On June 30th, 1890 a horrible tragedy struck the O’Connor family in County Dublin. John O’Connor was a well-known journalist and Nationalist politician. He was the M.P. of West Wicklow and a family man who had a loving wife and five young children. This seemingly adoring family was torn apart when almost all of them were fatally poisoned. Only John O’Connor and one of his daughters survived.
The family story says that his children were sent to collect mussels on the seaside, but they decided to choose them from a pool closer to home instead. That pool was contaminated and when the family consumed the mussels, they were all killed. Moya, one of the daughters, did not join them for food due to a random (and lucky for her) family disagreement but O’Connor’s wife, his four other children, and one of their servants died shortly after the meal. The family is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery and their grave is massive and beautiful.
This narrative points to a tragic accident, and that was the belief at their time of death. John O’Connor appeared to genuinely mourn the loss of his wife and kids and his appearance and demeanor suffered greatly. News of the accident spread quickly. James Joyce even recounted the tragic tale in one of his best known masterpieces, Ulysses. O’Connor got a lot of sympathy and remained in the public eye. He continued his life as a Nationalist politician. Nine years later he remarried which led to conflict with his remaining daughter Moya. She moved in with her aunt and remained there for many years. There is no other hint of how her family’s demise affected her.
The poisoning is still considered accidental, but at least one person has their doubts. Should you find yourself wandering through Glasnevin Cemetery and you meet a man named Martin on your way, be sure to let him drag you around for a few hours.
He is not an official guide or historian, which he is quick to point out, but he has been wandering, categorizing, and studying the cemetery for nearly twenty years. His hand-drawn maps, gift of gab, and long-term obsession will be your rewards and he will tell you all kinds of tales about those who rest in the graves. Martin thinks that perhaps the family was murdered, and he weaves a compelling tale of political intrigue, selfish men, rumor, and questionable investigations when it comes to the deaths of the O’Connor family.
The tragedy that took place 126 years ago today is only one of his stories and he will entertain you like no other. Be prepared to spend at least a day in Glasnevin, whether you meet Martin or not. It is a treasure trove of history, mystery, and beauty. Just be sure to lodge a complaint about their memorial wall on your way out – and if you see Martin, give him a hug for the American girls he showed around in March who still wish he’d publish a book.