Published in April 2012 by Collins Press, this 240 page paperback book by Patricia Bryne tells the story of landowner Agnes MacDonnell who was brutally attacked in her Achill Island home by James Lynchehaun in 1894. The building – the Valley House – was set on fire and MacDonnell left for dead. She survived, but was so disfigured by the attack that she wore a veil for the rest of her life. Lynchehaun was convicted of the attack but escaped twice and fled to the U.S.A. where he won a landmark legal case against his extradition. Bryne’s book charts the full story of MacDonnell – the Veiled Woman – and Lynchehaun, the ‘playboy’ whose notoriety influenced J.M. Synge in creating the character of Christy Mahon in the play ‘The Playboy of the Western World’.
From the Collins Press website:
This is the story of an atrocity on Achill Island in the west of Ireland in 1894. An English landowner, Agnes MacDonnell, was brutally attacked and her home – Valley House – burnt. Agnes survived but was so disfigured she wore a veil in public for the rest of her life. The island’s wild man, James Lynchehaun, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he escaped twice and won a groundbreaking legal case in the United States successfully resisting extradition.
A Franciscan monk in Achill, Brother Paul Carney, had befriended and assisted Lynchehaun, and wrote up the fugitive’s story. Lynchehaun became a folk hero. John Millington Synge visited Mayo in 1904/1905 and decided to locate his drama, The Playboy of the Western World, in north Mayo. Lynchehaun was one of Synge’s influences in constructing the character of Christy Mahon. Agnes MacDonnell lived on in Achill and in 1923 was found dead with a wine glass at her feet. James Lynchehaun became a destitute figure and died in Scotland in 1937. The crime, the trial and escapes, and the island tensions are unravelled in this gripping account.