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crownLegend of Warden Bodkins Hand

Warden Bodkin - St. Nicholas ChurchThe restoration under Charles II had brought a brief revival to Galway but the succession of James II, Charles Catholic brother, resulted in the Jacobite war. Once again, Galway’s loyalty to the English Crown proved its undoing. A new English army appeared before the town in 1691and after negotiations Galway surrendered on the 21st July. On the 26th of that month the last Catholic Warden of St. Nicholas’s church, John Bodkin, was compelled to hand over the keys of the collegiate church to its new protestant owners. An old legend in Galway claims that when Warden Bodkin was on his deathbed he prayed that his right hand would not decay in the tomb until the keys were restored to its rightful owner’s hand.

Warden Bodkin died sometime during the first decade of the 18th century and was buried in a vault under the floor of the church. The dying prayer of the warden was not forgotten and over the course of time people came to view the body, which was found to be un-decayed. There was a private passage underneath the high Alter leading to the vault and by means of this secret passage and a silver key people had seen the remains from time to time. It was said that three times in 100 years the disintegrated coffin had to be renewed. In 1738 some stones from the tomb roof fell and damaged the toes.

In 1813, the sexton of the church, a Mr. Reid, examined the body and wrote a description on parchment which he left on the body before the tomb was sealed. In 1838 a Mr St. Clair took a contract to repair the stone floor of the church. As the work progressed past Lynches Aisle where the high alter faced Church Lane, members and descendants of the old tribes began to frequent the church. Many pointed out the vault containing the remains of Warden Bodkin. Under pressure form the visitors Mr. Clair opened the vault and was the first to descend and find the body of a man all perfect, except for his toes. Many bystanders stated that they had been broken off when one of the covering flags had fallen into the vault 100 years before. Mr. Clair also found the piece of parchment left by Sexton Reid some time before. When the townspeople heard of the remains a huge crowd assembled at the church. Mr. Clair wrote a description of the body saying it was in good condition but discoloured, the body felt elastic, the face including eyes and nose were in good condition, all the teeth still white. Warden Bodkin’s right hand was in all appearance perfect even to the fingers and nails and not discoloured. For three days the number of visitors continued. On the evening of the third day when the work stopped Mr. Clair gave the key of the church to the then sexton, Henry Caddy, as was the custom each evening.

Next morning a John McMahon, the foreman carpenter, called to Mr. Clair’s house at 6 o’clock and in an excited state informed him that the right hand of Warden Bodkin had been cut off. They went to the church and enquired amongst the working men but obtained no information. Suspicions turned to the sexton Henry Caddy who had the key, however he denied any knowledge. The enraged workmen then dragged him to the West Bridge and threatened to throw him in. With this Caddy confessed that during the night he had given the key to a Timothy Murray and Dr. McSweeny. He said that these men had removed the boards covering the vault and then poured lime over the warden’s body. The lime only discoloured the body so the men then cut off the right hand. Mr. Clair went to Dr. McSweeny’s residence and he related that he had given the hand to Mr. Murray who owned a pawn shop. Mr. Clair then went to the shop and retrieved the hand.

The hand, however, had been cut into pieces, possibly for sale as souvenirs or relics. By this time word had got around and a huge angry crowd had gathered around the church. The pieces of the hand had been rolled up in paper and given to the Rev. Dr. Roch who arrived at the church by 4 o’clock. By this time the church and all the streets around were crowded. During the day the carpenter had made a coffin which Warden Bodkin’s body was now placed inside. The rolled up hand was also placed inside and Mr. Clair then closed the coffin and vault in such a way that there could be no access to it except by ripping up the floor. Thus ended the story of Warden Bodkin’s hand.

 

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