Monthly Archives: June 2018

Captain Weddall’s Bicycle: part 2

Off went Sean O’Longain down the road, with Captain Weddall looking after him, as if making sure that he was fit to cycle such fine bike. The wind was in his favour, blowing him all the way to Achill Sound, 10 Km away to catch the train, except when he got there the train had already gone.

Fazed less than he should have been, perhaps because of the captain’s shiny bicycle, at the prospect of cycling the 40 or so kilometres to Westport, where he reached before nightfall. He was greeted by his friend who told him that he was invited to give a talk at a branch of the Gaelic League at Irishtown, a further 50 km from Westport. They left the next morning arriving in time for the Gaelic League concert, which lasted into the early hours. Sean O’Longain bit farewell to his friends and set off the long and arduous journey home.

He had the company of one of his friends to Westport, which he welcomed as the night was dark and misty. All went well until a turn in the road where the two bicycles collided and the young teacher hit the stone wall. Luckily he was not injured but the captain’s bike was buckled and a peddle missing.

What a sudden change of scene and mind came upon me would be better imagined than described, I thought of the beautiful silvery, neat and glittering bike which I got from the Russian [he was English] captain two days previous and the strict obligations and conditions which he imposed upon me regarding its care and use. What a contrast! It was a different article, bent, broken and covered by the slush of the road.

He didn’t know what he was going to tell the captain. He and his companion managed to transport the wreck of a bike between somehow dragging and pulling the it along the road until they reached the train station at Claremorris. At Westport he bid farewell to his friend and made the rest of the journey to Achill alone with his thoughts. When he reached Achill Sound the last stop on the line:

On arriving at Achill Sound I took the disabled bike off the train and waited in the little village until nightfall, as I didn’t wish that anybody would notice the state of my machine. I had over ten miles to wald to my destination. I trudged along in downcast depression that weary journey, deeply absorbed in gloomy thoughts of foreboding trouble.

When he eventually arrived at his lodgings well after midnight, he slowly slunk into bed. He fell into a dreamless sleep meditating on how he would face the formidable captain having to explain the bike wreckage the next day…

Connaught Telegraph 1830-current, 19.05.1956, page 4

Captain Weddall’s Bicycle

In 1908 Sean O’Longain was a traveling teacher, who lived on Achill in the early twentieth century. He lodged at Pollagh, not too far from Emily Weddall and her husband the captain. He was introduced to them by his landlady Mrs. Fadden. Sean O’Longain, like many others though that Captain Weddall was Russian, he was in fact an Englishman, Yorkshire born and bred. It was also common knowledge that the couple had a ample income from Russia too. So when the young teacher wanted to borrow the sea captain’s bicycle to travel to a Gaelic League event in Westport some forty miles away he met the prospect of asking him with much trepidation.

Captain Weddall struck an imposing figure. He was large tall and “not very communicative” as Sean O’Longain put it. The though of approaching him to borrow the bike was too much for him so he approached his wife, Emily.

“I went directly to the captain’s wife, Mrs. Weddall, told her my story of how obligatory it was for me to meet the Gaelic League organiser and that I would be exceedingly grateful to her if she’d kindly ask the captain to loan me his bike as far as Achill Sound, that I could catch the train there to Westport.”

Emily did not make any promises that her husband would lend him the bike but she would certainly try to persuade him to do so as it was for the cause of the Gaelic League, the organisation closet to her heart. He kept everything he owned in ‘shipshape’ a habit he never lost, from the years he spent at sea. She disappeared into her house and returned a while later with a pleased smile on her face. The captain would lend him his bike. She motioned for him to follow her husband.

“Come with me.” said the captain. He then took me to the tool house, where the bike was locked and neatly kept, took the large moleskin cover off and it shined like a piece of silver fresh from the mint.”

Now said the Russian captain I’m giving you the loan of this bike on conditions that you take special car of it; do not let it out of you r possession until you return it to me in the same condition as you are getting it.”

“Very well captain” said I, “thank you.”

On the shiny new bike the school teacher began his journey…

Connaught Telegraph 1830-current, 19.05.1956, page 4



In June 1908 Captain Weddall had a stoke and died. He was only 62. At the age of just forty Emily who had just become used of being a wife became a widow. She and the sea captain had celebrated their third wedding anniversary a month or so before.

Like her grandmother, Mary McArthur and sister Miriam Betts, she had lost her husband after a few years of marriage. There was little comfort in the same fact. Emily, unlike her widowed relatives had no children to comfort, or them to comfort her. Her closest relative, her sister, Miriam lived in Australia at the other side of the world. She could only offer support by letter, as she had two young children to care for. Once again Emily found herself alone in the world, but was a fact of her life that she had perhaps grown used of. Premature death was the way of the times, as many diseases that nobody dies from these days could not be cured or contained in the early years of the last century.

Captain Weddall, who was a quiet man by nature and quite the opposite of his gregarious wife. Little is known about the sea captain’s latter years on Achill. From the scant records which consist of two newspaper articles, complementing him on his generosity for his support of the St. Patrick’s Day concerts of 1907 and 1908, and a special thanks for supplying the refreshments¬† for the participants, and those who had traveled a distance to the concert and a story that appeared in the Connaught Telegraph almost fifty years after his death, by writer Sean O’Longain.


Connaught Telegraph 1830-current, 19.05.1956, page 4


Dr. Burke vanishes from the news

Since February 1888 when Dr. Burke shot his daughter, his name was scarcely out of the news. For almost half the year one story of the sad affair made the local and national and some times the international news. The story was carried by some papers in his native Ireland but much less so than in the UK. Thankfully that was the case as it would have been very distressing for Emily and her siblings.

“Dr. Burke, the Monk Bretton murderer, was removed fro Wakefield Prison to Dartmoor on Thursday morning.”This short sentence was the finale in the sad chapter of the death of nine year old Oonah Burke at the hands of her father. What exactly happened that night will never be known as the only two people in the room when the gun went off was the victim and her severely intoxicated father.

After Dr. Burke’s trial, conviction, sentence and commute of the death penalty to life in imprisonment, the story still continued to take up column inches. After another man Richardson hanged for a similar crime and Dr. Burke was commuted the public were outraged. To most it was a case of class distinction between the educated Dr. Burke and the laborer, Richardson. Even the clergy had their take on the matter and sermons preaching on the weakness of the flesh. In Dr. Burke’s case drink. The preacher went on to say;

“Did they think Dr. Burke fresh from his college, full of high hope and promise, ever though the day would come when his hand would be stained with the blood of his darling child?” The crime was committed under the influence of strong drink. Backing it up with “wine is a mooker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”¬† A proverb at the time, with a grain of truth in it. Rev. Dawkins in his sermon, was a lot kinder than the public, who at this stage were baying for Dr. Burke’s blood, causing his wife and young son, extended family, including Emily, who must have known some of the furor around the case much distress.

Anyone can guess how Dr. Burke felt, it is evident that he gave up the will to live and lingered on for over a year, when his body gave up and he died in prison just before he was set to be released. His wife lived for several more decades, staying with relatives, probably never haven recoved from the death of her daughter and the loss of her husband, no matter how badly things ended. On her gravestone she was named as “Wife of Dr. Burke.”

Leeds Times 21 July 1888
Barnsley Chronicle, etc. 16 June 1888

From the Pulpit

The shooting of Dr. Burke’s daughter was a big outrage his trial a bigger one and the commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment caused the biggest public outcry of all three. The biggest issue with his reprieve was the fact that another man, Richardson who received the death penalty for a similar crime hanged. The difference between the two was class.

Around the same time as Dr. Burke shot his daughter there were two similar ‘crimes of passion’ as they were called at the time. It appeared that there was an epidemic, which there was but not one of murder but alcohol. All three assailants had alcohol in their system when they committed their crimes. It was also unusual that three murders took place in a small and relatively quiet area too. Back in Victorian Times it was not the norm, and caused huge furore, locally and nationally, so much so that the sad affair were preached about from the pulpit of many churches. Some of these sermons were printed in the newspapers. the one below by Rev. W. Dawking a Methodist minister in Barnsley.


Barnsley Chronicle Saturday June 9th 1888