Infamous tale of Colleen Bawn to be remembered in Limerick on 200th anniversary

Nick Rabbitts


Nick Rabbitts

NEXT year marks the 200th anniversary of one of the most heinous murders to have ever taken place in Limerick.

In the autumn of 1819, the country was shocked to the core at the murder of a beautiful 16-year-old Ellen Hanley, who would later become known as the Colleen Bawn.

She had been murdered at the insistence of her husband John Scanlan of Ballykehan House, near Bruff.

The incident – for which Scanlan was hanged – affected people across Limerick right down to the Shannon Estuary.

The young girl’s remains were dumped in the river, before she was washed up six weeks later at Moneypoint.

Now, former councillor and Croom community activist Patrick C Fitzgerald is bidding to bring communities across the county for a major Colleen Bawn festival in 2019.

“It’s one of the most renowned, significant noticed murders committed in Limerick’s history,” he said. “It’s developing into a major event. We are discussing with various communities in Clare, Limerick and down the Shannon Estuary areas. The idea is to have a continued festival of events in 2019.”

Mr Fitzgerald says there is still a huge hunger among the public to find out about the appalling events, as was evidenced at a recent book launch on the murder by Mr Fitzgerald’s namesake and great friend Patrick T Fitzgerald.

“This is an unending story that everyone wants to hear about. Whenever something new happens on it, there is a full house for publications, dramas, book launches,” he adds.

If Mr Fitzgerald’s plans get over the line, it would mirror events of 1973 when, as the newly installed chairman of Croom GAA Club, he came up with the idea of a festival to raise much needed funds for the team’s sporting field.

He said: “I came up with the idea of a festival, and the natural thing to do was call it the Colleen Bawn festival, because of the association with Manister and the hinterland of Limerick.”

The first Colleen Bawn festival took place over a fortnight, and attracted top bands from around the country.

Several Colleen Bawns were selected, and the winner received £100 and a holiday, the financial figure matching the sum Ellen Hanley took from her uncle when she eloped with Scanlan.

“This festival helped develop Croom GAA Club. Our field was one of the first to have floodlights erected – all thanks to the Colleen Bawn,” he smiled.

Mr Fitzgerald says the Colleen Bawn is “one of the most renowned murders” over the last 200 years, acknowledging this might be a “crude” way to look at things.

“We would hope to visit as many parishes and communities in the county as we can. Every community will have an interest in this,” he predicted.

“I cannot emphasise enough that this is a brand, it’s a world brand, and it’s a pity we have not capitalised on this. People in America are always intrigued by the Colleen Bawn,” the community activist concluded.