The Hunter Gowan of North Wexford

The 1700s was a time of revolutions and rebellions, In France and America the streets and fields were wet with blood and the same could have been said about Ireland, Wexford arguably saw the worst of it. In North Wexford there was a particular Magistrate so notoriously bad he is still spoken about today. His name was Hunter Gowan.

There are many stories of his cruelty, the land grabbing, tortures, lynching, in fact he was so notorious that for years people believed his spirit haunted the roads around Gorey and of he caught you he would drag you to hell where he now lived as a guest of the devil. There is one story about him that has gone down in local lore as it involves a still popular pub in Gorey. The story goes that Hunter Gowan along with his men the Wingfield Yeomen, also known as the Black Mob by the way, were evicting a family in the old Irishtown part of Gorey. An elderly family member decided he’d had enough and bravely began admonishing him, wagging his finger he told Hunter Gowan he would burn in hell for the pain and anguish he was bringing on these innocent souls. Hunter Gowan sitting high on his horse looked down on the old man in contempt and laughed at him. Then as quick as a blink, whipped out his sword and cut the man’s finger off. The poor man collapsed to the ground in shock and pain, while Hunter Gowan ordered one of his men to pick up and hand him the finger. He stuck it on the end of his sword and began wagging it right back at the old man, telling him to behave or next time it would be his neck. Then he turned his horse away and rode off into the town laughing heartily as he went. He found it so funny that as he rode up the Main Street of Gorey, he continued wagging it at people and warning them to behave. On reaching Browns pub he dismounted and took up his favourite seat just inside the front door. A pint of Ale was placed in front of him as he told his fellow yeoman about his “joke” and finished his tale by stirring his drink with the finger and loudly proclaiming that it should be stuffed and hung behind the bar. Thankfully it wasn’t and unfortunately Hunter Gowan was never held to account for his evil deeds, living a long and healthy life, dying a grand old age in his mansion.

But his cruelty was not just reserved for the fighting men of the area, oh no, he was just as cruel to the women he encountered too, even within his own family. He married his first wife in 1771, and together they had four sons and twelve daughters, that’s 16 children with her. It was well known that she was beaten regularly when he was frustrated by local rebel activity, often appearing at Sunday Service with a black eye or burst lip, carefully but unsuccessfully hidden by a veil or scarf.  But he also had time to sire a further three illegitimate children during the marriage. Bringing the tally to 19, but it was said that he was responsible for fathering many more children around the county whose mothers never publicly stated who the father was for fear of trouble. Whether these women went to bed with the man willingly is up for debate.  When his wife passed away at the young age of 52. Rather than grieving for her, he stated that it was just as well as “she was worn out like an old ewe from too many birthings” and promptly married his children’s Governess. He was 61, she was considerably younger, and together they had another 3 children. For a man who justified his Priest hunting as a way to keep down “the Irish population to a manageable level”  he seemed to miss the point himself, he and his officially recorded 23 children.

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