Limerick Chronicle files: Women’s curse paralyses man in front of packed courtroom

Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian

Reporter:

Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian

Email:

sharon.slater@limerickleader.ie

The old courthouse on Bridge Street, where the trial of the Collins brothers took place

The old courthouse on Bridge Street, where the trial of the Collins brothers took place

WHEN the Limerick City Petty Sessions sat on May 15, 1868 at the city courthouse, those in attendance could not anticipate the dramatic events that were to unfold in the court.

On trial were two brothers, John and Michael Collins, Michael Street who were charged with assault. The victim was their brother-in-law, a young man named Michael Roche who had married Bridget Collins in 1865. The brothers claim was that Roche had “been constantly ill-treating his wife Bridget, had been beating her, when the accused, her brothers, who were supporting her and her children, owing to the drunken brutality of her husband”.

The brothers attacked Roche, one of them striking him with a poker on the head and cutting him. As the case drew to a close John Collins was freed without charge while Michael Collins was fined 10 shillings.

Family member of all of those involved in the trial were in the court these included, the mother of the Collins brothers and Roche’s elderly father. The Chronicle of May 16, 1868 picks up the story.

“On yesterday, a very strange occurrence took place at the city court-house during the hearing of cases at Petty Sessions, and for a few minutes interrupted the business of the Court.

It appears that in the case of the tobacco spinner who charged his brothers-in-law, named Collins, with assaulting him dangerously, his father, who attended as a witness on his behalf, occupied a seat in the court, and beside him sat the mother of the accused, who kept up a tirade of abuse on the nervous old man, in which she charged him with preventing his son from supporting her daughter (his wife), and as they were leaving court she continued to indulge in her abuse, irritated at the conviction of one of her sons, accusing the old man as being the cause of the disturbance, when suddenly she threw herself on her knees, and invoking the curse of the Deity upon the old man, who frightened at her curses, was running out, she prayed that he might be paralysed before he left the court.

The nervousness of the old man at the woman’s imprecations became the more excited, and just as he passed the door of the court into the hall, his mouth was seen to twist into a horrible shape, his eyes became fixed, his frame to shudder, and he fell on the ground in a paralytic fit.

A number of old women seeing him fall, became alarmed, and believed that it was the curse of Mrs Collins, which brought about the fit, called on her to spit on the man in order to wipe off the curse which she refused, and they actually importuned several policemen to compel her to perform the operation, they believing that it would restore him to his former state.

The poor man was taken up, and conveyed to the dispensary at George’s Quay, where he was attended by Dr McMahon, who pronounced the case to be one of dangerous paralysis of the left side, which became quite rigid, and he ordered him to be taken to the workhouse hospital. Previous to removal, he vomited freely, which was pronounced to be a favourable symptom, but since his removal to the workhouse hospital the man remains in a dangerous state.

Since this occurrence the old woman Collins is looked upon in the Irishtown with superstitious fear, the cronies there both old and young, believing her to be possessed and they would give her many a treat, in order to keep her tongue from playing upon her fears.”

The elderly Roche was taken first to Barrington’s Hospital and then to the workhouse on the Shelbourne Road to convalesce. It is not known if Mrs Collins ever lifted her curse.