A Gentle Giant, A Famous Baron and a Woman Wronged – Killowen

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Killowen and its Surrounds

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Killowen Old Road View
Killowen Old Road View

Killowen is a little-known, hamlet in south County Down. Set on the shores of Carlingford Lough amidst the majestic Mourne Mountains, it is in the Newry and Mourne District Council Area and the parish of Kilbroney.

The name Killowen comes from the Gaelic ‘Cill Eoghain‘, meaning ‘Eoin’s Church’. While small in size, Killowen has a mighty story that in more than one way influenced the course of Irish legal history.

The region is known for its mild, temperate climate. The bountiful Carlingford Lough, a plentiful supply of fresh water and good soil means it has long been a site of human habitation.

Ballinran Court Tomb

Ballinran Court Tomb or the Giant’s Grave as it was locally known, was located not far from the village and about 60 metres from the shore. Court tombs are long rectangular roofed burial chambers with numerous separate galleries. These date from c4,000-3,500BC.

By the 20th century little remained of this ancient burial structure but some ‘sockets’ cut into the tough clay. Only one socket contained fragments of the portal stone. However, at least some of the original stones were still in situ in the 1830’s.

Ballinran was quite a large Court Tomb with 5 or 6 ‘rooms’. The tomb was aligned north-south, with the entrance facing the Mourne Mountains. Within the tomb were found cremated bones, believed to be human. Some primary flint flakes were also found nearby. The site was excavated in the spring of 1976, prior to a road-widening scheme.

Also, just outside the village at Knockshee – Hill of the Fairies, overlooking Greenore is an ancient dolmen. This consists of several large upright granite blocks topped with a capstone. Dolmens were also used for burial ceremonies. The capstone is reckoned to weigh around 40 tons, giving this prehistoric relic the nickname ‘The Big Fella’.

The Sacred Heart Church Killowen
The Sacred Heart Church Killowen

The Sacred Heart Church

In April 1870 the foundation stone for a new Catholic church at Killowen was laid by the Very Rev John McLeigh. The Sacred Heart Church was formally dedicated by Cardinal Cullen. Archbishop of Dublin, on 11th August 1872. This majestic ecclesiastical building sits in beautiful surroundings overlooking the waters of Carlingford Lough.

Patrick Murphy Gravestone Image
Patrick Murphy Gravestone Image

The Irish Giant – Patrick Murphy

A particularly interesting local was Patrick Murphy ‘The Irish Giant’ (another gentleman, Charles Byrne born 1761, also bears this title).

Patrick was born in Killowen on 15th June 1834 to James Murphy and Peggy (nee Cunningham). The family had a small farm near to the site of today’s Catholic church. As an adult he is said to have measured over 8ft tall and weighed in at 21 stone. It is said that he delighted the children in nearby Rostrevor by lighting his pipe from the street gas lamps.

Patrick Murphy (© Microsoft Bing Image Creator)
A.I. image of Patrick Murphy (© Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

Patrick, or Paddy as he was known, crossed the Irish Sea to Liverpool and worked as a docker. However, as he caused a stir wherever he went, he decided to use his extraordinary height to his advantage. He was employed by shows and exhibitions as The Irish Giant. His brother John, who was just over 5 ft, acted as his manager. Murphy’s fame was such that in May 1857 he was invited to the Austrian Court by Emperor Franz Joseph I and the Empress Elisabeth.

However, when Paddy was invited by Dublin Corporation to appear in an exhibition, he refused, saying he would not like to charge Irishmen to look at another Irishman. Instead, he went to the capital and walked the streets so that the excited populace could see him for free.

Sadly, Paddy died on 18th April 1862 while touring in Europe. He contracted smallpox while in Marseilles and passed away at the age of 28. Paddy Murphy was buried in Kilbroney cemetery on 18th June 1862. The size of Paddy’s headstone is the same height as the gentle ‘giant’ when he died.

“The gem of all I have ever seen is at Kilbroney. It lies on the southern slope of a hill that goes down to the river. Oak trees, pines, and larch grow in great luxuriance, and the sun shines through their foliage with golden light, and the grass is greener at Kilbroney than any other place I have ever saw….The last Irish giant lies buried here, and an epitaph is on his headstone. In all the land one could not find a lovelier spot than the old peaceful graveyard at Kilbroney”

Mary Lowry, The Story of Belfast and its surroundings, 1913
Patrick Murphy Gravestone
Patrick Murphy Gravestone

Killowen’s Famous Son – Charles Arthur Russell


Charles Arthur Russell was born on 10th November 1832, the first son of Arthur Russell of Killowen and Margaret Mullin of Belfast. The family were Catholic and owned a local brewery. The family home was known as Seafield. As a young man Charles was educated at St Malachy’s Belfast and Castlerock College, Dublin, before entering the law.


In 1856 Charles was called to the Bar in London and as his reputation spread, he took Silk in 1872. He was also a correspondent for the Nation newspaper and in 1880 he was elected Liberal member of parliament for Dundalk and subsequently for Hackney South. In 1886 the English prime minister, William Ewart, appointed him Attorney General and he was knighted Sir Russell.

On 10th August 1858, Charles had married his childhood sweetheart, Ellen Mulholland. Her father was Dr Joseph Mulholland of Belfast. The couple had 9 children – Charles (b.1863), Eileen Mary (b.1865), Cyril (b. 1866), Francis Xavier Joseph (b.1867), Mary Gertrude (b. 1874), Bertrand Joseph (b. 1876), Lillian (b. 1878) and Margaret (b.1879). (We’ve no reference to the other child). At home Charles was described as pleasant and gregarious. He was fond of playing cards and owned racehorses.


Russell was a man of great integrity and won the respect not only of those in the law and in government but of the wider population. He championed Home Rule, education and many benevolent endeavours. He was also a close friend of Charles Stewart Parnell. Russell actually gave an eight-day speech in defence of the nationalist leader.

Charles also was a firm supporter of American Florence Chandler, who was accused of murdering her English husband, James Maybrick, by poisoning.

Lord Charles Arthur Russell of Killowen
Baron Charles Arthur Russell of Killowen

Russell was employed by the government on diplomatic missions and was renowned even among his legal adversaries for having both a keen mind and a kind temperament.

“A great judge, the foremost advocate of his time….”

London Times, 11th August 1900

Charles’s career went from ‘strength to strength’ in 1894 he was appointed to the Privy Council and raised to the Peerage as Baron Russell of Killowen.

In July of the same year, Charles Arthur Russell was made Lord Chief Justice of England. This was a momentous and historic appointment, as no Catholic had held this post since the reign of Henry VIII and the Reformation.

His Death

Charles Russell died on 10th August 1900 in London, aged 67. He was known for his intelligence, sincerity and dedication, throughout his life he retained a great love for Ireland and his native Killowen.

Thérèse Yelverton, Viscountess Avonmore (Public Domain, Wiki Commons)
Thérèse Yelverton, Viscountess Avonmore (Public Domain, Wiki Commons)

The Yelverton Case


In 1746 during the reign of George II, an act was passed in the English parliament specifically for Ireland. It stated that a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant, or between two Protestants, conducted by a Catholic priest was ‘null and void’. This was to prevent intermarriage between the two religions and the possibility of Catholic land ownership.

Forbidden Romance – Theresa (Thérèse) Longworth & Charles Yelverton

(Maria) Theresa Longworth, born in 1832, was the youngest daughter of a Manchester silk manufacturer, and a Catholic. From the age of 4 she boarded in the Ursuline Convent in France. Theresa had lost both parents by the time she was 20, but was left with a private income which allowed her to live comfortably.

In 1852 while travelling by steamboat to Boulogne, Theresa met the Honourable (William) Charles Yelverton. He was from a Protestant, Anglo-Irish family, the second son of Viscount Avonmore of Belle Isle, County Tipperary. Yelverton served as a Major in the Royal Artillery.

There was an instant attraction between the pair and they stayed in contact by letter for the next three years. In 1854, at the outbreak of war, Charles was posted to the Crimea. Here he met up with Theresa again, who was already there working as a lay nurse with the French Order the Sisters of Charity, at Galata in Constantinople.

The romance escalated and Charles proposed marriage. Theresa wanted to wait till after the war and have a Catholic ceremony. While Charles preferred to have a secret wedding at once in a local Greek Orthodox Church. Obviously, Charles knew that not only would marriage to Catholic Theresa be unacceptable to his family, it would also be invalid in the eyes of the law in Ireland. The matter was left ‘in limbo’.


After the war, Charles and Theresa continued their relationship in Scotland. Theresa being chaperoned by her friend, Arabella McFarlane, to meet the social conventions of the day.

However, one April morning in 1857, Charles and Theresa read the Marriage Service from a Church of England prayerbook and pledged their fidelity to each other. This custom was known as a ‘Scotch Marriage’ and if consummation took place, was legally binding.

Yelverton Case - Freemans Journal 22 Feb 1861
Yelverton Case – Freemans Journal 22 Feb 1861

However, Theresa refused to co-habit with Charles unless married in a Catholic church. Eventually, Charles agreed, and a wedding ring was purchased in Dublin. On 15th August 1857 at Killowen Catholic church, the couple received a matrimonial blessing. Again, Charles urged the need for secrecy and the celebrant, Fr Bernard Mooney, preformed the ceremony in private. This little chapel was built in 1779 at a cost of £180, the site is now occupied by Killowen Primary School.

Killowen Primary School
Killowen Primary School

Mr and Mrs Yelverton continued their honeymoon and went to live in Edinburgh. While Theresa’s friends and relatives knew of the marriage, Charles’s family were left uninformed. As a second son Charles had very little money of his own and Theresa supported them both.

When Theresa became pregnant, Charles insisted they move to France to prevent the news spreading to Avonmore. Theresa wanted Charles to tell his family, particularly his mother, but Charles continued to refuse. Sadly, Theresa took ill and lost the baby.


By June 1858, when Theresa was fit to travel and re-join her husband in Edinburgh, the reunion was not what she had expected. Charles demanded that Theresa ‘renounce her status as his wife’. He wanted her to emigrate to New Zealand.

It appears that while Theresa was incapacitated in France, Charles met wealthy widow Emily Ashworth Forbes (who was now pregnant with his child). He had proposed and she had accepted.

Theresa refused to bow to threats and financial inducements and initiated legal proceedings against Yelverton, claiming she was entitled to a wife’s maintenance. Charles declared that they had never been legally married.

“It may not be out of place to mention, before leaving this neighbourhood, that in the parish of Kilbroney, and a short distance from Rostrevor, is situate the Roman Catholic chapel of Killowen. This place has acquired a peculiar celebrity in connection with the great action at law termed the ‘Yelverton case’”.

William McComb, The Giant’s Causeway and Adjoining Districts, 1861
Killowen Yelverton Case - Newsletter 9 Dec 1861
Killowen Yelverton Case – Newsletter 9 Dec 1861

The Outcome

The 10-day trial by jury was held in the Four Courts in Dublin. The court room was packed with spectators, it was a real ‘cause célèbre’ in the capital. The evidence was fragmentary and conflicting, depending on remembered promises and incomplete correspondence.

“Both parties were cross-examined by their celebrated lawyers before a crowded court, a dramatic ordeal in which Theresa wearing black velvet that set off her red-blonde hair, came off by far the best”

Helena Kelleher Kahn, History of Ireland, Vol 13 2005

Charles Yelverton seems to have lost any sympathy he had with public opinion, by inferring that he would never condescend to marry such a social inferior as a Catholic from a bourgeoise family. He even declared that he had never regarded Theresa as anything but a mistress and that she should pay him damages.

The Verdict

The jury found in favour of Theresa and great crowds thronged the streets of Dublin to show their support for the wronged wife.

“When the result was eventually announced that both marriages [the Scotch marriage and the marriage at Killowen] had been adjudged valid, and Theresa had been vindicated, the city went mad. The establishment had been defeated. Justice had been done to a charming, beautiful and courageous commoner. It is said that fifty thousand people lining the streets on both sides of the Liffey, cheered her to the echo”

W Haughton Crowe, Village in Seven Hills, 1973
Killowen Yelverton Case - Newsletter 6 Mar 1861
Killowen Yelverton Case – Newsletter 6 Mar 1861

Masses of enthusiastic folk cheered and waved as Theresa’s carriage made its slow way through the Dublin streets to the Gresham Hotel

“The joy of everybody was to be seen and heard everywhere. In the centre of a great moving multitude was to be observed the Honourable Mrs Yelverton’s carriage borne along by the people… The bases of Nelson’s Pillar were fully occupied by persons who joined the cheering of thousands who were now approaching, who surrounded the carriage of the great and brave woman, who had suffered much and had conquered in the end”

The crowds were determined to see the heroine of the day –

“The people, amidst tremendous cheering, waving of hats and handkerchiefs, called loudly for the Honourable Mrs Yelverton. In compliance with the universal call of the vast multitude, numbering many thousands, she presented herself at one of the drawing room windows”

When silence fell upon the throng, Theresa spoke

“My noble-hearted friends, you have made me this day an Irishwoman by the verdict that I am the wife of an Irishman (vehement cheering). I glory to belong to such a noble-hearted nation! (Great cheering)”

Mid-19th Century Courtroom Scene (© Microsoft Bing Image Creator)
Mid-19th Century Courtroom Scene (© Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

The Appeal

However, the matter was far from settled. Charles took the case to the English House of Lords.

In 1864, by one vote the Lords found in favour of Yelverton. His marriage to Theresa was declared invalid and his marriage to Emily, not bigamous but legal.

However, the outpouring of public feeling the case provoked in Ireland did produce one positive outcome. By the subsequent “Marriage Causes and Marriage Law Amendment Act” of 1870, ‘mixed marriages’ in front of a Catholic priest were recognised by the law.

In his memoirs, Judge O’Connor Morris, who presided over the trial in the Four Courts wrote –

“Miss Longworth was declared an unmarried woman, her life blighted and her reputation gone, and Yelverton was set free, but with a stain on his name, from a tie involving the dearest rights of another, which he had made himself, incautiously no doubt, but in order to gratify a selfish passion”

William O’Connor Morris, Memories and Thoughts of a Life, 1895

Little is known of Charles Yelverton’s later life, though he and Emily divorced. He did inherit Avonmore, but as he had no heirs the title died with him.

Theresa spent the rest of her life travelling and supported herself by writing novels, travel guides and giving talks on her adventures in foreign lands. She died in 1880 in South Africa.

Such a story to involve the little chapel at Killowen!

“There is no doubt that this remarkable ‘romance of reality’ will cause the humble chapel of Killowen to become a point of attraction for tourists – perhaps one to enrich sketch-books and portfolios, and even to provide souvenirs for the cabinet”

William McComb, The Giant’s Causeway and Adjoining Districts, 1861

Sadly, the old chapel no longer exists.


On the shores of Carlingford Lough amidst the majestic Mourne Mountains, the quiet hamlet of Killowen has a memorable history that deserves to be remembered.

See Also:

A Battle of the Giants and Washington in Flames – Picturesque Rostrevor

Rostrevor Illustration 1791 (from local information display)
Rostrevor, Co. Down, is a lively village known for its magnificent setting, a wealth of history & folklore and the friendliness of its people. (This 1791 Illustration from a local information display)

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