The Cavan Priest was quick on the draw like Clint.

Stranger Things: A Priest with the reflexes of ‘Clint Eastwood’

Jonathan Smyth's latest Times Past column has a bit of Clint Eastwood about it. This Cavan priest was quick on the draw...

In the early days of March 1816, a Catholic priest was riding home on his horse in the ‘County of Cavan’, when a stranger also on horseback came up to him. On ‘entering’ conversation the stranger enquired where he might spend the night in the village they were approaching. Like two wanderers in the old American West, they rode into the village with the priest pointing out an establishment where the man could find a comfortable bed for the night. Content that the stranger had found a place, the priest rode on the dusty road leading to his own residence which was yet some distance away.

Taking in the silence of the night air, the horse trotted, the gentle breeze blowing on the priest’s face when the sound of hooves came into earshot as the stranger again caught up with him, informing the priest that he became very afraid and felt threatened in the village inn when he found it full of ‘Orangemen’. The priest remained calm, trying his best to persuade the wayfarer to go back as there was no reason for such apprehension but he refused to, preferring to go the road all night rather than brave the inn. The kindly priest accepted that his travelling companion was not about to turn back anytime soon and not wanting him the spend the night in the cold offered him a room at the presbytery and shelter for the man’s horse. The stranger accepted the offer.

Supper was provided at the priest’s before the stranger went to bed. Shortly, before the stranger had gone to his room, the priest’s man-servant had a look into the room but quickly departed it in fear, going to his master to tell him about a blunderbuss (gun) that the guest had hid under a blanket. The servant’s dislike of the man’s appearance and the priest’s concern over the gun caused them great alarm, fearing that the stranger’s intentions were bad. The shocked servant grabbed a pitchfork at the priest’s request and was told to remain awake. Meanwhile the priest took out his case of pistols and loaded each of them, then arranged his chair with a clear view of the kitchen door. As the quiet small hours passed, the priest sat reading to ‘beguile’ the time.

Stranger danger

Suddenly! In the dead of night … a creak sounded. The kitchen door slowly opened. The stranger stood, pointing his gun at the priest and demanded the priest’s money, or he’d kill him. The clergyman quietly asked him to put down the gun, in case it went off and he would show him the money.

The priest reached in his pocket and threw a handful of 10 pennies on the table, saying it was all he had. But the gunman refused to believe and demanded the rest of what he had come to take and, if he had not been given him a room that night, he would have broken in anyway.

See the desk in the corner of the room said the priest, placing his hand in his pocket he produced a key, which he dropped on the table. The ‘ruffian’ again threatened to kill the priest as he grabbed the key, dropping the gun on the table. But, as the robber turned towards the desk, the priest in an instant drew both pistols. Firing, he killed the robber on the spot. Then, the hall door burst open, and four more gang members appeared. The priest swung around grabbed the blunderbuss, killing two raiders instantly, and a got a third man who lay dying by a shot he’d fired from his reserve pistol. The fourth man was wounded by the pitchfork, driven into his back by the servant. Unluckily, noted the Belfast Newsletter on March 12, 1816, the pitchforked criminal escaped. Although we are not told who the priest was, or what part of Cavan he lived, we can be certain that nobody would again mess with the no-nonsense priest who could draw a gun with the same reflexes as Clint Eastwood might do in the movies.


On June 7, 1913, the Irish Independent reported, a ‘furniture van’ with a label reading: ‘from John Ferguson and Co., London, to Lord Farnham, Cavan … Midland Railway, Ireland’, arrived aboard a boat named the Kerry to the Dublin Docks and was taken in to one of the company’s transit sheds where it was promptly opened. The van contained 500 rifles. Lord Farnham, when asked about his ‘delivery’, said he ‘knew nothing about the matter’. The reporter believed that the Dublin Customs had been tipped-off by the Liverpool authorities even though on its arrival in Dublin, no police were present at the unloading. They only arrived ‘on the scene’ when the contents were discovered to be weapons. By nightfall, the police again vanished and beyond the usual constable there was no one else patrolling the area.

Lord Farnham’s van bore the marks ‘A9’, and the gun cases were marked ‘S and B’. They were of a magazine pattern, an obsolete make, and probably discarded weaponry from the Italian army’s battle in Tripoli. Another report thought the guns fully functional, well-oiled and ready for use, fitted with muzzle stoppers and ammunition cases. The consignment, it emerged, was intended for the Cavan UVF and was the second load to have been stopped within weeks; the Belfast Docks had earlier stopped a load of rifles.

The arms were detained by the authorities pending further investigation, which they expected to be linked to the Belfast consignment.


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