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The Evil That Irish Men Did
Down the centuries Ireland has produced its share of scoundrels and blackguards. In a new book Joe O’Shea delves into the dark world of Irish villains.
Olaf Tyaransen, 02 Nov 2012
The first chapter of Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem tells the story of James ‘Sligo’ Jameson, scion of the famous whiskey family, who caused a massive scandal in the late 1880s following a shocking incident in darkest Africa. When word leaked back to the press that the talented Irish artist had bought a young slave girl in order to sketch her being murdered, prepared and eaten by Congolese cannibals, there was public uproar.
“The Jameson story was where the book started really,” O’Shea explains. “I came across his name in a biography of Henry Morton Stanley, who led the exhibition. Jameson was mentioned in it quite extensively, but he was still a bit player. Most of these guys in the book are bit players in wider stories, but Jameson was a fascinating one. His grandfather was the Jameson who founded the whiskey distillery and he was a real Victorian gentleman. Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness was inspired by the Jameson story.”
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, he didn’t have to travel far to do his research.
“I made a few trips to the National Library, which was really interesting. They’ve some great stuff in there. But most of it was done online,” he admits. “The amount of material now available on the internet for research purposes is unbelievable. For the Jameson story, I was able to read the published version of his journal that went out of print in 1894. It’s online now as an e-book. So I looked at a lot of original documents online. I was also able to read The Gentleman’s Magazine from 1778, which mentions Luke Ryan, the pirate from Rush. So that was amazing.”
While there was an abundance of material about some of his more notorious subjects, others’ lives were less well-documented. History may be written by the victors, but nobody wants to talk about the losers...
“Some of them were difficult to research because they were very marginal characters and not the kind of people that anybody wanted to remember. If they were heroes, poems and ballads would have been written about them. But a lot of them, even their families wanted to forget they’d ever existed.”