Me, Graham Norton and an infamous massacre

Well, Graham Norton’s great-great-great grandfather and my g-g-g grandfather, to be strictly accurate. They would have known each other. They probably wanted to kill each other. (Luckily, I quite like him and he doesn’t know I exist, so that’s all right!)

How did I find this out?

Four years ago, long before this blog was thought of, I was gripped by BBC TV’s series Who Do You Think You Are?

I was fascinated by the unravelling of family myths and mysteries (we’ve got a few of our own) and envious of the fantastic resources that the Beeb could pull together.


Then, on November 2, 2007, I leapt out of my seat punching the air and shouting: “Carnew! The ball alley!”

Graham Norton was retracing his Irish roots and, to my amazement, his ancestor was in that southernmost Co Wicklow town at the same time as mine, in May 1798, when the terrible Carnew massacre was carried out.

On the other side.


While Nicholas Delaney was working in Robert Blaney’s bog – at the moment Richard Twamley and George Heppenstall were being killed – Graham’s ancestor, Thomas Walker, was among the yeomen in the town.

Indeed one of his relations, John Walker, was shot and piked by the rebels. Just as Twamley and Heppenstall were, according to ‘Croppy Biddy’ Dolan.

And there was Graham in the ball alley in Carnew Castle, where the infamous massacre took place. The same ball alley my mother and I were shown by the castle’s owner, who pointed out to us the bullet holes in the wall which still bear witness to the day when unarmed local United Irish prisoners were gunned down in cold blood by the yeos.

It was a strange moment.

Photo: Carnew: the Castle from All Saints' churchyard © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014

Carnew: the Castle from All Saints’ churchyard © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand

I’ll write more about the Carnew Massacre soon. It’s not just a tragic story in its own right, but probably one of the incidents that spurred the people of Co Wexford, next door, to rise in arms and play their colossal part in 1798.

Since writing this I’ve found a clip of Graham in the Ball Alley – it’s just as good second time around.

Update: The May 2015 edition of Irish Lives Remembered features more about Graham and his Carnew ancestors.


© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014

About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
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18 Responses to Me, Graham Norton and an infamous massacre

  1. rebelhand says:

    Miles Byrne wrote in his memoirs:
    ‘I knew several of the murdered men, particularly Pat Murphy, of Knockbrandon, at whose wedding I was two years before ; he was a brave and most worthy man, and much esteemed. William Young, a Protestant, was amongst the slaughtered.’ I haven’t found any more names.


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  3. Shane says:


    Did you ever manage to find a list of the United Irishmen executed in 1798? I would be very interested in this information.

    An ancestor of mine (John Tutty from Kilpipe in Co. Wicklow) was thought to be among those executed. The following excerpt from the obituary section of the Freeman’s Journal gives some information on this:

    HOLOHAN – At 52 James Street, Mrs Margaret Holohan, aged 90 years. She was the daughter of Mr John Tutty of Kilpipe, County WIcklow, who was one of the 25 United Irishmen shot at Carnew on the 25th May 1798 and buried in Kilcashel graveyard at Wingfield, County Wicklow. R.I.P.

    I’d be very grateful for any information anyone may have on this subject.

    Thanks very much,



    • rebelhand says:

      Hello Shane, good to hear from you again. No, I haven’t been able to find a list of the United Irishmen executed in Carnew Castle in 1798. Can anyone help? Please leave a comment here if you have any ideas.


    • Mike Hanley says:

      There is an old graveyard at Wingfield Tinahely Co Wicklow which is quite near to Kilpipe and about 8 miles from Carnew. Its possible that John Tutty may well have been Protestant as any Tutty’s I knew about that area were of that faith. In 1798 there were scores of Protestant rebels in both Wexford, Wicklow and Carlow counties and in fact Bagnel Harvey who was made leader of the rebels in Wexford town was a Protestant. The conflict turned sectarian when rebel Catholics burned 25 Protestant’s in a barn at Scullabogue Co Wexford.



  4. Nicholas Dunne-Lynch says:

    The only problem I could see was that the researcher told Graham that ‘the Carnew massacre’ happened on 1 June 1798, when it is widely acknowledged to have taken place on 25 May, just before the rebellion broke out in Wexford on 26th. Can you confirm the correct date?


    • rebelhand says:

      Hi Nicholas, sorry to take a while to reply. You’re right, the massacre took place on 25th May. It must have been a slip of the tongue on Ruan O’Donnell’s part.


      • Nicholas Lynch says:

        I thought that’s what he said. Maybe I was mistaken.

        Do you have any knowledge of the exact time of the executions, and the names of those involved, both executioners and victims? Miles Byrne writes that he was at the family farm at Fox Cover, Monaseed, when the news arrived, but that was the 26th, a day later, and Carnew is only 7 km away (Byrne writes 4 Irish miles), a half hour on horseback, something more than an hour on foot, but Byrne holds that the news did not reach Fox Cover until the day after the massacre. Did it take such news so long to travel in those disturbed times? I doubt it. My theory is that Byrne’s sister, Bridget, already knew of the massacre when Miles arrived in the early morning, but did not want to alarm Miles. he says that he did not hear news of the Carnew massacre until later in the day on the 26th. (i, p.44). The two men he travelled with into Wicklow and Carlow on the 23-26th were Ned Nowlan and Mick Kearney, from the Monaseed area, both of whom were on the run from the Carrnew Yeomanry .He also writes: ”The situation of the few Catholics who still remained in the different yeomanry corps, became every day more insupportable and humiliating and particularly so in those of Shillelagh and Carnew, these corps being principally composed of Orangemen, or to say the least, of very prejudiced and bigoted protestants.’ He further writes that Mr Cope, a Protestant ministers and ‘the magistrates’ were present at the executions, and that among the slain were Pat Murphy of Knockbrandon, near Monaseed, and a Protestant named William Young. (i.p.36)

        There are two other Carnew men I am interesting in learning more about: Ralph Blaney, the distiller, and Effy Page, his clerk. Do you have any information on either?

        The Carnew Yeomanry also took part in the massacre on Kilthomas Hill, on 28th. They seen to have been a very aggressive corps.

        Best regards Nicholas Dunne-Lynch


      • rebelhand says:

        Thanks for your comments about Miles Byrne, Nicholas. I’d certainly got the impression that the massacre was one of the atrocities that caused the outbreak of true insurrection on the 26th. I don’t know any more than you do about exactly who was involved, either executioners or victims. But it’s not surprising that the Rev Charles Cope was present. He was rector of Carnew and an ultra-loyalist magistrate. He later went on to buy the castle. I can only guess at why he did that…

        Cope was the man to whom Bridget ‘Croppy Biddy’ Dolan gave the deposition for which Nicholas Delaney would be tried for, and convicted of, murder. She was, as I expect you know, the notorious paid informer who brought many rebels to trial and not a few of them to the gallows, including Billy Byrne of Ballymanus.

        I have some information about Ralph Blaney. He was a Lieutenant in the yeomanry. You’ll probably have read what Miles Byrne says about his brother, Robert Blaney, whose property was saved from being burned when the northern division of the United Irishmen forces took Carnew because of his humanity towards captured rebels. Nicholas Delaney did some work for Robert.

        Ralph Blaney was less well-liked and less lucky; his Carnew property was burned, but his house at Buckstown was saved. It’s said that a protection notice, signed by Anthony Perry, was posted on his front door and this warned off a group who had come to set fire to it. Miles Byrne says that it was spared thanks to his neighbours. There’s more here:

        Another Protestant, Benjamin Stone, “the only loyalist who remained” in Carnew after it was taken by the rebels. He was a defence witness for Nicholas Delaney and his friend and fellow prisoner Edward Neil. Stone told the trial he had “heard Lieutenant Blaney say that he would have been at a great loss but for prisoner Neil and his friends”.

        I hope that’s useful.


      • Nicholas Dunne-Lynch says:

        Many thanks. That’s very interesting. I read somewhere that, after the rebellion, Blaney put in a claim for the loss of more than 500 gallons of spirit, probably raw whiskey. The rebels must have had quite a party with that when they took the town.
        Miles Byrne writes that he knew two of the men executed on 25th May, Patrick Murphy of Knockbrandon, near Monaseed, whose wedding he had attended two years previously, and ‘William Young, a Protestant’, whose home area he does not give. Do you have any details of the latter, or, even better, a list of all the victims?
        All the best,
        Nicholas Dunne-Lynch


      • rebelhand says:

        Yes, Blaney made a claim for losses – I’ll see if I can find the exact reference. Sadly I’ve never seen a list of all the victims of the Carnew massacre. It would be an interesting hunt to find out if one exists. I am surprised that a Protestant was among them, since the conflict in the area is usually seen as being along sectarian lines. What fascinating questions.


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