Donated by Dan Breen Art Gallery collection pre-1974
In addition to Dan Breen’s portrait of Fr. Sheehy, there are two other paintings of him and one of a beardless Charles Stewart Parnell in the collection. All are painted in a naïve style, and are very similar in treatment, facial expression, composition and handling of line and colour, but with the exception of the Dan Breen version, the others are significantly larger and are painted on glass. Written on the back of the frame of this one is the following text; ‘Fr. Sheehy hanged in Clonmel on false witness, manufactured by the Bagwells and Maude. He, with a man named Lonergan were publicly executed in Clonmel for the supposed murder of a man that was alive and shown to be alive by the government of that time. It was murder by the garrison gang. Dan Breen 1966’.Dan Breen was not a historian and although he may have been generally correct in his summary of the tragic story of Father Nicholas Sheehy (1728–66), there is no definite evidence that the alleged murder victim was ever seen after he disappeared following an agrarian riot near Fethard. Father Sheehy was tried three times, once on a murder charge in relation to this man’s disappearance, and secondly for high treason and was twice acquitted. He was tried a third time on the same murder charge, by a packed jury, found guilty and hanged. No murder victim was ever found, Father Sheehy’s alibi was denied and the witnesses whose evidence was used to condemn him were widely alleged to have been non-credible. His sister’s relative by marriage, the distinguished writer, Edmund Burke, is said to have written about his trial ‘If there be an army paid, and armed, and disciplined, and sworn to foreign powers in your country [i.e., the Whiteboys], cannot Government know it by some better means than the evidence of whores and Horse Stealers?’ Following his death by hanging outside Clonmel Gaol, Father Sheehy’s head was placed on a spike above what is now Borstal Gate (see page ?) for approximately ten years, until his sister, Catherine Burke, removed it and buried it, with the rest of his body, at Shanrahan, near Clogheen.