In Ballymun, a Murdered Coachman's Tomb Lies in Plain Sight

“Here lies the remains of James Kelly,” is written on the side of a large tomb, topped with an enormous grey slab of stone, about six feet wide and ten feet long.

“A coachman in the employment of the Domville family of Santry Court,” the rest of his epitaph reads.

To the north, the Ballymun Metro Hotel towers at the end of the street. On the opposite side of the road is a Lidl supermarket.

Kelly doesn’t rest in a graveyard or in the company of other tombs.

The tomb stands alone in the grounds of St Pappin’s Nursing Home, on the main road through the hustle and bustle of Ballymun.

Roughly 250 years ago, Dublin’s most notorious bunch of thugs murdered Kelly.

Kelly was the coachman for the most powerful family in the area at that time, who gave him this prominent place to rest.

At St Pappin’s

“When we were younger they used to say that if you run around it 10 times the devil will appear,” says Justyne McDonagh, who has lived in Ballymun all her life.

McDonagh and some friends tried to test the myth. But they stopped after the third lap, she says.

“The church door was broken so it was wide open. It was real windy so the door was opening and closing,” McDonagh said, on the phone last Friday.

“We got the fright of our lives,” she says.

There were concrete benches on the church grounds at one stage, McDonagh says. “I actually had my first kiss there. He turned out to be a devil.”

Death of a Coachman

Kelly was killed because of a cruel practical joke, according to a Ballymun local history report by the Ballymun Guild of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, and shared on the Glasnevin Heritage Facebook page.

“He died as a result of having whiskey poured over him and then set ablaze,” the report says.

And the perpetrators of this cruel act? “This man had been the victim of a ‘prank’ carried out at the infamous Hellfire Club in the Dublin Mountains,” says the report.

Members of the Hellfire Club used this hunting lodge in the Dublin Mountains as a space to drink and commit blasphemous acts, according to Ballymun A History by Robert Somerville Woodward.

“It is also believed that the members sometimes set fire to the building to recreate the anticipated fires of hell,” Woodward said in the book.

The fire which killed Kelly also burned down the Hellfire Club too, according to the report.

The Domville Family

It is not known exactly when Kelly was murdered but he began working for the Domville family in the latter half of the 18th century.

The Domvilles were the lords of the area at the time, says Britt Du Fournet.

“I started studying the area because I became involved in the Save Santry Wood movement in the 90s to try to save the park from [the] developer,” Du Fournet said, by email.

The movement tried to get Dublin City Council to buy Santry Wood from private owners, she said. Fifty-three acres were sold to the council and the remaining 200 acres were sold to private developers.

“The Domvilles were among the most powerful and richest family in Ireland with a past (with different names) going back to the Norman invasion,” Du Fournet said.

When the Domvilles lived in Ballymun, it was rural.

They lived in a manor, Santry Court, which was where Santry Park is now, Du Fournet says.

High-profile visitors would stop by the Domville house in Santry.

The most famous person in the area, aside from the Domvilles, was Jonathan Swift, says Du Fornet.

The Gulliver’s Travels author and Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral lived in Glasnevin, she says. “He was a frequent visitor to the lady of Santry House.”

A Strange Connection

The Domville family had a connection to the Hellfire Club before the incident of Kelly’s murder.

Lord Henry Barry, a founding member of the club, was a nephew to the Domville family, according to Ballymun A History.

When Lord Barry murdered someone in a drunken rage on 9 August 1738, his uncle, Sir Compton Domville, got him pardoned from a death sentence.

Domville “threatened to cut-off Dublin City’s entire supply of drinking water, if Lord Barry was executed”, according to the book.

Luke Murphy, who worked as a resident historian in the Ballymun Regeneration Centre, says that the Domvilles died out around the 1930s or 1940s.

They had accumulated a pile of debt, he said by email. “As with many other land-owning families post-independence.”

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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