Accused Of Infanticide In 1895

26 June 2012, 19:54

Johanna O’Shea was accused of infanticide when her newborn son was found dead in a pool of water in the water closet at the Athlone Workhouse on 1st April 1895.

First, a bit of background.
Johanna O’Shea was born c1870 in Tullig, Co. Kerry. When her family discovered that she was ‘deaf and dumb’ they were not impressed. However, she was educated to a level where she was able to express herself in fluent English.

Now in 2012 it is unacceptable that the term ‘Deaf and dumb’ be used, but back in 1895, it was an acceptable term, and used a lot in official documents.

She was, unfortunately, disowned by her family for whatever reason, but one possiblity is the combination of her deafness, looks and innocence, and a lack of proper supervision. There might have been a sense of shame of having someone ‘afflicted’ like that in the family. This sense of shame was all too common.

Apparently Johanna was strikingly beautiful and hence extremely vulnerable, especially with no family protection. In her own words, in the police statement later on, she ‘let men catch her’. The last man to catch her in this fashion did so ‘three or four times’ and the man said ‘no harm or tricks done’, according to Johanna, in her statement to the police.

Being homeless and destitute, she ended up becoming an inmate at the Athlone Workhouse in Co Westmeath. One can only wonder about a woman like Johanna, and how she ended up in Athlone after being disowned by her family in Tullig, Co. Kerry.

Johanna had no idea of what happened during the night and early hours of 1 April 1895. She suffered cramps and needed to go to the water closet. To her surprise she saw ‘a mass or lump’ pop out of her and into the water. (her words in the statement) Not knowing any better, she closed the water closet, not knowing what exactly happened, and went back to bed.

It was when another inmate went to use the water closet that the newborn male child was discovered drowned. Johanna was promptly accused of infanticide, imprisoned for 42 days in Tullamore prison despite her protestations of innocence, while awaiting trial.

When she gave her statement to the police she wrote her statement, and the police typed it up, and called the workhouse Master, Mr William Donnolly, to interpret for the police officer as he read out his record of statement for Johanna to sign her name at the bottom.

After the facts were aired in court, Johanna O’Shea was acquitted by a jury on 2 July 1895, at the Mullingar Summer Assizes.

She was returned to the guardianship of the workhouse Master.

There is no record of her in the 1901 nor in the 1911 census returns. We do not know what happened to her.


Uniform Craziness

27 February 2013, 12:51

There were six girls in my class.

There were three different uniforms worn in that class.

Let me explain.

I went to a Deaf school.

Girls were split up according to how much they were able to hear/speak.

The school was (and still is) an oral school. Oral as in teaching the children through spoken English, not through Irish Sign Language. The teachers spoke to the children, and the children replied back in spoken English. (This is pointed out here, to stop assumptions that since it was a Deaf school, that the children are automatically taught using sign language.)

Anyway… uniforms…

There were three main sections at the school.

1. The partially deaf oral (at Rosary School, a building about 500m away from the main school which housed the other two groups),

2. The profoundly deaf oral, at St Mary’s, the Old School,

3. and then there were the girls who were taught using sign language. at what was called St Pius. (at the back of the top floor, quite separate from the profoundly deaf oral. They were deemed oral failures.)

The school had separate break times for the two groups in the same building, so that they did not meet.

You’d think that all the pupils had the same uniform. No.

You’d think that the three groups had their own uniform (Rosary school, Old school and St Pius.) No.

It’s more complicated than that.

From what I can gather so far, all the girls at the school had the same uniform until around the 1960s apart from separate clothes for the babies and the older children. (I have to clarify this further.)

From the 1960s to 1987:
Day pupils were not required to wear uniforms at all.

Boarders had to wear uniforms. They had different uniforms according to which unit (boarding house) they slept in. These units were divided according to age and how much you were able to hear.

From 1987 onwards day pupils had to wear a uniform of some sort.

1988, all pupils had to wear a grey uniform with the same tie. Styles differed according to the shop you bought the uniform from.

In September 1993, the uniform was changed so that ALL pupils at the school wore the same clothes. Navy and Green with crest and red kilt. – no ties. Junior = Navy, Senior, Green.

So in my class, (1980s) there were day pupils with no uniforms, (Pre-1987) and the boarders with their own uniforms and since they stayed in different units they had different uniforms.

Hence three different uniforms in the one class (my class) in 1988.

Patrick Byrne, A 19th Century Irish Deaf Prisoner

20 July 2012, 20:28

Here is a blog on a Deaf man from Wexford, called Patrick Byrne.

He was sent to jail many times, to several different jails, and was often transferred from one to another, and then back again!

He had a remarkable life.
Patrick was born around 1840 in New Ross, Wexford.
Like most Deaf people he grew up in a hearing family. He didn’t go to Dublin to school, and so never attended a school for the deaf, where he would have been taught sign language. We know he was deaf, but it is not known if he was a sign language user.

That said, at that time in Wexford (from the 1850s to the 1870s) there were many Deaf people living in the area. We know this from the prison register, which lists the names of several Deaf people. I’m certain that Patrick would have known some of these Deaf people, and that they would have been able to communicate with each other through gesture and sign.

It is likely that before the Deaf schools in Cabra were established, people would have been using an early “version” of ISL.

Patrick grew up to become extremely strong and broad; he was very well built. Prison records list his height at 5 feet 10 inches, which was exceptionally tall for the middle of the 19th century. The records also mention his weight; he was very heavy.

Later prison reports describe him as being “a very powerful man”, and that he was quick to lose his temper and hit out at others.

Around the age of 18 years old Patrick started getting involved in fights. Sometimes he drank heavily also. But mostly he got in trouble for fighting. Often he attacked policemen. It is not known why he attacked policemen in particular. It is possible that he had had a bad experience with the police, but there is no way of knowing. However, as a result, Patrick often ended up in court.

Frequently he was sentenced to serve time in the local jail in Wexford. Usually these stays were short, maybe a week or two, or maybe a month, but they were a regular occurrence until 1870 when he committed a very serious assault.

It was then that the Wexford Court realised that Patrick needed a long and severe prison sentence. He was given 5 years Penal servitude.

Consequently, he was sent to Mountjoy Gaol in Dublin, where he served the first part of his sentence. He spent 9 months in Mountjoy Gaol. During his time there Patrick did not mix or communicate with other prisoners.

He had his own cell. He was confined to this cell all day, except for one hour per day when prisoners were allowed out to the yard. To reach the yard, prisoners walked in a long line. Once there, they walked around the yard. This was their exercise. However, it was impossible for prisoners to talk or even whisper to each other.

Communication between prisoners was strictly forbidden.
At the end of the hour, prisoners had to return to their cell. Prison life was very tough. There was no work; prisoners were not given any tasks and there was very little to do. Prisoners were expected to serve their time with nothing to occupy them, except to reflect on the past and find remorse for the crimes they had committed.

Imagine what it must have been like for the deaf man as he entered the prison, as the door closed behind him… with no-one to talk to and not allowed to talk to anyone!

At times Patrick’s behaviour was bad.

On these occasions he was thrown into a special cell where he was in darkness, surrounded by high stone walls; no matter how much he tried, the steel door wouldn’t budge; there were no windows. It must have been a terrifying experience for a deaf man. No vision, no hearing. It was a form of sensory deprivation for him.

Nine months later Patrick was transferred to Spike Island prison, in Cork, where he stayed for about 3 years. On Spike Island cells were not locked, and prisoners were able to walk around, chat with each other and work. After some time there, Patrick’s behaviour was considered good enough for him to be sent to Lusk prison, in Dublin.

Patrick had been sentenced to 5 years. However, in Lusk this was reduced to 4.5 years for good behaviour. At that time it was possible for sentences to be reduced and prisoners to be released early under licence.

A licence permitted prisoners to be released early.

Patrick was given a licence and so left Dublin and returned to Wexford, where his family lived. Time passed, but it wasn’t too long before he broke the law again. There was no other choice but to send him straight back to Dublin to finish out the remainder of his sentence.

Once he had served a total of 5 years he was free to return to Wexford. But in no time at all Patrick was in trouble again. At the beginning it was just small incidents, such as drunkenness and other minor offences.

Until, once again, in 1877 he committed another serious assault. The judge had no option but to hand down another 5 years of penal servitude. Patrick was sent back to Mountjoy Gaol, and the process started again.

An interesting incident took place during this time. As we know, Patrick was very strong and on one of the numerous occasions that he spent in the local prison in Wexford, this time for a only for a short period, approximately one or two months, he became very agitated and was desperate to get out. In fact he was in a small cell next to the police station, which was used as a holding cell for short periods of time, such as the days before prisoners were transferred to prison.

Patrick was desperate to get out. So, despite the very high walls, he started to climb, in an attempt to scale the wall and escape over the other side. Another prisoner saw what he was doing and alerted the guards, who rushed to the wall and pulled him down.

That was in 1877.
Five years later Patrick returned home to Wexford. But by this time a serious problem had arisen: any time Patrick saw a policeman he attacked him. Prison staff and other people related to the case started to pay attention, suspecting that he had mental health problems.

You start to see these suspicions being mentioned in the prison records from the time. During that period a special “lunatic asylum” was in operation in Dublin. This was a closed facility where people with mental health problems were sent and kept.

In Dundrum there was a lunatic asylum specifically for criminals. Patrick was sent to this asylum, initially to be examined, to find out if he did indeed have a mental health problem. On this first trip to Dundrum it was concluded that he was not insane, and so he was sent back to “normal” prison.

However, some time later, in 1898, Patrick committed another very serious assault, and he was summoned back to Wexford court. The judge heard the evidence from both sides but, on questioning Patrick, he decided that Patrick was not able to plead, that is, when the judge asked Patrick if he was guilty or not, Patrick could not give an answer. Consequently, the judge had to send Patrick back to the lunatic asylum in Dundrum.

So, in 1898 Patrick was committed to this asylum, where he remained. In the 1901 census Patrick is listed in the asylum, as he is in the 1911 census. This means that he spent 13 years or more in this mental hospital.

In the many prison records I have examined, Patrick’s name is associated with breaking the law and beating people up.

Prior to his first 5 year sentence, he had broken the law 33 times. He had committed a series of 33 assaults and other offences!

So from this presentation you may have an image of Patrick Byrne as some kind of monster or savage; you may think that consequently, and because he had no education, and couldn’t read or write, that he should have been locked up in some kind of institution.

But there was another side to Patrick. As mentioned already, every time Patrick was released from prison in Wexford he returned home to his family. It appears that his family looked after him and cared for him. They were always willing to take him back.

The attitude, at that time, was that Deaf people could simply be dumped in an institution and left there, and families could wash their hands of the situation.

But Patrick’s family didn’t do that. They took him back every time, which is really astonishing. During Patrick’s time in Mountjoy Gaol his family in Wexford wrote letters to him. And he replied. They exchanged letters more than once. Remember, this is a man who could not read or write.

So how was he able to correspond with his family?

Maybe someone in the prison, for example a guard, was able to transcribe and translate these letters using basic gestures.

I don’t know how they did it, but they sent letters to each other regularly.

There are also accounts from prison inspectors, who, on making enquiries about this Deaf prisoner, were told by staff that Patrick was a decent man, but quick-tempered, but nonetheless that he was a hard and willing worker, completing quickly and with a high level of concentration any work that was given to him. It is also reported that he was pleasant, patient and very quiet once he had enough to do.

So Patrick definitely had two sides to him.

What happened to him after that?

We don’t know. But new information is due to be made available shortly from the National Archives.

There are plenty of files on this man, so if you are interested in learning more about him, from the original sources, including prison records, here is the link:

If you are interested in having a look at the files on other Deaf prisoners in the Irish Deaf Archives, be my guest:

The Case Of Anna Eakins

26 June 2013, 22:03

The Irish Deaf Archives: Anna Eakins, a Deaf woman in the ‘Idiot Ward’

The Irish Deaf Archives has plenty of information about many different types of Deaf people, and it is from the information that we can work out and imagine what life must have been like for these people. This article will talk about Anna Eakins, who was put in the Idiot Ward of Carrickmacross Workhouse. (the part of the workhouse that functioned as a lunatic asylum, or mental hospital). She must have had a hard life, but we will let you decide for yourselves. Here is the information on Anna.

Anna was born on 4 Sep 1878 to George Eakins and Catherine Gartlan, and was their first child. She was admitted to St. Mary’s school for deaf girls, in Cabra, Dublin, as a pupil in June 1889. She was registered as coming from the townland of Maghcross, and was referred to the school by the Board of Guardians of Carrickmacross Union. Unfortunately, she left St Mary’s before she completed her education.

Little is known of her activities after she left school. She ended up back in Monaghan, and entered the Carrickmacross Union Workhouse in about 1898. In the 1901 census, we see that she is living at the Union Workhouse as an inmate. She was listed as being ‘able to work’ and a lace worker, a skill she must have learnt at St Mary’s in Cabra.

In the same year, Anna’s parents and four younger sisters were still living at home in the townland of Rahans, near Carrickmacross. We don’t know why she wasn’t living with them at home. Anna’s parents and family eventually left Ireland and emigrated to the United States. Her family did not have much money at the time of emigration. By 1904 all family members except Anna were living in Melrose, Massachusetts, and their descendants are probably still living in the USA today. However, Anna was left behind at the Carrickmacross Union workhouse. Reasons for this could only be surmised at, but Anna was left behind, while her parents and siblings created new lives for themselves in America. It is possible that the Eakins family did send for her after they left; Anna later wrote in a letter that “my parents sent me my passage ticket to take me away to America, but the Master sent it back and won’t let me go”. However it is also true that Anna seemed to believe her family emigrated in 1897, whereas it was not until 1902 they started to emigrate. Was she told the truth by her family? In any case, there is no record of Anna travelling to America after this point, so she probably never got to see her family again.

Life for Anna at the Carrickmacross Workhouse seems to have been hard for her, but then it was a hard life in a workhouse at the turn of the century. There were more than 100 people in this workhouse, with 12 people in the separate ‘idiot ward’ or lunatic asylum. Workhouses were not as busy in the 1900s as they were a few decades before, but they were still very harsh places and most people did not go there unless it was very necessary.

It seems Anna made lives hard for the other people living at the workhouse, the other inmates, with her difficult behaviour. In 1906, she assaulted another woman with a fire shovel, and at the resulting court case, the following was said: “The Master said that the girl Eakins was of a highly excitable nature and unless placed under restraint might commit serious injury”. She was also reported to have treated all written orders by the court with haughty disdain. When people criticized the workhouse for prosecuting her, it transpired that the doctor called for the prosecution.

In 1907 her behaviour became so bad at the Union Workhouse, being so violent and writing foul language on the walls of the ward, that the other female inmates became terrified of her. She was brought to court by the Workhouse. At first, there was a call for an interpreter, but then it was decided to ask questions of Anna using pen and paper; this seemed to work smoothly.

The staff at the Workhouse had decided to make allowances for her and treat her kindly because she was “deaf and dumb”. When the court asked Anna if this was true, she said it was. However, as she became a threat to other people, the Workhouse doctor had no option but to put her in the Idiot ward (the lunatic asylum part of the Workhouse), for the safety of the others. Unfortunately, this was not good enough as Anna wasn’t forcibly restrained from leaving the ward. After being put in the Idiot Ward, her behaviour became much worse until one day she walked out of the Idiot ward and into one of the other wards at the Workhouse, carrying a pile of stones. She started to throw stones at the three people there, assaulting them. She wrote in her defence: “That is all lies. Why do they let those three old dirty tramps into my ward?” She then claimed she had been deserted by her parents but that she would go to them, if she was released.

Anna called everyone at the workhouse ‘tramps’, which might explain her disdain for them, but questions have to be raised as to possible provocations that triggered her behaviour, for example, how other people treated her or behaved towards her that made her violent. What is apparent is that she might have had mental health issues with behavioural symptoms. Hence the decision to send her to the Idiot ward makes a lot of sense to people at the time. During the court case, Anna was portrayed in a bad light as being a defiant woman. When the court officers gave her the note informing her of her two weeks sentence in Armagh Jail to read, it is reported that Anna flung it aside after reading it, and walked off towards the dock.

The following year saw some more action. On November 14, 1908, Anna wrote a letter of complaint to the Board of Guardians of the Carrickmacross UnionWorkhouse. In her letter she wrote: “The Master of this Union is very bad to me because he won’t let me go to America to my father and mother who are there eleven years”. She also alleged that he did not allow her to work to raise a living for herself, and that he held her ticket (for America), and refused to give it to her. She stated quite adamantly that the Idiot Ward was not the place for her, that she should be put back in the general Workhouse. She said:

“I am one year in the idiot ward. I was sent here from the workhouses last year by the Master because I abused the workhouse matron, Sister M Bonaventure, and called her dirty names. I don’t like this lunatic ward, for I and all in it get the worst treatment, and I have to sew and work hard from morning until night. I was in the workhouse for ten years and liked it splendidly. It is lovely in the workhouse. Many a time I asked the master to forgive me for abusing the matron Sister M Bonaventure, and let me back to the lovely workhouse, or change me to some part of the hospital from this lunatic ward, but is too hard, and said “no”.”

The Guardians laughed at her letter but instructed the Master to allow her be hired out. He claimed that she hasn’t been prevented yet, but he would allow her find employment. The Master was also instructed to inform Anna’s parents in America of the situation. The response to her letter might have been the reason behind her next violent episode a month later. She assaulted two women and broke nine panes of glass windows at the Workhouse. She was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment for each offence, consecutively. Her angry reply at this was: “I will kill the tramps who unjustly sent me to jail.”

When one looks at the 1911 census, she is back in the Idiot Ward of the Workhouse. Her mother died just a couple of months later. It is possible that Anna never knew.

Looking at the overall pattern, the picture is of a Deaf woman who is portrayed as an angry, violent woman left behind at the workhouse while her family left Ireland for a better life in America. Her term for the inmates, ‘tramps’, reminds one of fastidious nuns with a dislike of unkemptness, quite possibly influenced by the nuns at Cabra. There seems to be more going on than what is shown in the files, but going by what we have, Anna Eakins was a deeply unhappy woman with serious issues in her life.