‘Where is Glenlara?’: John Twiss of Castleisland, from a Cork Perspective

'The dogs in the street knew John Twiss was innocent'

As the descendants of John Twiss, and the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project, await the outcome of the application for the Presidential Pardon of Twiss, hanged in 1895 for a crime he maintained he did not commit, a space is given here to reflect on the other victim in this affair, the murdered James Donovan, widower and father of two.


The Cork side of events of 1894, when bailiff James Donovan (1851-1894), native of Ballineen, West Cork, was bludgeoned in the yard of the evicted premises he occupied at Glenlara, was thoroughly portrayed in a recent work of historical fiction by Newmarket native, Paudy Scully.[1]


Scully, who described how James Donovan died in his bed after the beating, his young eight-year-old son, John, beside him, exonerated Twiss of the crime in the identification of others for the offence.[2]


I Forgive Them All


Scully introduces the reader to the Cork neighbourhood of Glenlara and people of interest at the period in question, including informers, spies, the evicted family of ‘Connely,’ and, most importantly, The Bard – otherwise John Sullivan.[3]


Sullivan, born in Ivy, Charlottesville, Virginia in 1853 of Cork (Schull) parents, is the supreme head of the Moonlighting movement in the Cork, Kerry and Limerick border area, having returned to Ireland during the Land War.  He casts a shadowy figure, contactable via Philip Francis Johnson of the Egmont Arms Hotel, Kanturk.[4]


Above: Scully’s literature has been on sale in Scully’s Bar, Newmarket.  Right: the former Egmont Arms Hotel, Kanturk


In Sullivan’s efforts to assist the evicted Jim Connely and his family, he gives orders to the ‘Cummer cell’ to remove emergency man, Denis Keating.[5]


The cell consists of three men, Ned Kane of Moloney’s Glen, Cummer, Meelin, a farmer and water well-digger ‘six foot two and built like a barrel’ – one of the few receiving payment from The Bard for ‘rough jobs’; Ger Cogan of Meelin, and Dan Murphy, who having emigrated to America has been replaced by 19-yr old Morris Sullivan of Rowels.[6]


After dispensing with Keating, their next assignment at Glenlara is the removal of Donovan.  On the evening of the murder, Kane, Cogan and Sullivan are under orders to give Donovan a violent warning to get out of Glenlara.  Kane, however, does ‘not seem to know when to stop’ during such ‘missions.’


Donovan dies from the injuries received.  The subsequent warrant for the arrest of John Twiss of Castleisland, issued by Inspector Harte, Cork City, elicits the response from Inspector Samuel, RIC Kanturk: ‘We have no evidence.’  To this, Harte replies, ‘Twiss will be held on remand until evidence is acquired.’


Scully describes how John Twiss does ‘not have a clue’ what is happening when he is arrested and asks, ‘Where is Glenlara?’


Signpost: Map shows Glenlara, where Donovan lost his life and for whose murder Twiss lost his, nestled between Taur and Newmarket.  Right: Ruin known as the Barracks, said to have been vacated in 1954.[7]  In the field behind it stood the cottage in which Donovan was murdered[8]

Scully includes the fate of the three ‘cell’ members.  Young Morris Sullivan escapes to America only to die there after a fall from a horse, and an evident last confession.   Kane and Cogan remain in the area until 1915 when Ned Kane robs and murders Con Ben McCarthy in Meelin, witnessed by Cogan.


Cogan reports the matter to the police and Inspector Samuel subsequently questions Kane.  Asked if he killed McCarthy, Kane replies in the affirmative, and adds, ‘I killed James Donovan, the emergency man in Glenlara too.’


This opens a can of worms for Inspector Samuel, a man on the eve of his retirement.  Kane’s confession will serve the inspector’s reputation no good.  Twiss has hanged for the crime, with the assistance of paid informers.


A deal is struck.  An order is issued for the arrest of Ger Cogan in Meelin, amid rumours that Cogan may have been the murderer of McCarthy, and Cogan is never seen again in Meelin.  Kane is escorted by armed guard to the Curragh where he is obliged to enlist in the Dublin Fusiliers.


He serves in the First World War and ends up in a convalescent home for wounded soldiers in Tipperary.


He remains in that county, marries, and has three children.  And there he dies in 1960 at the age of 89.



[1] IE MOD/A20/2/25.  I Forgive Them All (2007) by Paudy Scully, musician and author.  Other titles, The Turbulent Times and Travels of Peter MacAuliffe (2009) and The Prophecy of Blind Nanny Keeffe (2018).  The case of John Twiss is also given by another Cork author, Donie Murphy, in The Footprints in a Field in Glenamuckla, Newmarket, Co Cork (2013), ‘The Famous Moonlighter John Twiss.’

[2] Scully’s work described how John Donovan was later adopted by the wife of an RIC constable.  His older brother, Denis Donovan, worked as a bailiff.

[3] Or O'Sullivan.  The evicted family was Keneally/Kenneally.

[4] Philip Francis Johnson (1835-1926), Irish Nationalist and hotel proprietor.  Married Teresa Rourke and had two daughters, Mary Frances and Flora KathleenMary Frances Johnson married solicitor Redmond Joyce Connolly (1849-1900) of Clifden, Galway and had issue.  Mary Francis Connolly died at her father’s residence on 17 October 1895.  Flora Kathleen Johnson married in 1894 in Kanturk John J Buggy, LRCSI LRQCPI, medical officer of Tullaroan dispensary district, Kilkenny, third son of Alderman John Buggy JP of Cantwell’s Court, Kilkenny.  Dr John J Buggy died in April 1898.  They had a son Kyran Norris Buggy (1897-1976) and a daughter, Frances Josephine, who was received into the Loretto Order at the Abbey, Rathfarnham in May 1914 (in religion, Sister M Genevieve).  Her cousin, Sister M Dorothea, a professed nun at the Loretto College, Dublin, was third daughter of Redmond Joyce Connolly.  In 1911, Flora Kathleen Buggy was resident with her father in Kanturk.

Teresa (Rourke) Johnson died on 13 July 1899 and was interred in St Mary’s, Kanturk.  Philip Francis Johnson sold his hotel and left Kanturk in 1916; see tribute Irish Examiner, 13 December 1916.  He went to live with his family at Clifden House, Galway, where he died on 3 November 1926.  He was buried in Ardbear cemetery.  Further reference, ‘P F Johnson, nationalism, and Irish rural labourers, 1869-82’ by Fintan Lane, Irish Historical Studies, Vol 33, No 130 (Nov 2002) pp191-208.

[5] Keating was subsequently beaten almost to death and never seen again in Glenlara. 

[6] An Comar and Rowls townlands lie in the civil parish of Clonfert.  Kane, Cogan and Sullivan are fictional names.  In May 1935, Dr Timothy Woulfe (1886-1969) Dispensary Medical Officer, of Grove House, Bruff, Co Limerick and later of Clonkeen Road, Blackrock, Dublin, who took deep interest in history and drama, wrote, ‘As to how much of all that was sworn against Twiss was true, and as to who procured the evidence, and by what means he procured it, the late Mr Meade, ex-Lord Mayor of Cork, made to me a remark which perhaps I cannot safely write and which you might not safely publish’ (‘The Truth about John Twiss, Kerryman, 11 May 1935).  A reluctance to openly discuss those suspected of involvement in the crimes against Donovan and Twiss still remains.

[7] In the House of Commons, 3 May 1894, Mr Smith-Barry asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether the police authorities were aware of the danger James Donovan had been in while residing at the evicted farm at Glenlara and whether he was aware that application had been made several times for his protection.  Further that a police hut ought to have been erected.  Mr Hanna of the Cork Defence Union had made application on behalf of Donovan for protection (Hansard, Vol 24, cc207-9). 

[8] It has been suggested the residences of Donovan and Keneally were demolished in the 1960s.