A Murder at Birr Barracks, by Stephen Callaghan

 

Birr Barracks was constructed by Bernard Mullins between 1809-1812, during the height of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in Europe. The Barracks saw various regiments of the British Army stationed there. The Barracks was burned to the ground in July 1922 by North Tipperary Brigade, IRA. In 110 years of existence there were many notable, interesting events and scandals, one of the more macabre events was the murder of Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers by Private George Jubee, this is their story.

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Entrance to Birr Barracks. (Photo by Stephen Callaghan)

In 1840 the 5th Fusiliers took up quarters in Birr Barracks having moved from Galway. The 5th Fusiliers were a historic British Fusilier regiment which was raised in 1674. The term fusilier is used to describe a soldier carrying a light musket known in French as a fusil.

fifth foot watercolour Image taken from A Short Narrative of the Fifth Regiment of Foot. London 1873
Fifth Foot watercolour image taken from A Short Narrative of the Fifth Regiment of Foot (London, 1873)

On 11 August 1843 at around 4:30pm Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers was drilling his men on the parade ground. An Adjutant was a senior officer responsible for administration and discipline in a battalion or regiment. Private George Jubee asked could he be excused. He was granted leave and preceded to a nearby quarry where he drew a cartridge from his ammunition pouch and loaded his musket. Upon his return he stood within several feet of Adjutant Mackay and shot him. Private Jubee immediately gave himself up and said “I give myself up, I don’t want to run”. Mackay’s dying words were reportedly “see home the men”.

Mackay had been a career soldier, born in 1806 in Farr, Sutherland, Scotland. He was married to Margaret Coutts and had five children. Margaret was pregnant at the time of the shooting and gave birth on 27 February 1844. The child was named Robertson presumably in memory of his father. Adjutant Mackay was interred in St. Brendan’s, Birr on 13 August 1843, the ceremony being performed by Reverend Marcus McCausland.

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Mackay box tomb in St Brendan’s cemetery, Birr.  (Photo by Stephen Callaghan)

The motive for the shooting was due to the excessive drilling and heavy marching orders Adjutant Mackay had put the men through. It was noted that Jubee had said that he might as well be hung as killed by drill. He was handed over to the police and brought to Tullamore. During his trial other men agreed to the severity of Mackay’s drilling. Jubee was found to be sane and witnesses stated he was of good character, the only words he said in his defence during his trial was “drill was the cause”. It is interesting to note there had been a previous inquest to the sudden death of a soldier in Birr Barracks, the jury had found that this soldier had died from ‘excessive drill’. The jury found in the case of Robertson Mackay ‘that the majority of the men of the said regiment, are both murmuring at and suffering from the drills and parades which they have daily to undergo’. It is hard to imagine what this daily drilling and parading would do to someone and no doubt this would be aggravated by extremes in weather. Jubee was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

Robert Goodbody of Tullamore befriended Jubee, being sympathetic to his case. Robert was a member of the Grand Jury and was on the Board of Superintendence for the gaol and a goal visitor. Along with others he tried to have Jubee’s sentence reduced by his efforts ultimately failed. Robert even offered to walk with Jubee to the scaffolding and be with him while the sentence was carried out.

From his cell Jubee wrote several letters, some of which were published. His sentence was carried out on 10 April 1844 at Tullamore gaol. Presumably he would have been buried in the gaol in comparison to the lavish box tomb afforded to Robertson Mackay.

The following is from the Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser on 13 April 1844.

‘DEAR FRIEND – I now take the pleasure of returning

you thanks for the use of this book. I found great plea-

sure in the reading of it, so therefore I think it my duty

to return you sincere thanks for the use of it so long. I

must give up all earthly joys, and bid adieu to this sinful

world, which I hope to obtain a better one in the next-

I hope that in some favourable hour

At once he’ll grant me my request,

And in his love’s constraining power

Unloose my sins and give me rest

Dear Friend, I now conclude in bidding you farewell

Farewell                                              GEORGE JUBEE

Tullamore Gaol, April 10, 1844.’

Finally another letter written by Jubee to the Colonel of the 5th Fusiliers appeared in the Drogheda Conservative Journal after his execution on 20 April 1844:

DEAR COLONEL – I am now about to send these last fare-

well lines, as I must shortly bid adieu to the things of this

world, but, with the glorious hope of obtaining a better.

I know it is am honourable thing to serve under our gra

cious Queen – God bless her – but I would not part with the

peace of mind I now feel for your honourable post.

I write this in my condemned cell, and feel very sorry

for bringing disgrace on the religion I profess, and also

on the Regiment. I was living without God in the world

yet, I bore a good character in the eyes of man – I fear

there are many living the same way

I have no one to blame for this but myself. I send

you these few lines to let you know there was no conspiracy

in the sinful act which I have committed before God and

man.

I request you will read this to my comrades, if you

think it, and let them all take warning by my sad end;

for, if they live without God in the world, so surely will

they die without him, and that – oh, then, what will be-

come of them!

I cannot feel too thankful to my God, who has drawn

my soul from the pits of darkness, and brought me into his

marvellous light. Yes, blessed for ever – blessed be his

holy name, he has showed me the way of salvation, and has

made me to feel the blood of Christ cleanseth from all

sin.

Adieu- adieu, all earthly things,

Oh! that I ha an angel’s wings,

I’d quickly se my God.

May the Lord bless, preserve, and keep you, in all your

ways, and may be grant you his Holy Sprit for Christ’s

sake, is the prayer of

GEORGE JUBEE

To Colonel Sutherland, 5th Fusiliers.

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