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Cathal O’Hagan and Polly with the antique wooden storage chest that once belonged to Biddy Early, the Wise Woman of Clare, which he is donating to the National Museum. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

‘Blanket box’ evokes era of Biddy Early

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AN ANTIQUE piece of furniture linked to a man who conspired, along with the legendary wisewoman Biddy Early, in a notorious East Clare murder is to go on display in Kilkishen next month.
The blanket box, a large wooden chest, belonged to a James Mac Namara who was accused, along with the husband of the legendary Feakle healer, of murdering their landlord. The item, which was salvaged by local Kilkishen historian Cathal O’Hagan, has been carefully restored and will go on display at the Kilkishen Cultural Centre.
“I think it’s fitting on the 161st anniversary of the murder that people would be able to see this,” Mr O’Hagan said.
“According to lore, this historic blanket box came out of the farmhouse of James Mac Namara who one night in October 1860 with Biddy Early’s husband Tom Flannery and three other evicted tenants and, with help from Biddy, killed the landlord.”
Legend has it that Biddy, who foretold Mr Sheehy’s demise if he evicted his Feakle tenants, provided advice and support after the landlord was shot and his cottage burned to the ground, so that they managed to evade punishment.
“One of the suspects fled to America, Biddy and her husband left Aisle a few days after the murder,” Mr O’Hagan said.
When Mr Mac Namara passed away in 1924, his farmhouse was left to relatives. Their descendants sought Mr O’Hagan’s help when clearing out the building.
“There was this one damp dark upstairs room which was never used for years and was full of old family antiques,” he explained.
“I found the box at the bed, being eat away by wood worms and rotting from damp. So I asked if I could have it and I saved it out of it and restored and preserved it.”
Mr O’Hagan, who is currently writing a history of the parish of Kilkishen, is a friend of folklorist Eddie Lenihan who he said has given him invaluable advice in his research on Biddy Early.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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