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James Lynchehaun.

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James Lynchehaun.

( c1760-1837 )

James Lynchehaun was educated by the monks at Bunacurry monastery in Achill Island, for a time he became a schoolteacher but was dismissed for falsifying the the roll in order to increase his salety.He then moved to Manchester, England where he joined the Metropolitan Police Force, eventually he returned to Ireland where he found employment as land agent for a Mrs MacDonnell owner of the Valley House Estate at a salary of £15 a year, he lived in a small cottage which was once a grocers shop.

The Valley House Estate was once part of the much larger holdings of the Earl of Cavan who built a hunting lodge there, it was purchased by Mrs Agnes MacDonnell, wife of barrister John Randal MacDonnell after the Earls death. Agnes MacDonnell is reputed to have been and eccentric and formidable woman,

Lynchehaun new found career was to last a mere three months before being dismissed by Mrs MacDonnell, the reason for his dismissal is not entirely clear, it may have been dishonest dealings, some time later Lynchehaun claimed that his actions were politically motivated and carried out on behalf of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, in order to force Mrs MacDonnell, an English landlady off the estate.

On the night of October 6, 1894 Mrs MacDonnell was in the house accompanied only by her dog Tip, the house was set alight, when Mrs MacDonnell appeared at the back door she was attacked and severely beaten by Lynchehaun who left her for dead, during the attack Mrs MacDonnell's nose was bitten off and she lost an eye.

Lynchehaun was soon arrested and held in Castlebar jail from where it was necessary to take him to Achill for court appearances, on one of these occasions he escaped in the vicinity of Mulranny near Achill Sound where his uncle lived. It appears he was taken to Achill by boat where despite the presence of 300 Royal Irish Constables searching the island, he remained undetected beneath the floorboards of a friends house. The government offered a £200 reward for his capture to which Mrs MacDonnell added a further £100, the financial inducement had the desired effect, Lynchehaun was captured this time he was imprisoned in Maryborough jail in the Irish midlands. Where he remained for a further seven years, the ever wily Lynchehaun managed to escape again clad only in his underclothes.

Exactly how he he managed to get to America is not known but he turned up 82 days later in Chicago where the American authorities took him into custody, meanwhile their counterparts in England started extradition procedures, which despite going to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful. He was to remain in America for some considerable time, enjoying a degree of popularity among some of the Irish community, this began to wane when he met Michael Davitt who refused to shake his hand saying "I will not shake the hand of a murderer".

Disguised as a tourist Lynchehaun returned to Achill in 1907 and again in 1918 when he was arrested and deported. He is said to have died in 1937 in Girvan Scotland he would have been about 77 years old.

James Lynchehaun's exploits despicable as most of them were are remembered in literature and song, J. M. Synge's play "The Playboy of the Western World" largely bases the main character Christy Mahon, on Lynchehaun. James Carney's book, "The Playboy and the Yellow Lady" was published in 1986, this book deals with the case in great detail. Many ballad of the day both in America and Ireland were written about James Lynchehaun and his association with Mrs MacDonnell and Valley House.

Agnes MacDonnell survived her terrible ordeal although disfigured for life, she rebuilt Valley House in 1902 and lived there until her death in 1923. The house remained the property of the MacDonnell's until 1942 when it was sold to the Gallagher family by Leslie Elliot MacDonnell, Agnes MacDonnell's son.

The story of James Lynchehaun and the Valley House Estate are told in great detail on on the web site of the present Valley House Estate.

In 1998, the film "Love and Rage" was made it is based on the story of Agnes and Lynchehaun, it was filmed on Achill Isalnd and The Valley House, it stars Daniel Craig and Greta Scacchi, click here to see the trailer.

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