Definitions

Plassey

Plassey

[plah-see, plas-ee]
Plassey, village, West Bengal state, NE India. In Plassey, Robert Clive decisively defeated (1757) the Nawab of Bengal, preparing the way for British dominion over NE India and earning him the title Baron Clive of Plassey.
Plassey is an area of County Limerick on the River Shannon, near Castletroy and Limerick. Plassey was originally a large estate of land owned by Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, and named after the Battle of Plassey 1757, part of the British Conquest of India. Following Irish independence, these lands became state property. The Black Bridge crosses the Shannon from Limerick (Mill side) into the Co. Clare. Children can stand in the middle of this bridge and claim they are in two counties at once.

Approaching Plassey across the bridge allows a view of picturesque sections of the community. Swans nest near a worn pathway lined with trees. On the left is the beautiful lock house (Annabeg house) owned by the Ryan Family. To the right, fishermen cast their lines from a stony area of the river known as "Jim Stones". This is a very special spot for fishermen and is named after the late Jim Ryan who lived in Annabeg House (a private home), Plassey until the 1980s. The family still live here.

In the 1970s a technical college, which later became the University of Limerick, was built at Plassey. Thomond College of Education, Limerick was also located on the same campus and was later dissolved and integrated into the university.

Legends associated with the Siege of Limerick

During the 1690 siege of Limerick, when the Williamites were nearing the Shannon in Corbally, Philip McAdam, a local fisherman, was reputed to be involved in a plot to destroy the Irish defenses by leading the enemy to the only safe place to cross the Shannon. McAdam “feigned sickness” and remained behind at the banks of the Shannon as the other fishermen on “fearing” the “cruelty of Williams soldiers”, had fled to Clare or to the woods in Cratloe. The Williamite army seeking the advantage of a suitable fording point at which to cross the Shannon, one of the cities natural defenses, approached McAdam with an offer. One account states that he was “handsomely rewarded for his treachery” against the Irish by receiving “a large tract of land in the vicinity” from the Williamites. While an alternative version of the tale sees McAdam in a more favourable light, in which he was forced into a decision of either show the Williamites the crossing point on the Shannon and receive “a keg of gold” or in refusal to face “a block and headsman’s axe”.

McAdam directed the enemy to the place known as Annaghbeg in Corbally, which was located opposite Plassey mill about two miles up from the city. At Annaghbeg there was a ford which until recently had been marked with “two short rows of rocks running parallel to the river bank”. Consequently, the Williamite troops crossed the Shannon at Annaghbeg and went on to sack the city.

When McAdam died he was buried in his family grave in Kilquane churchyard in Parteen, the Abbey fishermen, who felt such vengeance against the man, had a shelter close to the church grounds, in which they would rest and eat. On stopping at this particular shelter they felt it their duty to visit the grave of McAdam, spit on it, and vandalize it in other ways. This grave was ritually desecrated for over two centuries until at least 1918, in an act de rigueur by the families of the fishermen who felt betrayed by McAdam.

The following poems were recited in relation to the betrayal the fisher folk felt,

1.

Here lies the body of McAdam the Traitor,
Who lived a fisherman, and died a deceiver,
The devil came for him in flashes of thunder,
And now he is in hell and it is no wonder.

Here lies the grave of McAdam the traitor,
Who’s burning in hell with the thirst,
And anyone who don’t desecrate his grave,
I pray that their belly burst.

2.

McAdams nose is long
McAdams nose is strong
It would be no disgrace
To McAdams face
If McAdams nose was gone.

One source claims that the community would take an annual pilgrimage of sorts to the headstone bearing his name and at this they would spit, throw stones, and dance on his grave, continuing this ritual until at least 1918. The first two lines of poem number one, recorded above, were etched into his tombstone, at sometime between 1839 when there was no mention of the inscription in the recording made by John O’Donovan The Antiquities of County Clare and 1866 when it was recorded by Maurice Lenihan in his History of Limerick, this inscription shows the ferocity with which this man was despised by the community involved. As “disrespect for the dead was not prominent” during the ninetieth and early twentieth centuries, in normal circumstances for Irish society and even less so in predominantly [[Roman Catholic}} communities, this man must have been extremely alienated from his society to warrant such an attack.

The historical truth of this story is that the Williamite army did in fact cross the Shannon at Annaghbeg on the morning of 10 August 1690 without “opposition”. On the previous night of the 9 August 1690, a troop was sent to view the ford at Annaghbeg where the “enemy being thus posted so very advantageously that we expected to have met with great difficulties and opposition in passing the River, which is very Rapid, and the bottom stony, but the Enemy in the middle of the Night abandoned their Station with great precipitation”. No reference to a man by the name of McAdam is found in any of the sources written at the time of the siege and quoted in the Old Limerick Journal 1690 Siege Edition.

Major Thomas Stannard McAdam, a descendant of Phillip McAdam, was asked about the tale and the receipt of the land by Maurice Lenihan during the compilation of his book on the history of Limerick. The Major produced papers to prove that his ancestors had rented the estate from the earl of Thomond long before the siege.

Another variation of this tale is that it was not a Philip McAdam, or an incident surrounding the siege of Limerick, which the Abbey fishermen refer to when speaking of the traitor or desecrating the McAdam grave. It is due to the actions of another man, Thomas McAdam of Blackwater County Clare, a possible descendant of the accused Philip McAdam, as both his and Philip’s actual descendant Thomas Stannard resided in Blackwater, Co. Clare. Thomas was a leaser of the Lax weir between 1818 and 1834. On one occasion during this period, upon catching poachers on the weir, he shot a fisherman named John Hartigan in the eye, leading to Hartigan’s death a few months later. This may have been seen as just cause to vandalize the McAdam grave. It is also possible that it was both men of the McAdam clan at whom the stories, poems and despoliation were aimed.

In conclusion, the tale of McAdam the Traitor, although not necessarily historically accurate, played a pivotal role in the social structure of this fishing community. It may have been an element in keeping the community together due to fear of the consequences of going against convention. The legends of this man were maintained through generations through the use of folklore, adapting as time went on. But the basic moral of the story was ingrained in the tale, "Do not betray your community or eternal damnation will be yours".

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