Glass Album exhibition charts historic murder trial

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The UK City of Culture 2013 celebrations will extend into Donegal with a new photographic exhibition, highlighting the fallout from a fascinating chapter in the ‘Land War’ that took place towards the end of the 19 Century, opening this Friday, July 5, at Donegal County Museum in Letterkenny.

‘The Glass Album’ exhibition has been organised as part of the BT Portrait of a City project which is one of the City of Culture’s key community engagement and education programmes. The album itself features images recorded by local photographer James Glass, who was commissioned to provide court photographs as evidence in the case against 36 Donegal men and women charged with the murder of a local policeman in 1889. Detective Inspector Martin was beaten to death when he turned up at a church in Gweedore to arrest Donegal priest Father James McFadden.

The collection is owned by Buncrana solicitor Ciaran McLaughlin, and it goes on show in Donegal for the very first time this week before moving to Londonderry in September.

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Mr McLaughlin said it offered a fascinating insight into the land wars.

“Father James McFadden at the time was an outspoken supporter of the Plan of Campaign, which was initiated by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell. He encouraged his parishioners not to pay the outrageous rack rents which were imposed upon them by the local Landlords who could basically charge tenants whatever they wanted,” he explained.

“So when Father McFadden failed to turn up in court after a Summons for Sedition, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Detective Inspector Martin and a team of approximately 40 RIC men headed off to Gweedore to arrest him.

“When Fr McFadden came out after mass, Martin grabbed him by the coat which angered bystanders and violence soon broke out. In the frenzy Martin was beaten to death and it resulted in a total of 36 people being charged with his murder. The case that followed was a fascinating one. Thirty-four of the men and women were represented by a Buncrana solicitor called James E. O’Doherty and he commissioned Derry photographer James Glass to take a series of photographs to be used in the trial.”

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The preliminary trial was held in Derry and Donegal but then the trial itself was transferred to Portlaoise. “They thought there would be a less sympathetic jury there,” Mr McLaughlin explained.

“But the jury couldn’t agree on murder and it was only after the third trial that they came up with a plea bargain – that four of the men should plead to manslaughter. “So four of the men ended up with ten years hard labour each at Mountjoy jail, and we have pictures of the men before they went off to serve their sentence. The rest of the accused all served less than 10 years each, the only person who walked away free was Fr McFadden, which did not go down well considering the circumstances.

“Even the legal team involved some historically significant characters including Unionist leader Edward Carson and Tim Healy, who went on to become the first Governor General of the Free State.”

The photographs were kept together in an album, and have never been put on public display before, so this will be the first chance to see the collection which includes some poignant images of the harshness of rural life in Donegal and the heritage it shares with Derry-Londonderry. The exhibition will also showcase some of Glass’s studio portrait photographs from his Carlisle Road studio, dating back to the 19th Century. The project will partner with Donegal’s Earagail Arts Festivalto connect with communities from Derry-Londonderry to Gweedore.

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The exhibition will run from July 5 until August 31, at Letterkenny Museum, before moving to the Tower Museum in Derry-Londonderry in September.

For more information on Portrait of a City and the entire programme of events in the City of Culture calendar go to

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