Tilting at Windmills

by Paschal Marry


"Tilting at windmills‟ is a idiom whose popularity has waned over the past decades. It means attacking imaginary enemies, or fighting unwinnable or futile battles. It originates from the famous character Don Quixote de la Mancha, created by Miguel de Cervantes, who in his insane mind believes that windmills are giants. In the novel (Don Quixote) the hero believes that he can win a Joust or a Tilt against this imaginary nemesis. Even with the strong advice from his squire Sancho Panza not to fight, Don Quixote attacks the windmill fearlessly. Needless to say our hero is unsuccessful, however he is somewhat satisfied that he has taken on the task.

My "tilt" is my aversion to the new technology that is invading our wonderful world of books. And I seek your support by highlighting the value of two books that will be of interest to Meath readers. The first is entitled The Dublin Region in the Middle Ages by Margaret Murphy and Michael Potterton published by Four Courts Press in 2010. The second is Gallows Speeches from Eighteenth Century Ireland by James Kelly also published by Four Courts Press. Below are reproduced six speeches from the gallows by Meathmen condemned to die.

Without giving them too much publicity, the new technology that threatens the future of the book as we know it are palm computer like devices that store thousands of books. For the size of a small magazine you can carry with you a formidable library. These devices will probably replace bookshops and even online shops in the near future. Look what the iPod has done to the music industry. My hypothesis as a passionate book worm is simply this, reading a book is much more than just absorption of words. For me, it is the whole experience, the print, the smell, the construction of the book, the wonderful graphics, and the whole aesthesis of quality. If technology races on we will lose these wonderful attributes and find ourselves as homogeneous readers of machines. Try to imagine a world without books, even the book you now hold could be paperless in a short period of time.

In the subject area of history today, small publishing houses are creating short run copies of wonderful books. It is amazing that most, if not all, will never be reproduced, basically, when they are gone, they are gone. They are generally the work of academics and historians who have a passion for precise subjects and in the future when we wish to use hard copies of these publications for research or pleasure they may be impossible to find. For example, try purchasing a second hand copy of Walter Horn‟s The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael published in 1990 or Trees of Ireland published in 1996 by Charles Nelson and Wendy Walsh. These books were only published twenty one years and fifteen years ago respectively and now fetch ten to twenty times their original value second hand.

For the present I wish to focus on two books that support by argument or "tilt‟. Both are of Navan interest.

The title The Dublin Region in the Middle Ages is slightly misleading as the book concentrates on mainly Meath and Kildare and it is extremely informative about Navan and its districts in the Middle Ages. It is a large format book and on the reverse side of the dust jacket there is an aerial view of Danestown Fort in Kentstown. Internally, this book is wonderfully produced, the photography is magnificent. There are wonderful photos of Athlumney Castle and the attention to detail can only be appreciated by physically handling a tangible copy of this book. I recommend it to anybody who has the vaguest interest in old tower houses, their location, their uses, who built them, who lived in them, the society, the culture. It is here in one package, a package that could not be reproduced electronically.

Gallows Speeches from Eighteenth Century Ireland, although only nine years old, is currently out of print (however, some copies may be sought by scouring the internet) and will probably not be reprinted. It is a very precise work, detailing the speeches of criminals in the late 17th and early 18th century as they approach the gallows. The research by the author for this book was extensive as the narratives cover over a hundred individuals. Once again this book is presented with the highest quality of production with a very distinctive dust jacket. My argument here is quite simple, in a short period of time this book will be unattainable, similar to the two books above and it is unlikely that it will ever reach the computer book because of its specialist content. In anticipation that I have whetted your appetite the author and publishers have very kindly allowed me reproduce the account of six individuals who were born in Co. Meath, some in Navan and its surrounding district.


The last speech and dying words of Thomas Renals who was executed at Kilmainham on Wednesday the 17th 1712.

Good Christians

This is the General Method of Persons under the sentence of Death, to satisfe (sic) the World by making a formal Speech at the Place of Execution, therefore I Tomas Renals do think it Requisite to inform every Body of the Truth of my Present unhappiness, and what fatal Consequences brought me to this untimely End.

I was born within a mile of Navan, in the County of Meath, of Mean but Honest parents, and might have advances my self in the World on better Grounds than Villany, had not Seducements of Vicious Company perverted my Youthful Intentions, for in my Infancy I was educated a Roman Catholik but falling of from Vertue, I forsook Religion, and run into all manner of Intemperance. I am bout 26 Years of Age.

Now as touching the Fact for which I am to Dye is for Robbing of Mr. James Rickerson of one hundred pound in plate, and a parcel of Linnen and Several other Goods, which fact I confess myself to be Guilty, and Guilty of Robbing of Mr. Robert Bulger of Nineteen Pounds in Money, and likewise I Robbed his maid of her Money and I do herby confess, that I am Guilty of several other Robberies, but I do herby declare as I am a Dying-man I never murdered any Body, and I listed in the Honourable Colonel Creaton's Regiment of Foot in Captain Maleeds Company, and served 7 months, this is all I have to say, and Desire the Prayers of all good Christians at my Departure. I Dye a Roman Catholick. This is my True Speech and no other.

Thomas Renals


The last speech and dying words of Peter Dalton who was executed at Kilmainham on Saturday the 23th August 1712.

Good Christians,

I Peter Dalton was born in the County of Meath in the Parish of Kilkarn near Navan, descended of Honest Parents out of the Country of West Meath, and was but 12 Years of Age when my father Dyed, and by the loss of my Father my Mother being a Widow, and having several more Children, she was reduced and the Children were Separated; whereupon I went to Dublin, and Bound myself to one Mr. Crowler a Brewer, where I did live in Spleneder and Request, until I was fit to Marry, and being married in a short time after, I came in Credit and took a House and Sold Ale, given to Ill Vice during that time, and kept Selling of Ale four years, and got the Handing of other People‟s money, I took Frolicks of Drinking, and Spending in all Sorts of Company, till I run myself in Debt, and was forced to quit selling of Drink, my Wife and I were forced to Separate out of this City, and found Friends in the Country very Cold.

I got into a Gentleman's Service in the Country to one Captain Netterfield, and out of his Service, became Servant to Captain Wade my Prosecutor, and lived with him about Three Months, and during that time I suffered great Hardships, which I complained to Alderman Quinn, who ordered me to quit his Service, the said Wade being displeased at my Parting, he threatened to put me in the Bridewell, the Alderman fearing I should be sent to Bridewell, He ordered I should go Home and Serve my Time to Wade. I did accordingly, and while I was serving him after I had worse Usage then I had before, and I told, I wou'd not serve him any longer, and said I wou'd chuse to suffer his displeasure than serve him, this happened a Year and a half a ago, and I parted with him before my time was Expir'd a Fortnight, this is well known by several in City and Country, then came to Serve Captain Warren of Corduff, lived with him Three quarters of a Year in Credit, being given to Drink I affronted my Master several time, his Honour seeing my failing, he has taken the Affronts with great Patience, very Honourably, I being always waiting of his honour to Town was troubled with so many Persons craving Debt of me, that I asham'd, so that I quitted his Service by his Consent, and Honourably paid me, and more than my wages, and gave me a Favourable Discharge.

Soon after Discharging me, I came to my last misfortunes, which brought me this my shameful End, meeting one William Warren and one James Dalton, about five months ago the said Dalton lately came out of England, I being glad to see him, being long out of this Kingdom, told he was bare of Money, he knowing the said Warren in London, the said Dalton demanded of me if I knew him. I told him I did, then we concluded to take a Pot of Ale, and we all complained the want of Money, Warren sends one abroad, and got as Much Money as paid the Reckoning, and said it was a pitty so many free Lads should want Money, and the rest said the same, but Warren said which way shall we come by it.

The said Warren knowing I lived with an able man meaning Wade, asked of me if any Money was to be got in his House, I told him I could not well tell, he said I know the House and no body dewls there, and let attack it this Night and see what we get. I think it is no Sin to take from him or from such Misers, then we did attack the House, and took Several sorts of goods away, and divided them even, and then parted one from the other, where they Disposed of their shares.

I do not know, but what I had discovered it, and directed Wade to find them, which was the only Material Evidence he has against me on Tryal, and for the same was Convicted, that the said Warren took a Bed and two looking glasses to one Mulloy‟s House in Thomas Court, and borrowed Eight Shillings from the Landlady, being late he went out to find a broker too buy them, he came in and brought one to buy the said Goods, but could not sell them, and told the Land Lady that the said Goods belonged to me and came out of the Country, and I telling to the contrary, caused suspicion that the Goods was unlawfully got, so that I was immediately Secured, and brought me before Alderman Page, and was Committed on Suspicion, and He ordered the Prosecutors to put the said goods in the Gazette, Wade soon came to town and heard the same and Straight came to me, and I directed him as aforesaid by his promising me before Witness he would not harm me, only to tell where the goods were, after receiving Sentence, I have prevailed with Judge Nutley, that his Honour gave me a Favourable report, whereby I got Order of Transportation which I have by me, and the said Wade has prevailed with the Government to revoke the said Order of Transportation, and such Orders are given that I should Suffer the 23rd Instant.

I was 30 Years of Age last June, This is my last and true Speech, the said Wade Informed the Government If I should Escape Death, I wou'd let the Inns on Fire for Spite to his House that is there, as I am a Dying Man I never thought of any such thing, I desire the Prayers of all good Christians. I Dye a Roman Catholick, and the Lord have Mercy on my Soul.

This is the true SPEECH, Peter Dalton


The SPEECH OF William Ledwidge

Good Christians,

I William Ledwidge Son of Thomas Ledwidge, I was born at Tara Hill in the County of Meath, of Poor but honest Parents, and an about 18 Years of Age, I came to this City about Eleven Years ago, got my Living by Cleaning of Shoes and going on Arrants, until I got acquaintance with Pick-Pockets and Thieves, and followed the same but was never brought to Justice until now, I own I Robbed Mr Cooke of his Plate, though I got but thirty Shillings of the Money and for which fact I own my self Guilty, I Dye a Roman Catholick, and the Lord have Mercy on my Soul. Amen

This is my true SPEECH, and no Other.

William Ledwidge


The SPEECH OF Philip Malone

I Philip a Toush (alias Malone)was born in the county of Meath, of poor but very honest Parents, who put me Aprentice to a Slator by Trade, but not answering my expectation, went and Stole some Cows, from one Mr. John Brannan, in Church Street, and was Try'd and cleare'd for the same; and after I went and Stole a Trunk out of a house in Smith-field, wherein was 28 pounds Sterl, the latter in the Fact for which I suffer, I Dye a Roman Catholick and am about 26 Years of Age, and Lord have mercy on my soul. Amen.


The SPEECH of John Fitz-Simmons

Good Christians,

I John Fitz-Simmons was Born in the County of Meath, within seven miles of Drogheda of Poor Parents, but honest, they never gave me any Education, but brought me up to hard Labour, till at last I went as a servant to Mr. Marvin; who gave me some Money to buy Cattle, which Money I Embezzeled, and for fear of incurring my Masters displeasure, or loosing my Place, and knew not how to raise this Money again. I set me down to consider what I had best for to do, the Devil prompt me to stael a Horse and so I did, and sold the same to a Pinn-maker, which Fact I owm I am Guilty.

I Dye a Roman Catholick and the Lord have Mercy on my Soul.

This is the true SPEECH, and no Other. John Fitz-Simmons


The last speech of Darby McCormock

Good Christians,

I was born in the County of Meath of very Creditable Parents, who gave me good Education, and afterwards sent me to a trade, a Silk Weaver, and these served my Prenticeship, and set up myself a considerable Time; unfortunately meeting Idle and bad Company which has brought me to this End. I have bin guilty of some; and several other Corporable Crimes in my Life, Elleson is the Man that Swore away my Life. I ask forgiveness of all the World, begging all your Earnest Prayers to God for me. I am about 30 years of Age and dye a Roman Catholick, and the Lord have Mercy upon my poor Soul, Amen

Darby McCormock


I present these six extracts as they were written in the early part of the 18th century and as each individual paid the ultimate price for his crime it is not for the author to comment further but for the reader to formulate his/her own conclusion.

I express my thanks to James Kelly, author of Gallows Speeches, and to Anthony Tierney of Four Courts Press for their kind permission for the use of the books in question . I conclude by once again encouraging you to buy books, enjoy books, love books.