The Case of the Dead Man’s Finger, 1863

From the Belfast Morning News, 24 September 1863:


An extraordinary case was heard at last Loughgall Petty Sessions, county Armagh.  A woman named Sarah Hagan charged her husband, James Hagan, with having assaulted her and threatened her life, at Ballywilly, in Armagh.  He became the possessor of a strange relic, ‘a dead man’s finger!’ when or how is not material; but its possessor seems to have used it for very bad purposes, his wife having sworn that he kept it because by means of it he could enter any man’s dwelling, go behind his counter, and rob his drawers without being observed or detected.  Well, to a thief such a relic would be valuable.  Hagan regarded it in that light; it endowed him with a charmed existence; and, because his wife could not account for it, he gave her a most unmerciful beating, and threatened to take her life.  He believed that she had either lent it to her friends or meant to appropriate it to herself, and, desiring its virtues and vices to be all his own, he should have it restored.  The truth appears to be that the poor woman became alarmed at the conduct of her husband carrying the finger about him, and on the first opportunity, she either hid it or buried it in a neighbour’s field and forgot the place of interment.  No excuse, however, would satisfy Hagan. He must have the finger, and nothing but the finger, so that the poor woman, failing to discover it, felt the power of his five fingers in a very unmanly way.  The Bench, having commented severely on the fellow’s misconduct and gross superstition, ordered him to find bail to keep the peace for 12 months.”

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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