How did the word `Shinroneism` enter the lexicon? A story of police corruption in Shinrone in the 1840s and a poem from Birr poet John de Jean Frazer. By Pádraig Turley

While reading the poems of the Birr poet John de Jean Frazer recently  I came across this satirical poem `The Gallant Police of Shinrone` which raised my curiosity levels a bit. You can read more about the Birr-born poet in a article issued on OffalyHistoryblog on 23 March to mark the 170th anniversary of the death of Frazer.

The following is the text of the poem:

THE GALLANT POLICE OF SHINRONE

Air- `The Widow Malone.`

Oh! The gallant police of Shinrone!

`Tis they have a knack of their own,

        To find beyond doubt,

         The Ribbonmen out!

Oh! They are the props of the throne,

                                                   Alone,

The gallant police of Shinrone`!

There`s Parker:- who set, like a hone,

An edge that would cut through a stone,

       On the prowling back guards,

       That hid in the yards,

And the turf clamps the arms first shown,

                                               And known,

To the gallant police of Shinrone`

`Tis he was no negligent drown-

For a bright silver sword-all his own-

       For a something he got`

       But the Lord knows for what`

Oh! The truth was too black to be shown,

                                                 Or known,

Of the gallant police of Shinrone.`

But sure often he lay, like a stone,

Till the marrow grew ice on the bone,

       Where his underling, White,

       Had arranger a snug fight,

That the `parties` took leave to postpone,

                                               Unknown,

To the gallant police of Shinrone!

And neatly the gunseed was sown,

When the pistols he bade to be thrown,

       Where he`d find them himself

       And, tho` White got the pelf,*

Yet he would seem sinew and bone,

                                                        In loan,

To the gallant police of Shinrone.

And Brophy-oh! Let him alone,

For choosing a good knuckle bone`

       He taught White- the fool,

       Who once taught a school,

An alphabet that would be known

                                                      To none

But the gallant police of Shinrone!

And when the false writings were strown,

But found insufficient alone,

       `Twas Brophy suborned

        The witness, who scorned

To swear away life- tho` his own

                                                     Were thrown

To the gallant police of Shinrone!

And he pays with full many a groan,

The noble resolve he has shown

       But who will dare sneeze

       At bright sword-or bright V`s,

That Parker and Brophy alone

                                                Will own,

Of the gallant police of Shinrone`

Alas that we now should bemoan

Their villainous plots overthrown!

       That the people should know

       Their deadliest foe,

And the deadliest foe of the throne,

                                                 Is shown,

In the gallant police of Shinrone!

                                J, DE JEAN

*Bribe.

Published in Freeman Journal 14/10/1844

Also The Boston Pilot, Vol VII, no,49, 30th November 1844. The Boston Pilot was a Catholic newspaper first published September 5th 1829.

The courthouse in Shinrone

What had inspired John de Jean Frazer to compose this poem? Who were these guys? Parker, White and Brophy? A little research unearths a tale of police corruption of the utmost seriousness. You mention it and it was to be found in the Shinrone police of the 1840s, dishonesty, double-dealing, misconduct, bribery,  venality and downright extortion. Of such gravity that the word `Shinroneism` became synonymous with the subterfuge and espionage used by the Irish Constabulary of that time.

 The Irish Constabulary had been reconstituted in 1836 and would remain so until 1867 when they became the Royal Irish Constabulary (Constáblacht Ríoga na hÉireann). In 1841it was a force of about 8,600 men.

Shinrone during an OH Tour in July 2001.

They were quite lowly paid and lacked proper training. They were required to perform duties outside of what one would expect from normal policing. For example they were involved in combatting the Tithe War and the Young Ireland rebellion. They did not receive any instructions in detective work until 1847. They were in a most invidious position, as they were not very popular with the general public, and of course at that time they were investigating agrarian outrages and secret societies. Needless to add they were confronted with a wall of silence, for it would have taken a very brave or indeed foolish person to give assistance to the police involved in such investigations.

Confronted with this situation it is understandable that they would set up a spy system. However, this system was fuelled by folk seeking financial gain, who were willing to take the chance of becoming informers. As one can readily imagine stool pigeons and collaborators were very likely to meet an early grave if discovered. Allied to this we have lowly paid policemen seeking to advance their police careers, and in some cases line their pockets. All these ingredients are present in the story behind John de Jean Frazer`s poem.

Who were the dramatis personae referenced in his poem? Parker was one Sub-Inspector Thomas Parker, a protestant from Oakhampton near Newport, North Tipperary, aged 26 years when he joined the force in 1842. He was awarded an ornamental sword 29th June 1843, by the Lord Deputy Earl De Grey, this is referenced in the penultimate verse of the poem. The Kerry Evening Post reported 16th November 1844 that Parker died of typhus 15th November 1844 in Carrick on Shannon, which was the date of his dismissal form the force. Might have been a suicide.

The one-inch map of Shinrone and district c. 1900

White, was one Martin White, a former teacher and informer who had some connection with Ribbonmen (Ribbonism also called ribandism) was the Irish secret society set up in the late 18th century to oppose the Orange Societies or Protestant Societies. It was at its height in the 1830/1840s, gradually declining until it was declared illegal in 1871).   

Brophy was a Police constable who was in charge of the sub-station at Cooraclavin.

At the heart of the skulduggery here was the police conspiracy to convict one Thomas McLoughlin of being a Ribbonman, and of swearing others into the Ribbon movement. On conviction he would in all likelihood be transported. The plot began to unravel due to the police gilding the lily too much.

Next we meet Revd Nolan, P.P. of Dunkerrin, who was approached by a parishioner named Ryan. Mr Ryan had found a parcel of ribbon papers tied up with a Catholic prayer book, hidden under a bed in his house. Revd Nolan exposed this occurrence from the pulpit, to his congregation. He offered a reward for the discovery of the party, who had planted this `evidence` in Ryan`s house.

When this news spread around, it seems a little conscience may have raised its head, or more likely the fear of the scheme being exposed, led one Shinrone resident, a Frederick Revington to act.  He wrote to the Inspector of Constabulary thus: ‘On the night of Saturday the 23rd September, 1843, as I was on my way to the wake of a person in this town, I was accosted in the street by Constable Ogle, stationed here; who after asking me where I was going, I replied to the wake of Michael Keary; he then said that I could do there what he wanted to have done, and that he would give me copies of ribbon documents that were found in the pocket of a man the name of McLoughlin, who was then in jail for trial, and that I would put the said copies into the pockets of Denis, Delaney, jun., John Lawler, and James Meehan, and either of the said Meehan’s brothers; and that he would have these men apprehended and prosecuted, by which means he would get about £20 from government. I declined to have any thing to do with the transaction, and proceeded to the wake. I beg leave further to state that I would have made you acquainted with the occurrence at the time it happened, but that I was advised by Constable Lyndon, at Sharavogue, not to do so, as it would put a stop to the prosecution of McLoughlin, and would also dismiss Constable John Ogle.`

This Frederick Revington was believed to be an Orangeman or at least a member of a Brunswick Club, as the Orange order and the Catholic Association had been supressed by the Unlawful Societies Act of 1815. He was believed to be on close terms with the police.

At that time Tomas McLoughlin was in Tullamore jail, awaiting his trial, on a charge of having ribbon papers in his possession. However, the disclosures made by Revington created serious doubts for the State, with the result they did not proceed with the trial.

As can be expected this created a furore, and demands led by the Tipperary Vindicator for an enquiry into the matter. This was reluctantly granted, and on 29th April 1844 an enquiry commenced in Shinrone Court before Henry Martley, Esq., Q.C. and a bench of Magistrates.

Strangely, Frederick Revington was not available to give evidence, he had conveniently `gone off to America`. This resulted in the charges made in his letter not being substantiated.

However, and indeed surprisingly, Sub-inspector Parker admitted, that after the charge had been made by Revington, Constable Lyndon had reported the facts to him, and that he allowed Lyndon to withdraw the report.  

Earlier Constable Richard Lyndon had stated ` The explanation to the charges preferred by Revington against Constable John Ogle of Shinrone, I have to state that I never held any conversation with Revington on the subject of Ogle and some ribbon papers, but took no further notice of it as I did not believe any policeman would be guilty of such conduct; he never spoke to me of a wake or making a report against Ogle, nor I never prevented him doing so.`

During this enquiry it was also proved by two witnesses, named George Johnston and John McDermott, that in the previous October, Constable John Ogle had, in their presence, under promise of a reward of £50 from the government and a free passage abroad, persuaded one Thomas Johnston to substantiate the information already sworn against McLoughlin, by swearing that McLoughlin had sworn him, Thomas Johnston, in as a ribbonman. Constable Ogle was indicted before Mr. Justice Crampton at the King`s County Assizes for unlawfully soliciting Thomas Johnson, unlawfully, wilfully, maliciously, and corruptly to commit wilful and corrupt perjury, by swearing that Thomas McLoughlin had sworn him in a ribbon man.

The result of this enquiry led to Constables John Ogle and Richard Lyndon being dismissed from the police force. Sup-inspector Parker was placed at the bottom of the list for his rank, and removed from his station.

The innocence of Thomas McLoughlin was established, and indeed he received compensation of £25 from the government for his loss and expenses.

The result of this enquiry did not satisfy the public. The area was rife with rumours of more acts of corruption, villainy, and felon setting.

These could no longer be ignored by the authorities when our friend Martin White was returned for trial, for employing one Nicholas Woods to put in the post-office in Castledelvin, a letter directed to one John Collins. Templemore, which contained a threatening letter, addressed to Lord Nugent; and also for fabricating ribbon papers found on the one Nicholas Woods. Martin White was convicted.

Yielding to pressure the Government set up a further enquiry. This enquiry opened in Dublin Castle on 23rd September 1844 before J.R. Corballis, Esq., Q.C. I feel certain that John de Jean Frazer attended this enquiry, which was held on the following terms:-

1st—That Sup-inspector Parker and Constable Brophy conspired, in October 1843, with Martin White, to have firearms placed in a wall at Widow Ryan`s haggard, in order that they might subsequently be found by Parker ostensibly.

2nd—That Parker having received information then that the arms were so placed, instead of ordering that they should be seized and brought to the station-house, directed Brophy to remove them, and conceal them in a clamp of turf.

3rd— That Parker having the next day seized the arms as planned, made a report on 22nd October, to the Inspector General, in which he supressed the above facts, but suggested that a reward of £5 should be given to the person who gave private information.

4th— That Parker and Brophy endeavoured to induce Martin White to bring an armed party to attack the house of Mr. Ben Armitage, or the Widow King; and that Constable Brophy gave White gunpowder to assist the outrage.

5th— That Brophy conspired with White to put a ribbon document on the person of one Thomas McLoughlin; Brophy having actually written the said document, and given it to White.

Martin White was the chief witness before the enquiry, an unscrupulous type who certainly reflected the biblical phrase `There is no honour among thieves` Proverbs 21:10-11

He was under sentence of transportation at the time, and may have hoped to have his sentence lifted by giving evidence to the enquiry. He had by his own admission planned outrages and fabricated ribbon crimes without number. Under oath he confirmed that he was known to Constable Brophy as a man ‘that gave information to the police’. He said that if he assisted in `getting up a case` against McLoughlin, Constable Brophy indicated he would in all likelihood get a pension from the government, especially taking into account his record of assisting the Crown. When they met up a week later, Brophy produced a document which would be used to incriminate McLoughlin. Constable Brophy gave him the document to take home and to copy in the handwriting of McLoughlin, whom Martin White had taught to write. The plan was now to plant the document on McLoughlin, which White undertook to do at a forthcoming card party. White met McLoughlin and arranged to play cards in the house of one Deegan. It turned out that White called to McLoughlin`s house in the meantime. McLoughlin`s wife having gone out, White took advantage of her absence, no one being in the house but himself, to plant the document in the lining of McLoughlin`s coat.

However, due to inclement weather the card game got deferred, and so the chance to get McLoughlin passed for the moment.

Nevertheless the police proceeded to arrest McLoughlin in his own house.

Martin White now tells the enquiry, that as he might be suspected of planting the papers on McLoughlin, so he felt it prudent to lie low and not be seen with Brophy for the moment.

Brophy advised White to summon all who accused him, which he did and issued writs for defamation at the next petty sessions.

Sup-Inspector Parker spoke to him at these sessions. Parker gave him £5 and asked him if he could find any person or persons who would swear that McLoughlin swore them into Ribbon system. At a later interview Parker told him he had a man named Jennings who would swear against McLoughlin. He then asked White if he ever saw McLoughlin write. White said he did as he had taught McLoughlin how to write. Parker then said he wanted White to swear the document was in McLoughlin`s handwriting, though reluctant he finally did swear the information against McLoughlin. He got £2 from Parker when he swore the information, he later got £5 for the arms that were found, and £1 for another matter dealing with a murder.

Next White gave evidence of a request from Parker to effectively set up a case. He asked White if he could `get up an armed party` for the purpose of making an attack, and was given £2 to get up an armed party. White was unsuccessful in getting up a party, as he failed to induce anyone to join. It is hard to imagine that his double dealing was not known to the Ribbon movement. Having failed to raise a party he bought two pistols in Roscrea with the £2.

The scheme here was to set up an attack on the home of a person loyal to the government, so that the police would be in a position to `surprise` the attacking party, capture them and claim the reward and of course enhance their career path. An interesting `victim` was the house of Widow King. She deemed a perfect `victim` as she had taken land from another tenant, thus making her a likely candidate for an attack by ribbonmen.

It appears that Parker was keen to have an attack on the house of one Ben Armitage, as such an attack would look well in the eyes of Dublin Castle, as it had been attacked before.

Martin White then testified that he met Parker the following week, he Parker indicated the type of attack that should be made. The door was to be broken and a few shots fired into the house, that Constables Ogle and Brophy were to be stationed near the house, before the attack was made. He testified that Ogle and Brophy were present when these arrangements were being outlined.

In the heal of the hunt, while White had assembled a party, including one William Connor, the attack did not take place as the attacking party heard rumours that White was suspected of betraying McLoughlin, so fearing that White was a stool pigeon who might want to betray them, the attack was aborted.

White then deposed the facts respecting the hiding of arms in Widow Ryans`s haggard. These arms had initially been intended to be planted in the house of one John Collins of Clarolohan, but White realized that Collins would recognise a blunderbuss, which it was intended to plant as Whites.

Martin White further deposed that on a previous occasion Constable Brophy had given him the ribbon documents and a Catholic prayer book and asked him to plant them on a man named Pat Kennedy. This scheme faltered and Parker instructed him to place the documents in the house of a man named Ryan. As mentioned earlier Ryan discovered these under a bed and brought them to the Parish Priest Rev. Nolan who blew the lid on it. In the course of the investigation Martin White made a number of admissions of `setting up` outrages and receiving payment from the police. The testimony of Martin White was corroborated by Constables Copeland, Burke and O`Dell who all confirmed that he had given information at the police barracks.

Sub-Inspector Parker denied all the evidence sworn against him, as indeed did Constable Brophy. However sometime after the public investigation closed, Frederick Revington, who had originally wrote the letter containing the charges against the police,  returned from America, and was examined privately by the Castle authorities.

The final result was the dismissal of Parker and Brophy from the police services.

The Tyrone Constitution of 22nd November 1844 reported `The Shinrone Investigation: We are authorized to state that direction was given on 13th inst. By His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant to the Inspector General of the Constabulary for the immediate dismissal from the force of Sub-Inspector Parker and Constable Brophy.“

Thomas Parker died the same day as he was dismissed, the cause of death given as typhus.

As one can see John de Jean Frazer was very much on the money with his satirical poem. Frazer from Birr, was very angry and railed against oppression and corruption during his short life.  He would sadly still be busy in this day and age.

Shinrone Offaly History Tour, with Noel McMahon, July 2001.

As Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa said ‘Everything must change for everything to remain the same.’ There is something especially dreadful when some police go offside. There are numerous instances in the recent past. A litany that includes Kerry Babies, Sallins train robbery, Birmingham Six, Guilford Four, the Morris Tribunal in Donegal, the current Black Lives matter movement. Who can forget Mark Fuhrman `having` to plead the 5th Amendment in the O.J. Simpson trial.  

For further reading on the Shinrone of the period I would recommend Dr Robert Hartigan`s fine piece ‘Good fences make good neighbours: fabricated and religious tension in pre-Famine Offaly’ which is in the Offaly Heritage, vol. 8, page 8.

Offaly History is currently involved in a project to re-publish the entire poems of John de Jean Frazer, with the object of making his work readily available to this generation of Offaly people.