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Theft and Sacrilege, Dublin, Christmas 1721

Theft and Sacrilege, Dublin, Christmas 1721

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Published by Seán Donnelly
This local history articles deals with a crime committed in Dublin at Christmas 1721. A chalice was stolen from a Catholic chapel, and one man was eventually hanged for it. In his last speech, he strongly denied that he had stolen the chalice. Years later, his brother confessed to the crime in his own last speech, admitting that his brother had been innocent. Both brothers blamed their troubles on a woman who rejoiced in the nickname 'the Queen of the Sluts', and a third man also named her in his last speech. The possible meaning and significance of this title is discussed and an earlier bearer of the title in Dublin is mentioned
This local history articles deals with a crime committed in Dublin at Christmas 1721. A chalice was stolen from a Catholic chapel, and one man was eventually hanged for it. In his last speech, he strongly denied that he had stolen the chalice. Years later, his brother confessed to the crime in his own last speech, admitting that his brother had been innocent. Both brothers blamed their troubles on a woman who rejoiced in the nickname 'the Queen of the Sluts', and a third man also named her in his last speech. The possible meaning and significance of this title is discussed and an earlier bearer of the title in Dublin is mentioned

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Seán Donnelly on Jul 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/05/2013

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‘NOT SO WICKED AS TO COMMIT SACRILEGE:’A THEFT AT CHRISTMAS 1721 FROM THE CHAPEL OFST NICHOLAS WITHOUT, FRANCIS STREET, DUBLIN
SEÁN DONNELLY 
1
 
‘NOT SO WICKED AS TO COMMIT SACRILEGE:’A THEFT AT CHRISTMAS 1721 FROM THE CHAPEL OF ST. NICHOLASWITHOUT, FRANCIS STREET, DUBLIN
SEÁN DONNELLY 
By 1720, in spite of the Penal Laws then in force, the Catholic chapel in St FrancisStreet, Dublin, serving St Nicholas Without, the mensal parish of the Catholicarchbishops of Dublin from 1615 to 1733 and again from 1756 to 1797, was a purpose-built and substantial building.
1
For example, a Dublin newspaper reportedin March 1729 that a controversial regular priest had been recently denounced in‘all the Romish chapels ... especially that great one in Saint Francis Street ...’.
2
 Previously, at Christmas 1721, St Nicholas’s had been the target of a robbery whichled to the hanging of a local man, twenty-one year-old Henry Watts, in St Stephen’sGreen, on 2 November 1723. Watts admitted in his last speech that he was noinnocent, but denied the robbery, insisting that, whatever about theft, he wouldnever have consciously committed sacrilege:I was born in Mass-Lane in St
. Francis-Street,
of poor but honestParents, who tenderly brought me up in the love and fear of God, andgave me as good Education as ever a poor Lad in the Parish could have.But on 28th
 December 
1721 I took one
 Elizabeth Williams
Daughters upfor an Assault, and at the same time the Chapple of St.
 Francis
wasRobb’d of a Plate Box and Cup, and the said
Williams
having Receivedthe said Robbery, said she had that in her pocket wou’d Hang me; andwent and made Oath against me that I was the Person that gave her theabove named Goods; upon which I was Apprehended, and soon after Iwas Try’d and found Guilty for the same; but the Court finding what sortof Persons they were, granted me Transportation, accordingly I wasset on Board, but the Captain finding me Sickly set me on shore again;then I went to Limrick where I followed my trade, which is Weaveing,and by it I got honest Bread; but Mr.
 Hawkins
hearing I was there, sentan Order and Committal on me; and there I was try'd for escape, and wasacquitted. Then I came to
 Dublin
in order to take Shipping and go to
 England 
, but Seeing one
Conely
I call’d to him, brought him in to anAlehouse and spent thirteen pence on him, and then to requite mykindness, he took me Prisoner, and in the scuffel I cut his Cheek, beingthen Committed was lately Try’d and found Guilty, and now must die ina shameful manner tho’ undeserved, for you may be sure (tho’ Wicked2
 
enough) I would not be so Wicked as to commit Sacrelidge, for as I am adyeing Man I am Innocent of the Fact for which I Dye, and also of theEscape, for ’twas the Captain that set me a shore.
3
Custom required that condemned criminals die a ‘good’ death through admittingtheir guilt, and most did so, hoping for forgiveness this side of the grave and divinemercy the other. To clear their consciences, some among the condemned owned upto crimes for which others had suffered. Others admitted that they deserved to diefor crimes they had got away with, but insisted that they were, ironically, innocentof the one for which they were to die.
4
Watts ostensibly ‘died hard’, but his anxietythat he should not be thought guilty of sacrilege sounds genuine. Thirteen yearslater, it emerged that he had not robbed St Nicholas’s Without, indeed, and couldhave saved himself had not blood been thicker than water. The culprit had been hisolder brother, ‘Denis Watch alias Watson’, who admitted to the crime when he washanged in Stephen’s Green on 31 July 1736 at the age of thirty-six: I drew my first Breath in
Mass-Lane
in St.
 Francis Street 
, my Father (soI heard) was a very honest Man, but to my sorrow, I cannot say that of my Mother, for she was counted a great Receiver, by which means myBrother (who suffer’d the like as I do now some Years ago thro’ mymeans, as I shall relate hereafter) and I, seeing her giving Money plentyto Thieves, encourag’d us to follow the same pernicious practice, I beingfree about the Chappel afforsaid, watched my oppertunity till at last Istole the Chalice, and all the Plate belonging to the Altar; nay, I threwthe Consecrated Bread into the Privy, and then brought said Plate to
 Elizabeth Williams
, alias
Queen
of the
Sluts
. My Brother hearing theChapple was Robb’d went in quest of me and found me at the said
Williams’s
drinking merrily, upon the same he beat me and said
Williams
, she thro’ spite return’d said Plate, and swore my Brother  brought it her, for which Fact he was Transported, and returningcontrary to Law, he was soon ater Executed for the same.I continued in my former Vices, till a length I was Transported also, andthe present occasion of my Death is for returning from the same (but Imust confes I have Robb’d Esq,
Waters
House since my returne) which Iwas induced to do, through a temptation of getting a Legacy in Moneywhich I heard (whilst I was abroad) was left me by my Mother, anddeposited for me in the Hands of a Clergyman inthis City. Landing in
 Ireland 
I went to
 Kilkenny
I committed a Robbery there and was3

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