Peter was a pensioner from the 87th (The Prince of Wales’s Own Irish) Regiment of Foot, and was about 60 years of age (some newspaper reports put him aged between 40-50). Mention of his military service was made by Mr. Ryan, governor of Galway County Gaol, during the case, when it was learned that he had been wounded ‘at the battle of Talavera’, and consequently had a particularly large wound on the small of his back’. Further research determined that the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Regiment fought at Talavera, one of the earliest battles in the Peninsular War, a war between Napoleon’s Empire and the allied powers of Spain, Briatin and Portugal for control of the Iberian peninsula. The almost 53,000 strong Anglo-Spanish Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, moved to the north of Talavera, some 120kms to the southwest of Madrid, Spain, on 27 July 1809. The 2nd Battalion 87th suffered over 40% casualties; 1 officer and 110 men killed, and 13 officers and 230 men wounded.
Further research learned more about Peter's military service, and his service record was located. He was in Captain O'Brien's Company in the 87th Regiment of Foot for 4 years and 110 days. He was aged 23 in 1812 (the date of the document), putting his birth year at 1789. Interestingly, this document informs he was a native of 'Feikle' (sic Feakle) Parish, in County Clare. He was 5' 7'' tall with black hair, grey eyes, and a brown complexion, and he worked as a labourer before joining the military. He served from the 8th of May 1808 until the 31st August 1812, joining when he was just 19. Attached to his service record is a letter from his commanding officer in 1812, which noted Peter ‘always behaved like a good and valiant soldier’. A least of his injuries sustained in battles was also noted in this letter, and seemed extensive; wounded at the Battle of Televara on 28 Jul 1809; likewise at the Battle of Barrosa on 5 Mar 1811, and lastly at the Siege of Terriffa on 31 Dec 1811. A gunshot injury to his left arm at Terriffa rendered him ineffective to carry out his duty as a soldier, and he was discharged as a result.
When charged in court Peter ‘at once pleaded guilty in a distinct and calm manner’, and when his plea was entered it was made aware that he had ‘exhibited at the time of this really dreadful murder some symptoms of insanity’. His pension consisted of 9p per day, and was the only allowance he had to support his family – he left the army in consequence of wounds received in battle. It was also learned that he had received a blow on the back of his head from a tongs earlier in his life. Cross examination of his daughter Mary informed that Peter owed some money to his brother-in-law, for whom ‘he went security to the amount of 4l. 15s.’ This brother-in-law left the country, leaving Peter liable for 2l. He was badly off ‘in circumstances’, and used to ‘walk up and down the house in a strange way talking to himself’. Not long before the murder, it was learned that he had also lost a holding of land, causing him to be greatly distressed and to fret often. Moving testimony from Mary also informed the court that he was ‘always kind and affectionate to his children, and only that something came across him he would not have acted as he did’. Peter and Bridget Larkin, only had three children in total, two of which lay murdered at the end of the horrible tragedy. Witness testimony from Dr. Nolan of Gort informed the court during the trail that Peter said ‘he killed his children because he wished to send them to heaven’. Captain Butler of Cregg, one of the largest landlords in Beagh at that time, gave evidence as to Peter Larkin’s state of mind. He considered him an honest industrious man, but for the last 7 or 8 months noticed his was ‘in a melancholy and abstracted humour’
Mary Larkin, ‘an exceedingly well-looking young girl, with jet black eyes’, was the first witness produced in both Gort and Galway. Mary was Peter’s daughter, and brother to the two murdered brothers. Newspaper accounts place her at being about 22 years old, and account for her extraordinary testimony, through which she ‘wept most bitterly and became exceedingly faint’.
She testified that on the day of the murder, 20th of June, a few days before St. John’s Day, Peter had been to Gort (a distance of about 5 miles from their home) and did not return until after 10 p.m. when the family were getting ready for bed. Testimony noted that both the 20th and 21st were fine, ‘clear’ days. Bridget, his wife was in a bedroom above the stairs. She got out of bed, went downstairs to let her husband in, and both returned upstairs a short time later. Peter had a bottle (a naggin) of whiskey in his pocket, which he forced his wife, his son, and his daughter to drink from a bowl. Although they all refused to do so at first, he succeeded in convincing them to take some drink. Interestingly, Mary stated her father had been ‘perfectly sober’ when he returned from Gort, and was not in the ‘habit of drinking’. Other witness testimony in both trials testify as to his character and lack of drunkenness.
Peter then retired to bed (in fact he retired to the children’s bed after he had been to his own). Martin and Bernard were playing in bed, likely as a result of taking the whiskey. When he entered the room, he questioned why they weren’t yet asleep. Not long afterwards, they soon fell asleep. He then kept silent for some time, and they all thought he was asleep.
Mary woke up about 4am, woken by unusual noise in the bed. To her horror, she woke to her father leaning over her with a razor in his hand. He attempted to cut her neck, but she was somewhat protected by a handkerchief she had been wearing. He then drew the razor across her right breast, and around her left breast. At this point she put up her hands for protection, and received a wound on the left hand and finger, when she jumped out of bed.
It was at this time she saw her 2 brothers lying in their blood, and after screaming to her father, he then drew his razor across their necks. She reported that Martin woke after being cut, but did not live long after he awoke. She fled down the stairs, and arrived at the street door calling her mother, who had been asleep in the adjoining bedroom the entire time, and ‘in a moment removed a table that was against the door, and escaped, her father in chase of her’.
Her father followed her down the stairs, with razor in hand, so she entered the street naked, crying our murder, and holding her badly wounded breasts while bleeding heavily from her other wounds. Her testimony at this point informed that at this time she became very faint, presumably from her injury. Testimony in Gort from Bridget larkin informed that she too had been attacked by her husband when she made her way downstairs with her by now, dead son, Martin, in her arms. She dropped Martin to protect herself, and received a wound in her thumb while protecting herself. Testimony in Mary’s first testimony in Gort conflicts somewhat with testimony she (and others) gave in Galway; When she returned to the house she said she encountered her mother at the door, holding the youngest son Martin in her arms, whereas in earlier testimony we learned that Martin remained dead in the bedroom upstairs, and that it was her brother Bernard that lay dead downstairs.
Either way, we learn that when Mary ran from the house badly injured, she alarmed a man named Brogan who was too afraid to approach the house, and another man named Loughy (possibly Loughrey misspelled) also did not come. Eventually, James Geraghty, a farmer of Shanaglish, came to her aid. He was awoken by cries on the street, and leaving bed immediately, he appeared on the street where he spotted Mary Larkin, bleeding profusely from her breasts. He accompanied Mary back to her house, and encountered her father Peter there. He asked him what he had done, and Larkin replied ‘he did not know’. Geraghty then went to the assistance of Mary, as she had fainted, and stopped her bleeding. He called to other neighbours for assistance, and a large crowd gathered at the Larkin residence, and then took the razor from Peter. Geraghty testified that he saw Bernard Larkin lying on the kitchen floor, either dead or dying, and Martin Larkin was in a room upstairs, already dead. James managed to stop the bleeding until Doctor Nolan came.
Samuel Mulray, the police constable stationed at Tubber police station was sent for and informed of the atrocity. It was not long before he arrived in Shanaglish. His testimony in Gort substantiated Mary’s earlier testimony that Peter was an unhappy man at the time of the murders, and that he was sober. Constable Mulray also informed that ‘after having cautioned Larkin not to say anything to criminate himself, Larkin acknowledged he killed his children, and said that he knew he would die for it’ when he was arrested.
Martin Daly Nolan Esq., M.D. arrived at Shanaglish late that morning, and found Mary very badly wounded. She had cuts on her breast and chest, and her throat ’severely lacerated’. She was also badly wounded across her right arm, and the forefinger of the left arm was cut very deeply. He found Bernard Larkin lying dead inside the bedroom, and upon examination he noted a six inch wound across Bernard’s throat. He testified that Bernard’s death would have been almost immediate. Martin’s stiff body was stretched lifeless on the floor, his cut was about 4 and a half inches across his neck. He was also injured on the chest, the back of his head and a fourth wound down his thigh. Dr. Nolan commented that he also noticed Peter Larkin was extremely calm and composed after the act that he ‘looked upon it as the surest sign of insanity’. Dr. Nolan then testified directly to Judge Lefroy that ‘in my opinion, the prisoner was under the description of temporary delusion which rendered it quite impossible for him to distinguish between right and wrong’.
In both trials, reporters informed the readers of the harrowing effects Mary’s testimony had on those in the court. For example, it was reported that the judge in Galway, Mr. Baron Lefroy, became deeply affected and wept bitterly, as did some of the jurors, during her testimony.
The jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict of not guilty, on the ground of being at the time of committing the deed in an unsound state of mind. Larkin, ‘wo appeared quite unconcerned during the trial’ was removed.
“Galway Summer Assizes,” The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, Ireland, 5 August 1844, p. 1, col. 3; digital image, “Newspaper Archive,” British Newspaper Archive (http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk), accessed May 2017.
“Horrible Butchery In A Family,” The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, Ireland, 28 Jun 1844, p. 2, col. 4; digital image, “Newspaper Archive,” British Newspaper Archive (http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk), accessed May 2017.
“Battle Honour 'TALAVERA',” Royal Irish (https://www.royal-irish.com/events/83rd-foot-2nd-battalion-battle-talavera-spain), accessed May 2017.
“87th (Royal Irish Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org), accessed May 2017.
War Office (London, England), WO 121 - Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners, WO121/122 Certificates of Service, WO 121/122/178 Peter Larkin; digital image, “Chelsea Pensioners' discharge documents 1760-1887,” findmypast UK (http://www.findmypast.co.uk), accessed May 2017.