From bizarre vandalism to sheep theft - the fun and frolics of the criminal underworld in Ireland of history as told by the newspapers of the day.

Recently I was browsing some newspaper archives and I  came across a number of comical crime cases, many with a festive theme. We may like to think our ancestors were more obedient to the law than we are today but, think again...

A case of bizarre anti-social behavior was reported in the Cork Examiner of Sept 10, 1862, which stated that 'a freak of a most mischievous nature was perpetrated by some unknown parties on the Mardyke.’

The newspaper described how ‘one of the railings at the top of the Dyke was forcibly torn up and twisted in its position in a most absurd fashion and two or three of the tops of the adjourning bars were also bent and injured in a very ludicrous style.’

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The Cork Examiner fails to name the vandals only that ‘the perpetrators of the act cannot have numbered less than half a dozen as considerable violence must have been used to wrench the large iron bar from its place and twist it as has been done.’

The bizarre vandalism down on the Mardyke pales in comparison to another outrageous crime which took place in Co. Mayo.

The Ballina Chronicle reported about sheep stealing on Octr 2 1850. The report tells the woeful tale of a man who 3 years previously during An Gorta Mor was caught in the act of stealing sheep. He was transported to Australia but the stealing of sheep continued. The finger of suspicion fell upon the wife of the transported convict and she came under police surveillance. Those keeping an eye on the sheep stealers wife heard a noise one night and followed the woman to investigate. A search was made of her dwelling but no sheep were found. When the searchers left they had a lengthy discussion and decided to go back to the house and search further.

The newspaper describes how ‘the sheep was found in the bed with the children, having on a nightgown and chemise.’ Pity fell on the woman and instead of feeling the heavy hand of the law she was expelled from the neighborhood and her house torn down.

The Cork Examiner of Nov 7, 1856, carried a story regarding another felonious female. Bridget Mahoney who was described by the newspaper as ‘a wild-looking creature'  was charged with 'having broken the window of Mr. Corkery’s public house in Cork city.’ The female vandal was reportedly so crazy ‘that she had to be tied to the car which brought her to the Bridewell.’

When cases of violence and public drunkenness were not taking up space in the newspapers there were crimes of a comical farce and one such report popped up in the Cork Examiner on Apr 28, 1862. This case involved a lodging house keeper by the name of John Cremin who found himself on the wrong side of the law when he was charged and ultimately fined for ‘having three men sleeping in one bed in his house.’

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Christmas is a time of year for excessive fun and frolics and in the December 23rd edition of the Cork Examiner in 1878 it reported how Mr J.F Barber and Mr Robert Beresford were charged with disorderly conduct - throwing snowballs! The two snowballers were fined 10 shillings each. Such disorderly festive fun was also popular in Cavan.

In the Cavan Weekly News of Dec 20 1878, the icy weather provided ideal conditions for youngsters to cause mischief and '16 children were summoned by the constable for sliding on the street.' They were fined a shilling each.

Christmas can be a stressful time for many people and the December 27th edition of the Cork Examiner reported on how such stress can lead to violence. It reported on a  'furious encounter between two firemen' who attended a chimney fire at St Patricks Street in Cork city on Christmas day. The fire was successfully put out and while the firemen were heading back to their station, Fireman Patrick Ellard asked Fireman John Sullivan to carry a hand pump. Sullivan told Ellard to carry it himself to which Ellard then flung an ax in Sullivan's direction, hitting him on the head and fracturing his skull.

The Cork Examiner informs us that 'Sullivan naturally become maddened by the pain he felt and as the blood flowed profusely from the wound he turned on Ellard and struck him several times.' The police soon arrived on the scene and the fighting firemen were pulled apart. Sullivan was brought to the North Infirmary while Ellard was brought to the Bridewell.

The excesses of Christmas on the streets of Cork were briefly detailed in a report in the December 30th edition of the 1878 Examiner which declared 'there were about 30 persons in the Bridewell last night. The charge in the majority of the cases being drunkenness. One old woman was charged with stealing porter from a public house in Duncan street.'

While cases of drunkenness during the festive period were a common feature at petty sessions, the Cavan Observer of Decr 3 1860 reported how a 'large seizure of snuff' was made at Galway bay onboard a steamer from New York. The 'contraband' was apparently bound for the Christmas market in the West!

So remember this Christmas, don't lose your temper or become a public nuisance because you may have your descendants reading all about it in the future!

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