The death of Richard Ely retold

On Friday, November 8, 1858, Richard Ely was shot by a lone assassin as he moved between his home and Ballaghmore Castle.

A doctor was summoned from nearby Roscrea, in neighbouring Tipperary, but Ely’s wounds proved too great and he died in the early hours of the following morning.

Ely was an agent for the local landlord, Charles Coote, and his killing was a cause celebre among the landed classes in the Midlands and South.

The killing is still remembered vividly in the Laois/Offaly border area; a picturesque region which nestles in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains.

Local lore and indeed newspaper accounts of the time attribute the killing to James Delaney, the son of a tenant farmer whom Ely reputedly planned to evict because of Delaney’s poaching escapades.
The memory of Delaney’s deed is kept alive by a ballad, penned in the 1800s. Some years ago the words were given to the ‘Tribune’ by local resident, Jimmy Wheeler who also gives a hearty rendition of the song.

Jimmy said that local tradition recounted that James Delaney went into hiding immediately after Ely’s death and was harboured by local people in the border area.

It’s understood that he emerged only at night time and managed to lead a secret life for several years. When he died his body was interred in secret at night in Kyle cemetery.

Another local story recounts that the Constabulary were waiting for the fugitive at his home in Rossbawn. But, as Delaney approached his sister warned him off by throwing a ball of wool out the window and he made his escape.

Despite a large reward being put up for Delaney’s capture by Landlords from Laois and surrounding counties no one provided information as to Delaney’s whereabouts.

Newspapers of the time, who virtually all represented the interests of the landlord class, were scathing in their condemnation of people who harboured Delaney.

The Nenagh Guardian commented: ‘.... his (Ely’s) murderer is permitted to remain at large - he is no stranger to the place, even his name is openly and unreservedly spoken of and yet no hand has been lifted to bring him to that deserved punishment which his crime loudly cried out for, and which while unatoned, must remain as an indelible stigma on the district in which it was perpetuated’.

Police were quartered in Ballaghmore to try and capture Delaney but to no avail. In 1860 it was concluded that he had made his escape to America and the force was withdrawn.

Earlier in 1850s James Delaney had also killed a man named Keeshan in a row in a Roscrea pub for which he received 12 months hard labour.

His family, the Delaneys of Rossbawn, played a key role in the 1798 rebellion and six brothers helped capture Cloncourse Castle. However, their daring deed had horrific consequences and all six were hanged by British forces on Rossbawn Hill.

(below we print the ‘Ballad of James Delaney’ to the words given to us by Jimmy Wheeler. Jimmy points out that there are two variations of the ballad extant).

The Ballad of James Delaney
My name is James Delaney
My pen I take in hand
To write for you a line or two
That you might understand
It’s all about and agent’s boy
Who now lies in his grave
And his name was Richard Ely
And he lived in Ballaghmore

Now Ely was a tyrant boys
And that’s for many a year
He put out many a poor widow
And caused them to shed tears
Till he was met by a hero bold
Who soon did make him yawn
And his name was James Delaney
The pride of Sweet Rossbawn

Now Jim he was a fine a lad
As ever could be found
And for his own amusement
He used to keep a hound
To be chastised by Ely’s boys
He thought it rather queer
For going to the bog with dog
And gun for the sake of killing hare

Now Ely went to the landlord
Ah, the words to him did say
Delaney’s son keeps a dog and gun
And he’s hunting night and day
He hunts on my own premises
And that without a doubt
And I think the best things we can do
Is put Delaney’s father out

When Jim he heard this terrible news
The blood boiled in his veins
To seek for satisfaction whatever would befall
And to his agent’s body he lodged
A fatal ball, my boys, that left him in his grave
No more to rise or tyrannise
In the lands of Ballaghmore

So farewell you sweet Hibernia
Likewise to the Shamrock shore
And farewell you well to sweet Rossbawn
A place I will see no more
The parting of my aged parents
It grieved my heart full sure
For shooting a kite on a November night
That flew through Ballaghmore

Courtesy of the Mildands Tribune
June 2003