Sunday, 14 September 2014

Black Sheep Sunday ~ an obtuse crime

If you were committing a robbery – not that I am suggesting that any of you would – but, if you were, wouldn’t you at least try to be a little bit clever about it?  Put it this way - would you steal something and display the spoils in your front garden, for all the world to see? Well that is exactly what one roguish couple did, in the village of Malahide, Co. Dublin, in December 1912. Sadly, this hapless duo, Ellen and Patrick Mahon, were related to us Malahide Byrnes.
The cause of complaint against Ellen Mahon: ‘Defendant between 9th and 14th day of December 1912, at Beechwood in said district and county [Malahide, Co. Dublin], did unlawfully uproot, steal, take and carry away a quantity of privet shrubs to the number of about 90, value for ten shillings, the property of Mr. Wm. Trumbell of Beechwood. Contrary to the Statute in such case made and provided.’ 

The cause of complaint against Patrick Mahon: ‘Defendant on 14th December 1912, at Carrickhill in said district and county [Malahide, Co. Dublin], had knowingly in his possession & planted in his garden at his dwelling house a quantity of privet shrubs to the number of about 90, value for ten shillings, alleged to have been stolen & the property of Mr. William Trumble [sic] of Beechwood; and defendant is hereby required to satisfy the justices that the aforesaid shrubs were lawfully in his possession.’
Transcribed from the Petty Session Register, Swords Court, 1912 (items 82-83).

Both Patrick and Ellen were found guilty and fined ten shillings each plus costs, or alternatively, they each faced seven days hard labour in Mountjoy Prison.

When I first came across these charges in the Petty Session Register for the courthouse in Swords, Co. Dublin, I saw the defendants’ address was given as Carrickhill, Malahide. Carrickhill was situated nearer Portmarnock, at the opposite end of Malahide to Yellow Walls, the home of our Mahon ancestors.  So, I initially thought that they belonged to the other Mahon family of Malahide, the one whose relationship with our family has not yet been established, but which dates way back into the eighteenth century.  

However, further information about the court case was also reported in the Freeman’s Journal, on 24 December 1912 (Happy Christmas, Patrick and Ellen!).  Apparently, when initially accused of the crime, Patrick Mahon said he had got the shrubs from ‘his father at the Yellow Walls’, making him one of our lot. Here's the article from the newspaper:

1912 court case, Patrick and Ellen Mahon, Malahide.
Freeman’s Journal, 24 December 1912, p. 2.

So, I did some more digging into Patrick’s origins, to see just how closely related we were. The 1911 census found him living in Malahide, with Ellen, his wife of six years, and their two sons, Michael, aged three and Gerald, aged one. Their 1905 marriage register revealed that Patrick was the son of Patrick Mahon senior, a farmer. In 1901, young Patrick was living with his parents, Patrick and Catherine Mahon, in Yellow Walls.

I was already familiar with this household. Patrick junior was a first cousin of my great-grandmother, making him my first cousin, three times removed. Patrick senior and my great-great-grandfather, James Mahon, were brothers. My Dad even remembers young Patrick’s little sister, Teresa Mahon, who was a very respectable National School teacher in Malahide when my Dad was a boy. 

Twenty shillings plus costs was a lot of money for a general labourer, in 1912. Bet they got nothing but the proverbial lump of coal in their Christmas stocking that year!

Still, it’s hard to believe that she dug up the man’s hedge!

Sources: ‘Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers 1828-1912’, Swords court, accessed on; Freeman’s Journal, 24 December 1912, p. 2; 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland; Copy marriage register, General Register Office. Black sheep image adapted from one found on The graphics fairy

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Such a great story! From a 21st century perspective, shocking to have the choice of either seven days hard labour at Mountjoy or an expensive fine for such a deed. Those must have been some striking privet shrubs. I love the audacity of Ellen having "ornamented" her cottage with them. Do you know what was the nature of the relationship between Trumbull and Patrick and Ellen Mahon? A pity that Trumbull wouldn't let it pass — not at all likely I realize — but in the spirit of the season, and given that he was a wealthy Dublin merchant. Of late, I've been eyeing my neighbour's lovely boxwood; guess I'd better watch my step.

  2. Thanks Jennifer. For one hilarious moment there, given your Malahide connections, I thought you might be related to the Trumbulls and I was going to have to apologise for my long-gone, wayward cousins. I know of no relationship, unless Patrick did odd-jobs for the family, but their attitude was probably not vengeful, more akin to ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’. You had better leave your neighbours box alone, or your descendants might be still talking about it in a hundred years!

  3. Hello Dara, fancy digging them up and then planting them in your own garden – that was asking for trouble. Now-a-days they would have ended up at a car boot! I love these little bits of family history. Thanks for sharing them. Barbara

  4. Thank you for reading them, Barbara.

  5. I'm so sorry, Dara -- but this post made me laugh. How nervy of her to steal something so obvious. On the other hand, I'm absolutely in awe of her ability to dig up 90 bushes (90!!! -- that's a lot!) by herself, then dig 90 holes on her own property, then replant them -- and do it without being caught red-handed! Amazing!

  6. Thanks Nancy, her brazen impertinence makes me laugh too.

  7. I wish I could find an Ellen Mahon to come dig up some bushes and trees that I'd gladly part with. She'd be welcome to them!

  8. LOL, be careful what you wish for, Wendy!

  9. What a great story Dara. It did give me a chuckle. Ellen was some determined woman! She wanted privet shrubs, she was going to have privet shrubs one way or another. I doubt Patrick had mush to say about it.

    1. Ha Ha, I bet he'd plenty to say about it when they were caught!


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