John Twiss: Blood of Gentlemen 

In the wake of the hanging of John Twiss on 9 February 1895, the county of Kerry was described as in ‘a frenzy of rage.’


Aftermath: The people of Kerry would not be silenced over the injustice of the Twiss conviction[1]


The comment came from the president of Sinn Féin, John Joseph O’Kelly, better known as Sceilg, as he recalled a football tournament played in Killarney which he could ‘never forget.’[2]


Above left, Coarhabeg National School, Valencia Island, where Kerryman John Joseph O’Kelly, ‘Sceilg’, attended school.  The patriot and statesman died in 1957[3]

He wrote:


It was some short time after the execution of John Twiss of Castleisland, sentenced by a packed jury in Cork.  Kerry was in a frenzy of rage.  As we walked from the railway station to the late genial Jim Courtney’s Home Farm, where the matches were played, the people in the doorways shouted: ‘Give it to the Corkonians today!’  ‘Give it to them with a vengeance!’[4]


Historic House: The pitch at Jim Courtney’s Home Farm Hotel, Lackabane, Fossa, Killarney.  The property was formerly known as Lakeview House, residence of the Maybury family[5].  It was demolished to make way for a clubhouse

The rage against the Corkonians was an indirect revolt against a ‘justice system’ that had failed to adequately respond to appeals for leniency in the case of John Twiss, even in the face of some 40,000 signatures for his reprieve.


Twiss, widely held to be innocent of the crime for which he had been convicted; had protested his innocence in a powerful speech from the dock, when he declared his descent from ‘the blood of gentlemen.’[6]


Twiss Ancestry


The words of Twiss were not without foundation.  Burke’s genealogical records show that he traced his lineage to Richard Twiss of Killintierna, JP, agent to Herbert, Earl of Powis, who lived in the castle of Castleisland, the first of the family settled in Ireland at the close of the reign of Charles I.[7]


John Twiss was descended from Martin Twiss (d1745) of Killinteirna (Killeentierna), son of Francis Twiss and Jane Parsons.  Martin Twiss married Catherine Williams of Gortatlea and had six sons and two daughters.[8]


John, the 6th son, married Eliza, daughter of Arthur Bastable Esq of Molahiffe Castle.[9]  They had a son, William, who married Catherine Chute of Ballyaukeen, near Currans, in about 1802.[10]


William Twiss and Catherine Chute had four children[11] including Robert, born c1811 in Currans, who married Elizabeth Hely of Dunmore.[12]  Robert and Elizabeth had five children, including John, the subject of this document.[13]


Jane, sister of John Twiss, did not long survive her brother; she died in 1902, after giving birth to a son.[14]


Historic:  The grave of Jane Twiss and family at Kilnananima cemetery.   The grave is beside the burial place of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond


125th Anniversary


This week (9 February 2020) marks the 125th anniversary of the execution of John Twiss.


Helen O’Connor and Denis Sayers, descendants of Jane Twiss, are currently pursuing the Presidential Pardon of John Twiss, with the support of the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project.  The outcome is awaited.


Journalist Gordon Revington, co-author of A Century of Politics in the Kingdom (2018), today commented on his study of the Twiss affair:


It is my principal impression that the British authorities decided that this was a case in which it had become imperative to obtain a conviction.  As a result of this, a Cork city jury, clear interference with a critical witness, and a variety of other devices were developed in an effort to get John Twiss to ‘finger’ O’Keeffe.  When that failed, the decision was made to move heaven and earth to put Twiss on the scaffold.[15]



[1] Depiction of gallows, ‘Georges Goury’– Fert in omnia rutubam et tristitiam terribilis amor: In all things terrible love brings trouble and sadness – from the John Starr Stewart Ex Libris Collection held at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.   

Georges Goury (1877-1959).  Following is a translation of Biographical Note by Albert France-Lanord from Gallia (1961):

On May 8 1959, Georges Goury, one of the masters of French prehistory, died at the age of 82, at his property in Sainte-Menehould where he had lived since the war.  He was born in Messein near Nancy, of the family Lorraine, where he studied law and was registered as a lawyer at the bar in this city.  However, he never practiced this profession, devoting all his activity to prehistory and its collections;  Georges Goury was indeed both an authentic scientist and a passionate collector.  We know his main books, which remain classics: Origine et evolution de l’homme (Origins and Evolution of Man) (1927), reissued in 1948, and L’homme des cites lacustres (The Man of the Lake Cities) (1931).  In addition to these background works, he published a large number of articles, including l’Essai sur l’epoque barbare dans la Marne (Essay on the Barbarian Era in the Marne) and Le camp hallstattien d’Autzy (The Hallstatt Camp of Autzy).

In addition, he was, until his last years, director of historical Antiquities of the district of Nancy. Having wanted to interest the young and the public in prehistory, he created, at the Faculty of Letters of Nancy, a public course which he taught for many years.   For seventeen years he was a member of the Lorraine Archaeology Society and in 1937, curator at the Lorraine Museum; he had worked with the Lorraine pioneer team of Bleicher, Gournault and Beaupre.  Their excavations were used to build up the collections of the Museum Lorraine collections.  But Georges Goury's research was not limited to this province; he traversed the country forming links with numerous French and foreign researchers at the same time enriching his prehistoric collections.

He was a collector in every meaning of the word.  Besides a huge Palaeolithic and Neolithic collection, and many proto-historics, Gallo-Roman and Merovingian pieces, which he donated to the Lorraine Museum a few years ago, he had gathered a multitude of documents and objects: postcards, business cards, menus, printed labels, coins, seals, postage stamps, and watch keys ... without neglecting a considerable archaeological library.  Always on the lookout, he acquired important material for more than fifty years.  The excavations which had been carried out, under his direction, in the Marne also contributed to enrich its series of Celtic antiquities.  Thanks to his generosity and that of his family, his archaeological collections and library have recently entered the Lorraine Museum.

He never married, he was very affable, loving, generous, honouring his friends with his collection and his cellar.  He was alert and lively despite his age, full of wit and gaiety, and lived as a country gentleman in his mansion in Saint-Hilairemont, attending his crops and his apiary, as well as to the manufacture of an excellent mead which was his favourite drink.

Georges Goury was a great original and, admittedly, recognized this himself; but behind this was a kind-hearted man, of deep generosity, a sincere and learned man.  With this combination of attributes, he is a type of who has disappeared in the history of archaeological research in France.

Further reference,  Goury Collection of ‘Ex-libris’ Lorraine Museum and Aquitaine Museum, Bordeaux. 

[2] He added, ‘Ballyduff were drawn against Blarney, champions of that year; and Tralee, I think, against Clondrohid, Cork’s football champions’ (‘Half a Century’s Reminiscences’ by John Joseph O’Kelly, ‘Sceilg,’ published in Gaelic Days (1944) presented by Seamus O’Ceallaigh, pp11-19, reprinted from An Caman in which it was published a decade earlier to mark the Golden Jubilee of the GAA).  Reference courtesy Maurice Buckley, Cork, grand-nephew of Patrick Riordan Fitzgibbon, solicitor for John Twiss (further reference see IE MOD/C47).

[3] Photograph of John Joseph O’Kelly from Kerry News, 30 September 1940.  Coarhabeg National School the work of Daphne Pochin Mould.  Obituary to O’Kelly from Irish Independent, 27 March 1957.  An English translation was also given: O’Kelly (Dublin) – March 26 1957 at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, John J O’Kelly (Sceilg), 173 Botanic Rd, Glasnevin; deeply regretted by his sons, daughter, relatives and friends, RIP.  Remains will be removed this (Wednesday) evening arriving at the Church of the Seven Dolours, Glasnevin, at 6.30 o’c.  Funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery after 10.0 o’c Mass tomorrow (Thursday).

[4] Sceilg added, ‘never reflecting that the plain people of Cork had no part in the packing of juries.’

Seán Ó Ceallaigh (1872-1957), John Joseph O’Kelly, otherwise ‘Sceilg,,’ a penname taken perhaps from the view of the Skelligs from his home on Valencia Island; Irish patriot, author and publisher.  Editor of the Catholic Bulletin; president of the Gaelic League and of Sinn Féin.  Born at Coarha More, Valentia Island, Co Kerry, son of Patrick Kelly and Ellen O’Sullivan.  O’Kelly attended Coarhabeg and Portmagee National Schools.  He married Nora Ni Shuilleabhain from Lisbane, Caherciveen, Kerry in 1904 (d 1949); married in Inchicore, Dublin.  They had four sons and two daughters, Sean O Ceallaigh (1908-1975) Secretary General of the Treaty in 1930s, Principal of High School of Commerce, Rathmines; Patrick O’Kelly (1906-1928); Denis Gerard O’Kelly (1909-1911); Mortimer (?) ; Mary O’Kelly (1910-1937); Catherine (otherwise Iney O’Kelly, Iney O’Kelly-Leonard, also referred to as Mrs May Leonard).  Her husband was A G Gordon Leonard, 18 Belgrave Road, Dublin, who died on 28 August 1966. Catherine was trustee of the Camogie Association.  John Joseph O’Kelly died in Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, on 26 March 1957 and was buried in Glasnevin.  Further reference, ‘A Great Irishman Laid to Rest,’ Kerryman, 13 April 1957 & ‘The Fascinating Story of John Joseph O’Kelly,’ Kerryman, 30 January 2019.

[5] James snr and James J Courtney jnr, father and son, appear in residence at Home Farm at the period in question. James J Courtenay (otherwise Courtney) died at Home Farm on 6 August 1928 aged 62.  He was buried in Muckross Abbey.  Chief mourners Patrick J Courtney and Jack Courtney, sons, Frances, Peggie and Mollie Courtney and Mrs Kitty O’Donoghue, daughters; Mrs Margaret Murphy O’Connor, Cork, sister.  James J Courtenay was described as ‘a true sportsman ... a member of the Regatta Committee and one of the crew of the Loch-Lein Club ... he helped in the revival of the far famed Killarney races’ (obit, Irish Examiner, 16 August 1928).  James J Courtenay’s sister, Margaret, ‘only daughter of James Courtenay, of Lackabawn’ was married at Fossa by her brother, Rev P Courtenay (d1906), to James Murphy-O’Connor, Ivy Villa, Myrtle Hill, Cork on 15 July 1890.  Further reference, An English Spring: Memoirs (2015) by Cormac Murphy O’Connor.

It is worth noting that Home Farm Hotel, formerly Lakeview House, Lackabane, near Fossa, Killarney, adjacent to the Liebherr factory, should be distinguished from the nearby Lakeview at Maulagh, near Fossa, Killarney, residence of the O’Connell family (rebuilt on the site of an older property in 1868, and which also appears to have been utilized as a hotel – see OS map, last edition).   

Earlier in the nineteenth century, Lakeview House, Lackabane, appears to have been a residence of the Maybury family.  George Maybury Esq (1800-1846), Lieutenant in the Kerry Militia, died at Lakeview (otherwise described as Bellevue) after a short illness on 25 November 1846.  His wife, Isabella, died of malignant fever at Lakeview in May 1836.  She was in her 52nd year, and left ‘a numerous family.’  Francis Maybury Esq was in residence in 1850. George and Isabella were the parents of Thomas Duckett Maybury, MD.  Thomas Duckett Maybury married Isabella, daughter of Robert Day Esq, barrister, at Cove on 16 August 1845.  They were married by Rev Walter Baker Atkins.  Thomas Duckett Maybury MD, Surgeon-Major, Kerry Militia and surgeon of the 10th Regiment, BAL, last surviving son of George Maybury Esq of Belleview, Killarney, died on 18 May 1877 at Clahane House, near Ballyard, Tralee, Co Kerry.  His eldest son, George D Maybury Esq (1846-1879) died at Clahane House on 21 June 1879.

In 1995, Home Farm Hotel, described as ‘in very good condition’ with ‘many of the features of the original residence’ was up for sale (‘Sixty-eight acre farm to sell for close to €1,500,000,’ Kerryman, 20 January 1995).  It did not survive.  A plaque there records: Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, Lackabane Course and Clubhouse, Officially opened by An Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern TD on July 22nd of Millennium Year 2000.  Design Consultants: E G Pettit and Co (Clubhouse) Donald Steel and Co (Course) Contractors: W K O’Connor and Sons Ltd (Clubhouse) C J Collins Construction Ltd (Course).

[6] An account, ‘Trial of John Twiss the Moonlighter’ by Pat Twiss, in Hel Achau, Journal of the Clwyd Family History Society, No 12, Spring 1984, p8 (copy of this edition held in the O’Donohoe Collection, IE MOD/C60 courtesy Maurice Buckley, Cork, grand-nephew of Patrick Riordan Fitzgibbon, solicitor for John Twiss) acknowledged that John Twiss was innocent of the crime for which he was hanged.  The account, told by Lenox Horace Twiss (1907-1996), ‘cousin of John Twiss,’ relates a family story about the affair given by Serjeant Sullivan QC, barrister for John Twiss, to Vivien Sara Pearson, daughter of Marguerite White, née Twiss.

[7] He was not, as is widely held, of Palatine stock.  ‘Twiss of Anna and Parteen’ in A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (1846 & 1847) by John Burke Esq and John Bernard Burke Esq.

[8] Ellen, Mary, Frank (died unmarried); Robert (whose son George married Honoria, daughter of William Meredith Esq of Dicksgrove in 1773); William of Ballybeg (who married into the Godfrey family of Ballygamboon); George (who married into the Day family); Richard (who married into the Radley family of Cork) and John of Ballyhantauragh.  

[9] Further reference, ‘A Sketch of Molahiffe Castle and the Manor of Molahiffe’

[10] In the O’Donohoe Collection document IE MOD/55/55.1/55.1.223, we read that the parents of John Twiss experienced ‘a dramatic fall in their fortunes and the mother died when some of the children were quite young.’  Catherine Chute (sometimes given as Tuite) was of the Chutes of Ballyaukeen (var: Ballyackery, Ballyacky, Ballyakey, Ballyaky, Ballyakee, Ballyakeen, Ballyackey, Ballyaughkeen) in the parish of Ballymacelligott, close to Chute Hall.  The townland formed part of the Tullygarran estate (Chute Hall and Spring Hill the main residences).  This branch of the Chute family was Catholic and does not appear in Burke’s genealogical records (Chute of Chute Hall).  The name of James Chute Esq appears in the Tithe records.

[11] The children were John, George (whose daughter Susan (or Susannah) married Patrick Walshe of Cordal in 1880 and had issue); Robert and Mary. ‘William Twiss married Catherine Chute, one of the old family of the Chutes of Chutehall, Tralee, one of whom readers of sound Irish literature will remember was introduced by Gerald Griffin into his tale The Collegians.  The father of John Twiss was named Robert.  He was a Protestant, and lived at Glounthane [Glountane is in the townland of Cordal East], Castleisland.  He was a gentleman farmer, and in addition to receipt of an income left him by his father.  He is buried in the family ground at Cordal.  Robert Twiss married a Catholic girl named Elizabeth Hely, a native of Donoughmore, Co Cork, who was connected with the Hely Hutchinsons.  The marriage took place in London in both Protestant and Catholic churches.  There were five children, three sons and two daughters.  The eldest son, William ... John, who was hanged was born in London and is aged 34.  George the third son is thirty-two years old ... Mary Twiss is married to a Castleisland man named Pat O’Donoghue, they live in comfortable circumstances in Boston, US.  Jane, the other sister always acted as housekeeper to John, who owing to his parents’ death and decline of fortune had received but little education and had worked since he reached manhood as an agricultural labourer.  Through his grandmother, Mrs Chute, he inherited the tolls of the Curran’s Castleisland fair ...and he also received some wages as caretaker of two graveyards’ (Irish Daily Independent, 11 February 1895).

[12] Elizabeth was said to be of the Hely Hutchinson family of Donoughmore (Donoghmore), Co Cork.  There is a record of a marriage of a Robert Twiss, son of William, to Elizabeth Haley, daughter of Patrick, in St Mary’s Whitechapel, Middlesex, on 7 May 1848. 

[13] The children were William (1851), John (1856?), George, Mary and Jane.  Only John and Jane remained in Ireland.  It has been stated that William was a missionary in Australia though elsewhere it is stated that he was a labourer working in Christchurch, New Zealand.  When news of his brother’s sentence reached him from Rev M T Marnane, rector of St Mary’s parish, Christchurch, he dissuaded William, for practical reasons, from returning to Ireland to ‘rake up all the information he can’ to establish his brother’s innocence (Kerry Champion, 24 January 1948).  George died in New York in the 1900s.  It was stated that Mary went to America – see note above, ‘Mary Twiss is married to a Castleisland man named Pat O’Donoghue, they live in comfortable circumstances in Boston, US.’

[14] Headstone at Cordal records the following: In Loving Memory of/Jane Twiss/Cordal/died 18 Nov 1902/Denis Cronin/Died 6 Dec 1985 aged 83 Yrs/His Son Michael/Died 20 July 1993/Aged 54 Yrs/RIP/Erected by/Denis Twiss Cronin.   There is an image of Denis Cronin (1902-1985), father of Michael (1939-1993), at the unveiling of the Twiss monument in 1984 (Kerryman, 10 August 1984).   Denis Cronin was the son of Michael Cronin (died 20 May 1936) and Jane Twiss (died 1902). 

[15] Email correspondence with the O’Donohoe Archive, 5 February 2020.