While many Dubliners have not heard of Constable Patrick Sheahan before, the vast majority will be familiar with the monument in his honour which until recently stood at the junction of Hawkins Street and Burgh Quay, at least to walk past. It has been removed in recent times as construction is underway on the Luas bridge which will span the Liffey. Constable Sheahan was a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police force, hailing from County Limerick. He lost in life in tragic circumstances in May 1905 when he was overcome by deadly gas in the sewers of Dublin as he attempted to rescue unconscious workmen. The events of that tragic day are well-documented in an article by Tom Donovan for the Old Limerick Journal, available to read in full here:
On Saturday May 6th 1905, a workman named John Fleming opened a manhole- cover at the corner of Hawkins Street and Burgh Quay at around 3 p.m. He descended a ladder into the 24foot sewer to investigate a broken pipe and he was immediately overcome by the deadly gas, as were two of his colleagues who rushed to assist him. Christopher Nolan, a who witnessed the incident, ran for help. He found Constable Sheahan, of College Street Station, standing at O’Connell Bridge. Tragically for him, he was on duty to relieve a friend who wanted to go to the theatre.
Sheahan’s heroics touched the heart of native Dubliners, as this young man of only 29 had given everything in an attempt to save others. In 1906 a monument to Sheahan was erected, paid for my public subscription, and placed at the site of the tragedy. Interestingly, it contains both Irish and English language inscriptions, and notes that: “This memorial was erected in memory of Patrick Sheahan,a constable in the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force who lost his life on the 6th day of May 1905.”
Sheahan was a well-known and much liked character in Dublin, and stories of his bravery had existed in the city long before his death. One of my favourite stories about Sheahan related to him ‘single-handily’ wrestling an escaped bull on Grafton Street. Wondering how much fact and how much folklore was involved in the tale, we went looking for the newspaper reports of the day.
The Irish Times of 24 March 1904 details a ‘Exciting Incident In Dublin’ during which a number of police officers wrestled an escaped bull on Grafton Street. The paper reported that:
A large roam bullock which escaped from its keeper, between six and seven o’clock last evening, while being driven along Harcourt Street, created quite a scare in the locality, and before it was finally captured and slaughtered in the vicinity of Grafton Street, after a prolonged struggle with several policemen, it injured two persons, who were subsequently removed to hospital.
The animal had made a dash from Harcourt Street station in the direction of Wexford Street, knocking down a young girl by the name of Kathleen Regan in the process. Running madly through the city, it made its way to Whitefriar Street where the five year old Christopher John Walsh was struck. Its appearance on Grafton Street caused pandemonium, and it was here that men of the Dublin Metropolitan Police confronted the animal. Sheahan was not alone, as folklore has had it, but in the company of another DMP man, Constable Kerby. A local stableman named Thomas Arbuthnot joined the two police officers, as they followed the bull into Anne’s Lane. An extraordinary twenty-minute tangle with the animal would result in the two DMP men using a rope to essentially ‘lasso’ the animal, and when they succeeded in wrestling it to submission with the assistance of bemused Dubliners, they called on Martin Tierney. Tierney was a butcher on Capel Street. The bull, marked JSC on the left hip, found itself next in an Abattoir.
Just over a year after this incredible incident, Sheahan himself was dead. On an interesting aside, Shehan is a relation of John Sheahan, a fine traditional musician who is now the longest-serving member of The Dubliners folk band!