The Trial of John Fay
John Fay was a prominent Catholic miller in Navan in the 18th century.
There was a sectarian attempt to frame him for the murder of the Rev. Thomas Butler, curate in Ardbraccan, and Justice of the Peace. Rev. Butler was associated with the efforts of Bishop Maxwell to evict small farmers from the area around the recently built Ardbraccan House, which he wanted to convert into a parkland. At 8pm on the evening of Oct. 24th 1793, the Rev. Butler was leaving Ardbraccan House by the back gate. He was shot at from behind a hedge. He managed to get back to the house but died later that night. A reward for information about the killing was offered.
John Fay, and a labouring man called George Mullen, were arrested and charged with the murder of the Rev. Butler. Mullen was accused of the killing and Fay with providing him with the gun. Fay was also accused of administrating the secret oath of the Defenders to Mullen and others. The 2 men were held in Dundalk Jail before their trial.
An informer by the name of Lynch came forward and gave evidence against Fay and Mullen in the hopes of getting an award from the authorities.
The transcript of the trial survives and is reproduced below.
Mr John Fay appeared at the bar, and the clerk of the crown read the indictment, No.84, viz, that the said Mr John Fay stood indicted for aiding abetting and encouraging certain persons to kill and murder the Revd. Thomas Butler of Ardbracken in the county of Meath on the 24th day of October, in the Year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety three. He was a second time indicted on No 85, for that he, the said John Fay, with other evil disposed persons, did conspire to and with each other on the 17th October 1793, to kill and murder the said Thomas Butler.
Names of the Jurers
1. James Brabazon Esq Cunny-Hall; 2. Wm. Hopkins Esq. Dantzes- Court; 3. Robert Kellett, Esq. Fords-Town; 4. John Wade Esq. Bellane; 5. Henry Garnett the Younger, Esq. Athcaron; 6. Frederick Edward Jones Esq. Dollard's -town, 7. Robert Battersby Esq. Lakefield; 8 James Kellett Esq. Fords-town; 9. Gordon Jackson Esq. Lisnabow; 10. Wm. Hopkins Esq. Gills-town; 11. Wm. Martley Esq. Gravelmount; Richard Dyer Esq. Kells.
Council for the Prosecution Council for the Defendent
Mr. Attorney General Mr Curran [John Philpot Curran]
Mr Saurin Mr Recorder
Mr Macartney Mr Ponsonby
Agent Mr Kemmis Agent Mr Taylor
After the Jury was sworn - Mr Attorney General said: There is no evidence on either of the counts No. 84 and No. 85.
Court: Gentlemen of the Jury, there being no evidence to support these Counts, you will there fore acquit the prisoner.
The Jury brought in their verdict of aquittal of Mr Fay on both these Counts.
The Clerk of the Court read out the Indictment No 86 charging Mr Fay as follows: That the said John Fay being an evil disposed person and not being duly qualified to administer an oath, did administer an unlawful oath to Michael Gibney, Richard Byrne, George Mullen, William Lynch, John Sherlock, Walter Logan and Patrick Sheein - That they would not give evidence in the court of King's Bench, or any other place against all true brothers of defence. To which indictment they pleaded not guilty.
William Lynch sworn
Examined by Mr Attorney General
Q. Do you know John Fay? A. I do Q. Do you know Michael Gibney? A. Yes -Identifying him
Q. Do you know the prisoner at the bar John Fay? A. Yes
Q. Did you see him in October last? A. I did.
Q. Were you present at any time when the prisoner Fay administered an oath? A. I was, a fortnight before Mr Butler was shot on a Thursday in October 1793.
Q. Was it the latter end of October? A. I believe it was not the latter end of October.
Q. Where did the prisoner Mr Fay administer the oath? A. In his own office near the Barracks in Navan.
Q. In what county? A. In the county of Meath.
Q. What were the names of those persons to whom the oath was administered? A. Cappagh, Sherlock, Gibney, Byrne, Logan, myself, Duff and Sheerin,
Q. Do you see Richard Byrne in Court? A. I do not (but immediately afterwards pointed him out)
Q Did Mr Fay administer the oath to every man you see at the bar? A. He did administer the oath to every man I now see at the bar. Q. Did he administer the oath to any other person? Name the person who took it. A. Cappagh, Sherlock Gibney, Logan Duff ,Sheerin and myself. Logan I do not see here, he is not at the bar.
Q. What was the oath?. A. To aid and assist to kill Thomas Butler, and never to come to give evidence in the King's bench, or any other place against all true brothers of defence - meaning the Defenders.
Q. Upon what did he administer that oath? A. Upon that book.
Q. You said it was administered to yourself and you took it? A. I did
Q. And the other persons you mentioned. A. Yes.
Cross Examination by Mr John P. Curran Esq.
Q. You said this oath was administered about a fortnight before the death of Mr Butler - how do you know it was a fortnight before the death of Mr Butler; when did he die?
A. He was killed on a Thursday in October.
Q. How do you know he was shot?
A. I know because I was there. I was in the middle of a field in the Bishop of Meath's land.
Q. Did you see Mr Butler shot A. Yes, I was standing by George Mullen.
Q. Did you ever swear that at any other time?. A. I swore it yesterday.
Q. Do you believe the Jury believed you? A. I believe they did.
Q. So you swear positively you were by when George Mullen shot Mr Butler and you believe the Jury believed you? A. I do.
Q. What profession in life are you? A. I was bred to the church - to the church of Rome.
Q. Why don't you look up? A. I never fear. Q. You are not a Bishop or a Minister? A. No.
Q. Willl you let me ask you Mr Lynch, what makes you laugh? A. Why, upon your laughing at me I laughed at you. Q. Did you laugh when you saw Mr Butler shot? A. I did not.
Q. Had you ever before that night any particular spleen to Mr Butler, did you hate him?
A. I was a little afraid of him. Q. Did you hate him? A. I did.
Q. Did you wish he should be killed?
A. To be sure I did - If I did not I would not go to the place to kill Mr Butler.
Q. You went there that night in order to murder Mr Butler. A. I did
Q. Were you ready to give your assistance to murder Mr Butler? A. I was.
Q. You mistook a question of mine, I did not ask about your religion. A. Which of them was it?
Q. I did not ask about your religion, I meant your station in life. A. I was no labourer, no other occupation. I got into the army.
Q. You were in the army? A. I was. Q.Then you left the army? A. I deserted.
Q. You did not get any promotion? A. No Q.They did not make a general of you? A. No.
Q. How came you to be produced upon the table yesterday? A. I was produced.
Q. How came you to be brought here yesterday?
A. I was ordered to attend as evidence by the man who was the Gaoler, he came to the place of my imprisonment.
Q. Where is the place of your imprisonment? A. Beyond the bridge - the man came to me and said I must come along with him.
Q. Who put you there? A. It was Mr Wrainright.
Q. Were you there of your own consent? A. I was sent there.
Q. Were you bolted? A. No. Q. Were you fed with victuals? A. Such victuals as common men eat - I had nothing but common vituals.
Q. Did they boil it for you? A. To be sure they did, would you have them give it to me raw?
Q. From what place did you come? A. From Naas.
Q. Who found you out? A. I gave myself up to the law, to Mr Dawson a Justice of the Peace in Ardee.
Q. What made you give yourself up? A. Is that the question you ask; for the love and peace of my country?
Q. I believe few men do great services merely for the love of their country; - then you say that you gave yourself up for the love and peace of your country? A. Yes.
Q. You went to murder Mr Butler for the love of your country?
A. It was not for the love of my country that I consented to murder Mr Butler, but I gave myself up that I might pacify my country.
Q. Did you expect to be hanged? A. No.
Q. You knew you were guilty of this crime? A. Yes, and knowing these men guilty, and in order to have these men punished according to their deserts.
Q. Did anyone speak to you and advise you to give yourself up for the peace of the country ?
A. No. Q. Did you ever learn to read? A. No I did not.
Q. Did you ever read any newspapers? A. No I never did.
Q. You heard that rewards were offered for the discovery of the murderers of Mr Butler?
A. I heard it as a common report of the country, I never knew how much it was.
Q. Did you not know that Government offered great rewards - how much do you know was offered for discovering the murderers?
A. Great rewards was offered, I do not know how much it was.
Q. Did you know who was to give the rewards? A. No. Q. You heard great rewards were offered? A. I did. Q. You were determined to give the reward to some charity, and not to put it in to your own pocket? A. I never expected any reward - I swear that.
Q. Upon your oath do you not expect to receive the rewards offered? A. Upon my oath I do not.
Q. Upon your honour - you a military man - I ask you do you not expect to receive rewards, upon your honour? A. Your law does not touch Military, as council or attorney - did not I tell you I was in the army?
Q. I believe you are cross examining yourself. A. How by cross examining?
Q. I have got a great deal more from you by your own answers - I ask you are you an officer? A. No.
Q. So Mr Lynch, you come forward and say you are not afraid to look up - you do not fear anything yourself, and you have no shame about yourself - upon your oath you say so?
A. No I have not. Q. Upon your oath you did not come into this court and know that you were speaking here in the presence of God Almighty - did that come into your mind? A. I know it full well. Q. When you were standing in the ditch fo shoot Mr Butler did you believe that there was a God in Heaven? A. I knew it full well.
Q. You knew it then and did you think of it that night? [ The witness gave no answer to this question] Q. You did not feel any shame? A. I have sworn that - I did not speak of fear.
Q. Are you afraid? A. No - I am not. Q. Have you spoke nothing but the truth? A. No - I have not. Q. You did give evidence yesterday? A. I did.
Q. When you gave your examinations before Mr Dawson of Ardee, did you swear the truth?
A. I did. Q. You were once sworn not to give evidence? A. Yes, I never gave evidence on oath - only for the love and peace of my country - I did not expect to get any reward.
A. Do you expect to get any reward? A. I hear the common report through the country that rewards were offered. Q. Do you believe that report; were you determined not to take any reward? A. I did not swear that.
Q. If you had been offered One Thousand Pounds would you return any change out of it?
A. I believe if you were offered One Thousand Pounds yourself you would not return change out of it - but I never expected it.
Q. You are acquainted with Mr Fay, you are an intimate aquaintance of his? A. No.
Q. You went to the same school with him? A. No. Q. Were you in the army together?
A. No. Q. Had he dined at your house? A. No. Q. Were you not at the Brandy Shop together? A. Never. Q. Did you ever stand god-father for any of Mr Fay's children? A. I never did.
Q. How come he to know you were acting in the company of Defenders and was a Captain of the Defenders? A. I went to Navan to Mr Fay's house.
Q. Mr Fay is a merchant in the town of Navan? A. He was one.
Q. He was a rich man. A. I believe he was a man respected - I believe he was a great merchant at Navan. Q. He has a good many clerks to do his business? A. He carried on a very great trade.
Q. He has some kind of office? A. Yes.
Q. Was it not a market day you went to Fay's at Navan? A. It was.
Q. Was it not the business of his office to pay money and get receipts, and do business with different parts of the country? A. I suppose so.
Q. Was there a place for clerks to sit at the desk? A. There was.
Q. How many clerks were in the office? A. One. Q. Who was he? A. A young smooth faced fellow, he was in the office when I went there. Q. What time of day was it? A. About one o'clock at noon - it was market day in the town of Navan.
Q. You say there was nobody in the office but one clerk? A. No.
Q. Did you know these people at the bar at that time? A. I did, Sherlock and others.
Q. They took the oath of defenders? A. Yes. Q. Had you spoken to them all before ?
A. I knew them very well, they all came to Mr Fay's office, and Mr Fay desired the clerk to go out, and then the clerk said I am going to my dinner, and went away. This was at one o'clock.
Q. He dined early? A. Yes. Q. Had you the prayer book in your pocket? A.No Mr Fay had one.
Q. These people you knew as Defenders before they were brothers of defence?
A. They were sworn before, or they could not have the articles.
Q. How long had they been sworn before? A. This time twelve months - they must have been sworn, or they could not have had the articles - they were sworn about a year before they got the articles.
Q. Would not Mr Fay have taken a more private opportunity of swearing them, and not on a market day? A. On that day they were sworn before Mr Fay, on a market day - They were in his office sworn over again.
Q. Give me leave to ask you? A. You are welcome to ask me anyting. Q. I thank you.
A. You need not thank me, Sir, I am willing to answer you; you may thank your wife when she beats you.
Mr Curran: If the gentlemen on the part of the Crown would put an end to this scene, I wish to sit down.
Mr Attorney General: The prisoners at the bar have been indicted for this offence, it was my duty in justice to the public, and to themselves, to put the prisoners upon their tryal; I have done so, and the jury will determine whether the prisoners are guilty of the charges laid against them or not.
Question to Lynch.
Q. How many desks were in Mr Fay's office? A. There was one desk - I saw no more than one, it was not so long as this desk on this table. Q. Was there a fire in the office? A. There was no fire at that time, there was a grate but no fire in it.
Q. Was the grate large or small, was it like a kitchen grate? A. It was 20 or 22 inches wide as far as I could observe.
Q.Was there any brick work about it? A. I think so but I did not look so earnest at it.
Q. It was not so large as a kitchen grate? A. It was about a 22inch grate, at the end of the office next to this town.
Q. Did Mr Fay give any directions afterwards, or let you go about your business?
A. There was no particular directions given that day, there was a little money given -No other conversation.
Q. Was there any other conversation?
A. He bid me come to him at dusk at night. When we came at night, Mr Fay gave us one gun, one blunderbuss, and a pound and a half of powder.
Q. By your evidence, Mr Fay swore those ten men to be true brothers of defence, and gave you fire arms? A. Yes.
Q. Did you come in the evening? A. I did, and Mr Fay gave us a gun and a blunderbuss, and a pound and a half of gunpowder, the gun and the powder was given to me and the blunderbuss was given to Mullen.
Q. Where did he take you to give you these things? A. He came down into a green field; Mr Fay brought those arms out of his own house.
Q. Who brought them? A. Mr Fay brought them in his own hands, a gun a blunderbuss and a pound and a half of gunpowder - he brought one in each hand.
Q. Had he no pistol? A. Sheerin had a pistol, but Mr Fay did not bring the pistol.
Q. You received the powder? A. Yes, some of that powder the gun was loaded with that killed Mr Butler.
Q. How much money did Mr Fay give you at his office? A. Half a guinea a-piece.
Q. Was there any clerks in his office? A. No clerk but one, I did not observe any other.
Q. Did you ever go to school anywhere? A. No, I never did.
Q. If a man should perjure himself, what would be the consequence of it to him in the other world? A. It would be very bad, the whole world would know of it at the last day.
Q. Is that the consequence you think would follow? A. Why they say there is a hell.
Q. Who says so? A. The clergy.
Q. What do you think of hell? A. I do not know, barring of what I heard say.
Q. Is it a comical place? A. They say it is a very comical place.
Q. Did you never hear the wicked go there? A. I am not to judge anyone.
Q. Do you know who goes there? A. I am not a judge - I cannot judge any man.
Q. When you die do you think you will go anywhere except to be buried - what is your notions about it? A. Yes - my soul will go some place, I cannot tell where.
Q. Do you think your soul is buried with your body? A. They say not. They say that the soul goes to a place of residence, where God above would have it. God will do everything fit.
Q. Where do you live now? A. In a part of a building near the gaol - I see the prisoners out of the window.
Q. You have no bolts upon you? A. No. Q. Are you well fed? A. I get victuals.
Q. Do you get wine or punch to drink? A. No nothing but a small beer.
[The case on the part of the Prosecution closed]