William Sydney Clements (1806–1878) aka the 3rd Earl of Leitrim was best known as the notorious Lord Leitrim who was murdered for his mistreatment of his tenants.
In 1839, he became known as Viscount Clements and also succeeded his older brother (heir to the family estate who died suddenly that year) as a Member of Parliament for County Leitrim. On his father's death in 1854, Clements succeeded as 3rd Earl. Some of his peers in the House of Commons named him 'the bad earl' on account of repeated accusations of his 'immorality towards daughters of tenants'.
Over the next two decades, Lord Leitrim's overbearing behaviour as a landlord brought him much hatred from his tenants, Catholic and Protestant alike, whom he evicted with equal enthusiasm. In April 1878, after surviving various attempts on his life, Lord Leitrim was assassinated, along with his clerk and driver, near Cratlagh Wood while on his way to Milford (a village he owned in its entirety) from his home, Manor Vaughan, on Mulroy Bay. His assassination in 1878 was largely a result of wholesale evictions on his Donegal estates. But the final straw that motivated the individuals involved was an accusation that Lord Leitrim had debauched a young servant girl - a daughter of one of the assassins.
The assassins, Nial Shiels of Doughmore, an itinerant tailor, Michael Hegarty of Tullyconnell, and Michael MvElwee of Ballyworiskey, were from the remote Fanad Peninsula. (McElwee's father was involved in litigation with Leitrim with the result that McElwee was rendered bankrupt, and his house and farm were sold at auction in 1877. Michael Heraghty and brothers Thomas and Bernard McGranahan were arrested. The McGranahans were released from Lifford Jail due to a lack of evidence. Heraghty died of typhus in Lifford Jail. In 1960, a monument with a cross was set up at Kindrum honouring McElwee, Shiels, and Michael Heraghty as the men whose actions "Ended the tyranny of landlordism".
Leitrim was buried in Dublin at St Michan's church, amid scenes of great agitation.
"The mob wanted to wreak their drunken rage on the dead body of the old Earl, as it was not enough that he had been murdered; and when they were disappointed in their charitable desire to throw the corpse into the street, they howled and yelled an accompaniment of brutal hate to the funeral service. It was a disgraceful affair, scarcely possible in any other latitude of the civilized world." [New York Tribune, April 12, 1878]
The murder forms a major element in the plot of the play The Home Place by Brian Friel .
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