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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

The tragic death of Margaret McCarthy of Birr

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Margaret McCarthy (Nee Price)

Margaret Price was born in Parsonstown (Birr) on 16 December 1870. She was the daughter of Henry Price and Jane Price (née Boyle). Henry and Jane had married the previous February, at the time of their marriage they were both recorded as living on the Green. Henry worked as a shoe maker.

Growing up in Parsonstown, Margaret probably attended school in the girl's Convert. The sight of soldiers in the town would have been a regular one for Margaret and perhaps it is of no surprise she married one, like many other women of the town. Margaret married Thomas McCarthy, a smart, handsome six foot one inches tall, Cahir native, soldier of the Leinster Regiment on 19 September 1892 in St Brendan’s Catholic Church, the same church her parents married in.

Margaret’s new life married to a soldier would mean she was subjected to military discipline and would be expected to preform various chores, such as cleaning, cooking, washing and sewing, in addition to raising any children they would have, and not to mention following her husband to various parts of the globe.

Shortly after getting married Thomas was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment which was based in Aldershot, Hampshire, England. They stayed here until the battalion moved to Malta in November 1894, a year later they moved to Bermuda (where the battalion would stay until October 1897). During their travels they had two children.

Contempory image of Barbados from the time the Leinsters were stationed there

In 1897, while in Bermuda, in what can only be called very suspicious circumstances, Margaret was found dead, her arms apparently broken and her head battered in. News of Margaret’s death reached Birr Barracks where is caused a great stir, in preparing Henry and Janes for the impending news of their daughter’s death, Margaret’s brother who was also serving in the Leinster Regiment wrote to their parents saying Margaret had died in an accident.

Colour Sergeant McCarthy

Following the death, Thomas was placed under arrest and charged with her murder. During the trial in Hamilton, evidence was given stating that Thomas had returned to his quarters at Fort St George at 10pm on 5 February. His quarters were in total darkness and he stumbled over a slop pale, calling out to ask what he fell over his wife, who was sitting on the bed answered. Annoyed, Thomas apparently threw the pale in a fit or rage into the dark room, and struck his wife in the head. Other evidence was given and the jury acquitted Thomas, he was also discharged from the army.

Margaret was interred in Bermuda on 8 February 1897, in the same grave as her infant child. Contemporary reporting of the incident raises many more questions than are answered, and perhaps if the same case was tried today, poor Margret would have got the justice she deserves.

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