Kidnapped Fermoy Solicitor Negotiates his own Ransom, Subsequently Sues for its Recovery, 1922-26

‘Cottage and Stream Before Mountains,’ by William Percy French, via

From the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 27 March 1926:




The dramatic story of the experiences of Mr Anthony Carroll at the hands of kidnappers in the mountains near Mallow in 1922 was continued in the High Court, Dublin, on Friday, before Mr Justice Hanna and a county special jury.

Mr Carroll, who has his home in Fermoy, has for many years been one of the most prominent solicitors in the South of Ireland, and amongst his many duties he acted as solicitor to the Irish Land Commission. In this capacity he had to proceed against a number of farmers for arrears of purchase annuities. While engaged in the discharge of his duty, he alleged that he was seized by Maurice O’Brien and a number of other men and carried off to the mountains, where he was informed he had been sentenced to be shot. Owing to the intervention of a priest, he was permitted to purchase his life by giving a cheque for 550 pounds and undertaking to leave the country. The present action was brought against O’Brien and eight other men claiming 5000 pounds damages for conspiracy and robbery. Mr Carroll was examined on Thursday.


Rev. William Carey, C.C., was examined on Friday. He told how, on the night of the 24th April, 1922, Maurice O’Brien and Timothy Donovan (two of the defendants) came to his house. They asked if he could oblige them with some petrol. He gave them a couple of gallons and as the night was a wild one he also gave them refreshments. After a while they said they wanted him to do a job. ‘What job?’ he asked. They said they had a prisoner some distance away that they wanted to shoot, and that they wanted witness to attend the prisoner. They did not first disclose the name of the prisoner, but after a few minutes they said it was Anthony Carroll, of Fermoy. He had often heard of Anthony Carroll before and he asked them what he had done. In the course of conversation they said that Carroll was ‘robbing the country,’ and was responsible for the collection of Land Commission money, and that, of course, there was no freedom in the country until he was out of it, that they had got orders from their superior officers to shoot him, and that would be an end of it.


Witness accompanied the men in a motor car a distance of about two miles to a cottage which was locally known as a prison, where suspected men had been confined under armed guard until they were tried. On the way down one of the men said that Mr Carroll had been tried and convicted and sentenced to death, and that there was no chance of his getting out of it. As the result of further conversation they appeared to think that he (witness) would be as anxious as they were to have Mr. Carroll under the sod.

When they arrived at the cottage he was conducted to the room in which Mr Carroll was confined. It was a small room, and the only light was from a candle stuck on an overturned bucket. Mr Carroll presented a miserable spectacle, looking as if he had been dragged out of water or out of a pile of muck. Witness then described the negotiations that preceded the fixing of the price of Mr Carroll’s life. The first figure was 3000 pounds, and it was reduced to 1000 pounds.

A photograph of Mr Carroll in youth, published in the Irish Independent, 3 December 1964.


When that was communicated by witness to Mr Carroll he point blank refused to pay, saying that they might come back next week for another thousand, and perhaps his life as well. Witness appealed to him for the sake of his family to pay something and get them all out of an awkward situation. Mr Carroll said that the thing was so morally unjust that he would sooner face death than pay the sum or any sum at all.

Witness then resumed the negotiations with the man and the sum of 500 pounds was ultimately mentioned. Mr Carroll was still opposed to pay anything, but witness thought he might succeed if he promised the men something more. He himself offered to Mr Carroll to lend him 100 of his own, but Mr Carroll would not accept the offer. Witness had, for the sake of peace and to get the man liberated, offered to give the 100. Ultimately they struck a bargain for 550 pounds. Witness then detailed the circumstances which followed the drawing of a cheque by Mr Carroll for 550 pounds, and his release from custody.


At the conclusion of the examination of the witness an incident probably unprecedented in a court of justice occurred when Mr Justice Hanna, rising from his seat on the bench, walked over to the witness-box and, addressing the reverend gentleman, said, ‘No one has impeached your honour.’ Here the judge shook hands with the witness, saying as he did so: ‘You are an honour to your Church, sir.’ The action of the judge was received with applause by the crowded court.

Mr Justice Hanna on the bench, via Harvard Law School

David Flynn, the tenant of the cottage or ‘local prison,’ was the next witness. He described the goings to and from of the men while negotiations were taking place. He said he was obliged to give them the use of the cottage. Afterwards, Matt Donovan, one of the men, told him that he (witness) was not supposed to know any of the party that took Mr Carroll prisoner.

Michael Toomey, a farmer in the vicinity of the cottage, said that he was in the ‘Half-Way’ public house on the night of 24th April 1922, when a motor-car drove up containing a number of men. Some of them came into the house. Witness remembered Matt Donovan being there and saying to him did he hear that Anthony Carroll was kidnapped. Witness said that he had not. No further conversation took place between them.


A Mallow bank manager deposed to receiving Mr Carroll’s cheque for 550 pounds, written on s sheet of notepaper. It was presented by John Madden, one of the defendants, who in the course of conversation, said that the cheque was a legacy, and added that someone had died and he wanted to pay the funeral expenses (Laughter.) Witness had knowledge that the man was John Madden.

Liam Roche, who was the officer in charge of the police force under the Provisional Government, deposed that the kidnapping of Mr Carroll was not done with the authority of any recognised organisation.

Patrick Crawley, messenger of the Cork Bankruptcy Court, described how on 27th March 1922, he found Mr Carroll in an excited state conversing with two men in his room. Three other men were outside. In consequence of a remark, witness assisted Mr Carroll in escaping by the basement exit.

Thomas Carroll, brother of the plaintiff, deposed to a conversation Matthias Donovan had with him on 28th May, in the course of which Donovan suggested a settlement and return of the 550 pounds. He said he was saying on behalf of others, that the money had not been all spent, and would be made good. Some correspondence followed, and in one letter in October witness wrote that if the money was deposited in the bank his brother would take no further steps in the matter.


In the New Year witness again met Matthias Donovan, who said that the Donovans would pay back their half of the money, but that they would not be responsible for the half that Maurice O’Brien got; that if Maurice O’Brien ever returned to Ireland, he would only be laughing at him (witness) at the way he had been done, and he would not have that. Donovan further asked if he could get an undertaking that if any legal action was taken the Donovans would not be included if they paid up their share. Witness aid that he could not agree, as if any action were taken they must all be brought in. Nothing was done.

This closed the case for the plaintiff.

On the court resuming after the luncheon interval, Mr Lynch KC, on the part of Matthias J Donovan, and Mr Hungerford, on the part of Maurice Madden, each asked for a direction in their favour on the ground that there was no evidence on which the jury could reasonably find against them. Mr Justice Hanna refused both applications.

Mr Phelps KC, then stated the case on behalf of Timothy Donovan, junior, whose defence was that he was compelled by force to accompany the others to show them the route.


Timothy Donovan was then examined, and stated that while in Mallow on the 24th April he was accosted by an unknown man and asked if he knew the way to Fermoy. He replied that he did, and the man, who was armed with a revolver, said that he (witness) was the man he wanted, and that he was to come on. Witness had to follow the man down the street to where a motor-car was standing, when he was ordered to enter the car in which other men were seated. When nearing Fermoy, the unknown man asked witness if he knew where Mr Carroll’s house was. He said he did not. When they got to Mr Carroll’s House, three of the men named Maurice O’Brien, Maurice Madden and Patrick Donovan, and another man whose name he did not know went into the house and, after some little time, they returned accompanied by Mr Carroll, and they all got into the car. During this time witness had remained beside the car.

On the way to the cottage in the mountains, a filthy sack was thrown over Mr Carroll’s head. Mr Carroll seemed to be suffocating and witness pulled the sack off his head. When at the cottage, he was asked by the strange man if he knew where to get a priest, and he as sent for Rev Father Carey, the strange man accompanying him. On getting aback to the cottage with the priest, witness got away and walked to his home. He knew nothing of what had taken place in the cottage.”

Mallow, County Cork, where the conspiracy against Mr Carroll was fomented. Image via Ebay.

Proceedings continued on Monday, when the Evening Herald (Dublin) reported as follows:

“The first witness to-day was Margaret Sullivan, a servant girl in the employment of Thomas and Anne Donovan, to whose house Mr Carroll was brought on the night of the 24th April from the cottage in which he had been imprisoned. She said she did not know he was a prisoner, and had no idea what he was. She brought him his breakfast in the morning. The door of the bedroom was not locked, and she did not see any one guarding him. She never got any instructions not to speak to Mr Carroll.

Thomas Donovan, owner of the house, examined by Mr O’Connor, denied any conspiracy with his brother and the others. He never heard of Mr Carroll being kidnapped. He was not at home when Mr Carroll was brought to his house from the cottage. When he came home at night the girl told him about the man being brought to the house by ‘Paddy,’ brother of witness, and Maurice Madden, and a bedroom being got ready for him. Witness went to bed and did not know any more about the matter. He saw nothing to prevent Mr Carroll walking out of the house if he wanted to and he could have got away without being heard or seen. He knew nothing about the cheque being extracted from Mr Carroll in Flynn’s cottage. The next day he was asked by the men to show them the way to Lombardstown station.

Asked by counsel when he heard of the 550 pounds being got from Mr Carroll, Thomas Donovan said it was the second day afterward. He could not say who told him, but it was general talk in the neighbourhood.

Mr O’Connor – Did you ever get any portion of that 550 pounds?

Thomas Donovan – No.

Mr Justice Hanna – If anyone referred to the Donovans having half of it, are you one of the Donovans?

Thomas Donovan – I am one of the Donovans

Mr Justice Hanna – Are you one of the Donovans that had half of it?

Thomas Donovan – No.

In cross examination by Mr Wood, on behalf of the Plaintiff, Thomas Donovan said he heard there were jailers there at the time, but he did not see them. He asked who brought the man, but he did not ask who they were ‘jailing.’ He did not approve of Patrick Donovan and Maurice Madden bringing the man to the house. He did not want to have anything to do with him.

Mr Wood referred to the letter written by Matthias Donovan to Mr Carroll’s brother about influencing the plaintiff to stop proceedings and arrests. Thomas Donovan denied that he was one of the Donovans on whose behalf the letter was written.

Mr Wood -Was Timothy Donovan?

Thomas Donovan – Yes.

Mr Wood – Timothy was one of the guilty parties?

Thomas Donovan – Well, he was one of the party.

Mr Wood – For whom the letter was written?

Thomas Donovan – Yes

Mr Wood – You know all about the letter he wrote?

Thomas Donovan – No.

Mr Wood – Who are the Donovans who had this money?

Thomas Donovan – I don’t know any Donovan that had it.

Mr Wood – Who got the money?

Thomas Donovan – I could not tell you.

Mr Wood – Which of the Donovans got it?

Thomas Donovan – I could not tell you.

Mr Lynch then submitted to the jury the case on behalf of Matthias Donovan. Before doing so he paid a high personal tribute to the plaintiff, Mr Carroll, and said no language of his would be too strong to condemn the outrage committed upon him, and he hoped Mr Carroll would accept that expression from counsel opposed to him professionally.

Mr Justice Hanna – I think it is very appropriate that you should make that remark from your high position at the Bar.

Mr Lynch went on to submit that Matthias Donovan had nothing to do with the conspiracy. They had come to a nice state of affairs if people were to be made liable because they were related to or had the same name as other people. The conspiracy against Mr Carroll was, he asserted, fomented in Mallow on Labour Day, the 24th April 1922. ‘Labour Day, said counsel, ‘because no one was doing any labour, and they had lots of time, and a number of people against whom Mr Carroll had issued processes were in Mallow that day, and five men went and carried out the kidnapping.

Counsel remarked that whether it was prudent or imprudent for Matthias Donovan to try to settle the matter was a question on which opinions might differ. Never act the Good Samaritan or do a good turn to anyone, and you will probably rise in the highest eminence’…

The report tantalisingly breaks off at this point but the Belfast News-Letter of 2 September 1926 reports that judgment was given against seven of the Defendants, including Maurice O’Brien, for 4200 pounds plus costs and against the others for 500 pounds plus costs. This report was in the context of a bankruptcy application by O’Brien, now in the United States.

Anthony Carroll (left), his son Edmond (centre) and his grandson Brian Anthony (right), all star performers in the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland Final Examination, from the Irish Independent, December 1964.

Mr Carroll continued to carry on business as a solicitor in Fermoy, Cork until his death in November 1935. He left his professional business to his sons, Edmund and Michael, and the sum of 50 pounds to his clerk, Redmond Tobin, his will expressing the desire that no black clothes, mourning, or mourning bands should be worn for him. The remainder of his estate, including the town of Fermoy, which Mr Carroll had purchased from its owner, Sir G Abercromby, was left on trust for his descendants.

The Carrolls of Fermoy featured again in the news in 1964 when it was noted, on the qualification of Edmund Carroll’s son Brian Anthony as a solicitor, that grandfather, father and son had all shared the distinction of having taken first place in the Final Examination of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland.

The family firm, Anthony Carroll & Co, continues in practice in Fermoy to this day!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

Leave a Reply