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A rendition of the story of Colleen Bawn. Photo by: Irish Film Archive

The Colleen Bawn, Ireland's most infamous murder for Halloween

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A rendition of the story of Colleen Bawn. Photo by: Irish Film Archive

The story is shocking. The murder of a young girl at the request of her husband is still to this day one of Ireland's most talked about crimes.

It goes like this (and it's a true story) - Ellen Scanlan (nee Hanley) was 15 when she was murdered in 1819.

Just weeks before her death, she married a man named John Scanlan, but when he saw that she wouldn't be accepted into his family he persuaded his servant Stephen Sullivan to kill her.

Sullivan took her out on the River Shannon near Kilrush, County Clare where he killed her with a musket, stripped her and dumped her body in the river, tied to a stone.

Her body washed ashore six weeks later at Moneypoint, Co. Clare.

Both men had fled, but Scanlan was found first and arrested for murder. The famous barrister Daniel O'Connell defended him at his trial.

He was found guilty, and hanged at Gallows Green, the place of execution on the Clare side of the Shannon.

Sullivan was apprehended shortly afterwards, confessed, and also hanged.

Ellen's death has since been the inspiration for novels, plays and operas.

The play “The Colleen Bawn” was based on the Gerald Griffin novel, "The Collegians," a melodramatic play written by playwright Dion Boucicault.

It was first performed at Miss Laura Keene's Theatre, New York, on March 27 1860 with Laura Keene playing Anne Chute and Boucicault playing Myles-na-Coppaleen.

It was recently performed in Dublin at the Project Arts Centre in July and August 2010.

Ellen was known for being a beauty that would turn heads everywhere she went.

Her father was a Co. Limerick farmer and her mother died when Ellen was a child, so Ellen was brought up by her uncle John Connery.

Ellen is buried in Burrane cemetery near Kilrush, Co. Clare.

Her headstone in the shape of a cross that once read:

"Here lies the Colleen Bawn,

Murdered on the Shannon,

July 14th 1819. R.I.P."

*Originally published October 2010.

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