A call from a ‘quack’ and a lethal dose of whiskey and mustard

In 1904 a ‘tramp’ named Thomas Coyne learned Mary Carrol was ill and insisted he could cure her

When Thomas Coyne called to the Carrols' home in Co Mayo, he learned the family's eldest daughter, Mary, was unwell.

The exact disease Mary was suffering from when Coyne - a man described as a “tramp” in an Irish Times report - visited in February 1904, is not known. But he insisted he had the cure. Official records say he was 50, about 5 foot 1 inch in height, had reddish brown hair and walked with a limp.

At first, Mary’s parents resisted Coyne’s claims, but after a time, he “induced the girl’s mother to procure whiskey, rum, hot milk and two spoonfuls of mustard, and those he mixed together”. He forced Mary to drink the concoction, “threatening to beat her if she resisted.”

When she was done, Coyne placed hot water bottles along her sides and feet; he further asserted his expertise, claiming “the doctor who was attending her knew nothing of her disease and that he alone possessed a cure for it.”


Immediately, Mary became very ill and lost consciousness. The report says she died within hours, “in great pain”.

At the court in Castlebar on March 18th, Coyne, dubbed a "quack" in newspaper headlines, was charged with causing Mary's death by forcing her to consume the dose he put together.

On some details, it seems court and Census records differ with The Irish Times report.

For instance, the report says Mary was 18 and that the family lived in Kilmaine, Co Mayo, but records state otherwise.

According to the 1901 Census, a farmer named John Carrol and his wife Bridget lived in number 32 in Baenalyra in Kilbeagh, Co Mayo. They had four children in 1901 - Mary, Delia, Michael and their youngest, Patrick. Mary is listed as a student who could read and write - she was 9 at the time of the Census, making her about 12 or 13 on the night she took ill.

Court documents from March 8th record a charge against a man named Thomas Coyne, who had allegedly caused the death of a girl named Mary Carrol by administering "a certain dose or mixture" on February 10th.

Court records also list Bridget, John and Delia Carrol as witnesses; it can be concluded by comparing these documents to the Census that the incident happened in Kilbeagh, not Kilmaine, and that Mary was younger than 18 on the night she died. The same records show she died on the morning of February 12th - two days after being forced to drink Coyne's mixture - as opposed to within a number of hours.

The General Register of Prisoners says Coyne was from Johnstown, about 2.5 miles outside Ballyhaunis. He was a labourer with no fixed abode and he could not read or write. Though it is not expressly mentioned in the report, he pleaded not guilty to the crime.

A doctor’s testimony, however, secured his conviction.

"The medical evidence showed that death was caused by the dose," reads The Irish Times report. "Sir Charles Cameron, who made an analysis of the contents of the stomach, said the mustard might not cause death, but the alcohol helped absorption, and in a case of a girl like the deceased, would produce shock, followed by death."

Coyne was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to three years' penal servitude. Prison records show he was transferred to Maryborough prison - modern-day Portlaoise Prison - on March 25th, 1904.

This story is part of the Lost Leads series - a revisiting of lesser-known stories that have made the pages of The Irish Times since 1859. What can you find? Let us know on Twitter: @irishtimes or @deanruxton. For more information on subscribing to the archive, see here: www.irishtimes.com/archive