Completely, Mostly, Not At All

“I could have been a sailor, could have been a cook
A real live lover, could have been a book.
I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock
As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.
I could be
Here and now
I would be, I should be
But how?”

Nick Drake


Three stories follow from ‘The True And Fairly Accurate History Of Monaghan’, and in order to win a wee hamper full of Monaghan made, and organic goodies from The Local ,you have to tell me which one is completely true-ish, which one is mostly true, and which one isn’t at all

‘Tastes Like Chicken’

In the early years of the 19th century there was great prosperity in Monaghan due to the export markets for linen and locally grown foodstuffs caused by the Napoleonic Wars, but this was then  followed by widespread poverty following the end of the war in 1814, a famine in 1817 and an outbreak of typhus. Through it all strode the despised figure of Dacre Hamilton, owner of Cornacassa House, land agent for the Rossmore and Castleshane Estates, proud owner of six pairs of identical red leather riding boots, a luxury at the time, Colonel of the Monaghan Yeomanry, collector of rents, terror of tenants.

 The 1817 famine struck Monaghan particularly severely, people starved and couldn’t pay their rent. Dacre evicted them efficiently, and ruthlessly. He evicted the Pearce family following the deaths of the head of the house , James, his two daughters and eldest son. Mrs.Pearce and her only surviving son, Alexander , begged for mercy. Dacre showed them none. They were taken in by neighbours, but Mrs.Pearce died that same night of a broken heart. Her son Alexander ran from the neighbours house that night ,swearing revenge.

For two years he roamed the counties of Monaghan and Armagh, living by his wits, talking to no one, depending on no one. Nobody knew how he sustained himself. Rumours grew around missing livestock, and missing people. Children were teased by parents “Go to sleep…or Pearce will get you !”

Two years passed, and then in 1819, he broke into Cornacassa House with the intention of killing Dacre Hamilton only to find that he wasn’t at home that night. Alexander spotted five pairs of  Dacres’s famous leather riding boots in the front hall and decided to steal them. He wore one pair , leaving his old hob nailed boots in their place. He knew that Dacre would be consumed with rage at this effrontery , so he decided to tease him further. He made his way into town and then on to Middletown and Armagh and as he made his way  he left a mutilated boot hanging in a tree by the roadside every mile or so. It was a dangerous ploy. As head of the Yeomanry Dacre was effectively judge, jury and executioner in Monaghan and would hang Alexander on the spot if he caught up with him.

Dacre arrived home to Cornacassa from his Aviemore townhouse in the early hours of the morning and exploded with rage when he saw his boots missing and woke the whole house to punish whoever was responsible. He quickly discovered the broken window in the kitchen and realised he’d been burgled. He rounded up a dozen Yeomen and set off in pursuit of the thief. The first boot was hanging from a tree at the top of Glaslough Street surrounded by a crowd of amused locals. Everyone recognised  the distinctive boot. As Dacre followed the trail set by Alexander towards Armagh his rage built exponentially.

He eventually came to find the last boot hanging from the tree outside Armagh gaol. He demanded to see the governor. The governor was a man called Forbes and he had crossed paths with Dacre before, there was no love lost between them. Dacre was shown into the governor’s office where Forbes remained seated at his desk writing a letter and didn’t even lift his head to acknowledge Dacre’s presence. By the time he finished his letter and looked up Dacre was practically levitating with rage.

“Mr.Hamilton, how may I assist you ?”

“I demand the head of the swine that stole from me !” Dacre exploded.

“Mr.Hamilton” Forbes replied calmly ”you are in no position to ‘demand’ anything. I assume you are referring to Alexander Pearce who surrendered himself to me this morning with a full confession to the theft of 4 pairs of boots, for which he has already been tried and sentenced to 7 years penal transportation to Van Dieman’s Land this very day. He leaves for Cobh in an hour.”

Dacre was apoplectic and could barely spit out his words :

“I want him hung ! And I want to hang him ! And it was 5 pairs of boots ! All the same as these!” he roared , pointing to the red riding boots he was wearing.

Forbes smiled.“ You have no jurisdiction here Hamilton. Sentence has been passed.”He then leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs placing his feet, clad in a very distinctive pair of red riding boots, on his desk. “I’m certain he confessed to four”.

Dacre nearly tore the door off it’s hinges on his way out.

As he got on his horse to return to Monaghan he heard someone whistle at him. He looked up and saw a man beaming at him from behind the bars of a second floor cell. He called down :

“Hamilton ! Before you go home , call up to Clemence on The Mall, he has a special offer on boots today !!”

Dacre galloped off with the sound of Pearce’s laughter stinging his ears.

Pearce was transported to Tasmania later that month.

He quickly tired of the forced labour and rebelled against all authority. He was jailed on Sarah Island and promptly led an escape of seven other inmates to the wild west coast. The escapees had a single axe between them and no food. Eventually they drew lots to decide which one would sacrifice himself so that the others could eat. A poor unfortunate called Thomas Bodenham drew the short straw and was eaten by his friends. Three of the group took fright and made their way back to jail. Pearce and three others soldiered on.

After 115 days on the loose Pearce was caught, alone. He confessed immediately to eating his three fellow prisoners saying that having lived through one famine in Ireland he could not go through it again, starvation drove him to it, they’d caught frogs and a crocodile at one point, both tasting like chicken, but it wasn’t enough to sustain them. However no one believed him , thinking that the other three men  were still on the loose and that he was making up this fantastic story to cover for them.

In 1824 he escaped again, on this occassion with his cellmate , the delicious Thomas Cox. Alexander was caught after 10 days, with pieces of Thomas’ body wrapped up in a bag. He hadn’t even run out of the food they’d escaped with.He was sentenced to death and went to the gallows on July 19th 1824 in Hobart, Tasmania. After Fr.Connolly had heard his last confession he had to ask , why ?Alexander turned , smiled, smacked his lips and said :

“It’s delicious, it tastes far better than pork or fish, like a lovely roast chicken.”


The Impressionist paintings by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Manet, Cezanne and Van Gogh were all made possible by the invention of the collapsible metal paint tube which was invented by John Goffe Rand  who came from Bedford, New Hampshire. However in Monaghan when he came up with the idea.

John Goffe Rand had travelled from America to London in 1834 to seek his fortune as a portrait painter. He met with moderate success and as with so many things in life one contact led to another. He painted the portrait of Thomas Telford who also commissioned him to deliver it. This led him to travel to Ireland with it as a parting gift to Telford’s former apprentice William Dargan. Dargan was busy lacerating county Monaghan’s little hills as he finished the Ulster Canal and started planning the railway for the Dundalk-Enniskillen line.

Rand took the Original Monaghan Coach from Dublin to Monaghan and by chance sat beside Robert McMorron who was returning home having conducted business in Dublin on behalf of his iron works. The McMorron iron works was located in Emyvale and its main products were farm implements, he used iron and steel , spades were 30p, shovels were 15p and pitchforks were 8p.

Robert and John chatted on the journey which took 12 hours with regular stops to change horses and allow the passengers to stretch their legs. Between one of these stops Robert took out a small basket which contained a snack which he generously shared with his new American friend. He unwrapped a batch loaf , sliced it and offered a slice to John. As John was about to bite into bread Robert took a metal tube from his pocket asking :

“Wouldn’t you like some butter with your bread ?”

John looked at the tube and politely declined, but he was transfixed as he saw Robert unscrew the top and gently squeeze out a coil of soft butter on to his own slice, put the top back on, place it back in his pocket before spreading the butter evenly , licking his lips as he did. He raised the bread to take a bite and only then noticed his new friend staring at him.

“What ?”

“What is that miracle tube ?”

“Oh that ? That just keeps the butter nice and soft in my pocket”.

“Can I have a look at it ?”

Robert handed the tube to John who took it gently in his hand, turning it slowly as if it were as delicate as a bee’s wing. He opened the cap and ever so gently squeezed so that a tiny little little blob appeared at the top. He scooped it off with the top of his finger and stared at it intently with a sense of awe and wonder.

“Don’t you have butter in America ?” Robert interrupted his contemplation.

John smiled,  before replying  “We do indeed, but I’ve never seen a device like this for transporting it, where did it come from ?”

Robert smiled proudly, swallowed the last of his bread and explained that sometimes in the ironworks the steel shavings  naturally curled making a little cone and they used them  as little cups. It hadn’t been a huge stretch to make a seal for the cone and they discovered that it would keep liquids and soft materials from drying out. Then they made them out of tin so that you could squeeze the last of the butter out.

“Magnificent ! Can I get some of these tubes from you ?”

“I thought you didn’t like butter ?” Robert replied.

“Butter ? No I would like them for my paint ! I have to carry the damn stuff in pig’s bladders at the moment, these will allow me to take more colours with me. This will change everything !”

They shook hands, laughing. John envisioned great works of art and a fortune, Robert thought his new friend was simply mad.

John Goffe Rand introduced the collapsible tube to the art world and immediately made the use and transport of paint much easier. This led to a dramatic increase in the number of landscape and ‘outdoor’ paintings. Monet in particular credited Robert’s tube with allowing him to discover ‘the true colour of the atmosphere’.

Impressionism – Monaghan’s gift to the world.

The Sandwich

Without a doubt one of the most  weird and wonderful Monaghan men ever was  Richard Pockrich ( 1695-1759) .There is a book in his many ground breaking inventions and the theories that he failed to either patent or capitalise on during his lifetime and which he failed to be credited for as others brought his theories to fruition. Blood transfusions, canal building, champagne corks, geese farming, bog draining, immortality, vine cultivation, metal ships ,and lifeboats  were only a few of his inventions  that actually came to pass , often over a hundred years after he had originally put them forward.

It was in his pursuit of making his idea for metal hulled ships and lifeboats a reality that he came into contact with John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.  Despite being a genius inventor , Richard was a simply awful business man and had a string of failed ventures behind him,  and was always trying to stay one step ahead of the bailiffs. This led him to alter his name every so often and it was as Captain Poekrich that he presented himself to John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich and  First Lord of the Admiralty  in 1751 at the Ripley Building in London.

The Royal Navy was the largest in the world and the Admiralty controlled it tightly.

By all accounts Montagu thought this Irish ‘inventor’ was quite mad. He couldn’t fathom how a metal ship wouldn’t rust, let alone float. And as for the idea of lifeboats, what was the point of ‘saving’ sailors? They had usually become sailors to avoid the hangman’s noose or gaol, so the thought of spending good money on saving them if they’d been incompetent enough to sink one of His Majesty’s  magnificent vessels was abhorrent to him. They deserved to be flogged , not saved.

“But perhaps, My Lord, the officers would deserve redemption ? “ Pockrich bravely interrupted the Earl’s tirade on the calibre and pedigree of sailors. “ One lifeboat could save the lives of all of the officers and the captain ?”

“ THE CAPTAIN ??? “ the Earl spat “ The captain goes down with his ship ! It spares the bugger the humiliation of explaining to me how he buggered up the simple task of floating our boat from A to B. Save the captain indeed, the very idea….” He calmed down a little and seeing how forlorn the Irish chap was, rang the bell summoning his butler. The butler appeared within seconds, the Earl was not one to be kept waiting. “ Tea and meat for two , now!”. The butler bowed and went out to fetch the tea.

While they waited a thought occurred to the Earl “ But surely ,Captain Poekrich , as a naval man yourself you would know this protocol ?”

“Ah yes, well ,My Lord, I’m not actually a captain in the naval sense. Captain is my…emm.. Christian name ….emm…after St.Captain of…emm..Antioch, the patron saint of….soft furnishing.” Pockrich was grasping at straws and was delighted to see the butler come back with a tray of tea and two plates of meat. The butler  poured the tea and left the room. The Earl immediately picked up a slice of beef and a leg of chicken and ate them greedily. He then bemoaned the fact that his fingers were greasy wiping them on his britches.

“If I may, My Lord” Pockrich reached down to his satchel and took out a paper package which he placed on the Earl’s desk before unwrapping it to reveal two slices of bread with some ham in between. He hadn’t known how long he would be kept waiting to see one of the most powerful men in the realm and had packed a lunch. He produced a knife , cut the bread ensemble in two and lifted one half, took a bite and then picked up a piece of paper from the Earls desk with his fingers before showing it to the Earl to demonstrate that there were no greasy fingerprints.

The Earl looked at the paper, Pockrich, the bread and back to Pockrich before asking “May I ?” nodding down to the other half of the bread, Pockrich nodded enthusiastically. The Earl picked up the meat filled bread slices, took a bite and chewed as the smile on his face widened. He looked at his fingers , marvelling at their non-greasy state, and then  took a slurp of tea before speaking “ Brilliant ! Marvellous ! You Sir are a genius ! What is this magnificent creation called ?”

“We call it a Leslie, Sir” Pockrich replied “ It’s a common diet staple in Monaghan and we named it after Bishop Leslie, the fighting bishop of Glaslough “

“A Leslie ??? I can’t ask for a round of Leslies ? How could I maintain control of His Majesty’s Royal Navy if word got out the First Lord of The Admiralty was very partial to a Leslie ? No, that won’t do” he rose as he spoke standing at the large window behind his grand desk “ We need a name that is grander, regal almost, something  as magnificent as this meal itself.”

“Why don’t we call it a…Sandwich ?” Pockrich proffered hesitantly.

“My dear boy” the Earl grinned as he replied “ from the very moment you walked in here I said to myself ‘ This man has the bearing of a genius’ and by God Sir, I was right ! By God I was Sir! A Sandwich shall yet again sustain His Majesty’s kingdom”

Pockrich decided now was the time to press his luck “ And the lifeboat My Lord ? Would there be merit in it “

“Absolutely not” the Earl snapped “ that’s nearly as ridiculous as your metal ship idea. No, Master Poekrich, your future lies in the ‘Sandwich’ business, unless you have some other wonder in that satchel of yours ?”

Pockrich reached down and opened his satchel to reveal………. But perhaps that’s a story for another day.

So Chicken, Impressionism, Sandwich, which one is completely true-ish, which is mostly true and which is not at all true ?



Author: paul

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