteen souls beneath its blazing roof! The flames rose towards the sky, and illuminated the adjacent scene. Speedily were heard from within the supplicating cries of the miserable victims, "Mercy! for God sake, mercy! mercy! mercy!" But the cry was vain. So far from evincing any feelings of compunction while the act of destruction was going on, the wretches who had caused it stood ready with their pikes to thrust back those who might attempt to escape. One attempt was made to move their pity; and had the men had hearts, they must have been moved. The wife of Lynch, while her own body was already enveloped in flames, had endeavoured to preserve the infant at her breast, and she appeared at the windows, content to die herself, but holding out her child for mercy and protection. Frantically she threw it from her. And how was it received? On the point of pikes, and instantly tossed back into the burning ruins, into which at the same time sunk its hapless mother. One other only of those within, and this was a man, one of Lynch's assailants, appeared on the walls, beseeching for mercy; but he likewise received none. The veins of his face were visible, swollen like cords, and horror was painted on his whole aspect. He, and all who were within, perished. Lynch himself, either cut off early, or resigned to his fate, never appeared, either to denounce the act of his persecutors, or to supplicate their pity.
It is impossible to say with what feelings the main party encircling the house at a little distance beheld the consummation of the purposes of the night. The majority of them certainly felt horror, while others, in whose minds a blind hatred of Lynch was predominant, felt mingled sensations of horror and exultation; and the conjoined feelings expended themselves in cries, that were re-echoed by the groans of the victims. The terrified peasantry of the neighbourhood who had not joined the associated throng, started from their pillows, and gazed towards the ascending flames of Wild-Goose Lodge with fear and shrinking, for they too well knew the feelings of the district to regard it as a common accident, which it would have been their duty and their pleasure to have aided in suppressing and relieving. Until all sounds of life, therefore, were extinct within the burning house, the authors of the deed looked on undisturbed. When all was over they skulked away, each to his own home.
The winds of autumn and the storms of winter had swept the ashes of Wild-Goose Lodge over the fields which Lynch had cultivated, ere anyone of the actors in this atrocious crime was brought to justice. But the presence of some of the less guilty of them having been discovered, and brought home beyond a doubt, these, in order to save themselves, made a revelation of all they knew and had seen. Anticipating this, the ringleaders fled to various parts of the country, but the arm of the offended law overtook them. Devann was found in the situation of a labourer in the dock-yards of Dublin, and others were taken at different times and places: Eleven were executed, and, to mark the atrocity of their crime, their bodies were hung in chains at Louth and other spots in the neighbourhood of Wild-Goose Lodge. Devann was executed within the roofless walls of the house in which his victims were immolated, and his body afterwards suspended beside those of his associates.
It has been already mentioned, that the greater number of those who were so far accessory to this crime, in having countenanced it with their presence, knew nothing of the real intentions of the ringleaders. Many of the same persons, also, it is but justice to add, would have saved the victims, had they dared or been able, and afterwards would even have devoted their own bodies to the flames to blot out the stain from the annals of their country. From the statements of these persons, and the evidence given at the trial, has been drawn up this little narrative.
Further information of the murders at Wildgoose Lodge may be found in the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society Journal:
'The Burning of Wildgoose Lodge', in Vol XII, Number 2, 1950, pages 159-80 (illustrated)