Forgotten Irish Tricksters is an occasional series where historian Sibling of Daedalus unearths the inventive Irish con men and women lost to time.
Number 3: Mary O’Neil
Sibling of Daedalus writes:
Bridget Connell, of 35 Cook Street, Dublin, was an elderly lady with only one thing of value: her life, which was insured with the British Life Assurance Company for the sum of £8.
On March 16, 1904, her niece, Mary O’Neill, with whom she shared a tenement, told Mrs Connell, who was ill in bed, that she was in financial difficulties and going out to get money, to lie very still with her eyes closed and not to be annoyed with her.
As instructed, Mrs Connell lay very still all day. She must have known there was trickery, for her niece had left her covered in a shroud and surrounded by candles, but she did not realise that the trick was on her.
The penny dropped, however, at 4 pm. that evening, when a little girl, passing down the stairs, told her that Mary was up on nearby High Street in a cab with a coal porter and a Royal Fusilier, having a merry old time.
Mrs Connell might have been 83 years old but was not slow at putting two and two together. She headed promptly to the nearest British Life Assurance office, only to find that she had been declared dead by her niece earlier that day, for the purposes of obtaining payment under the policy.
The revived corpse was still very much alive at the trial of Mary O’Neill in the Southern Police Court, Dublin, which took place later that year. Mrs O’Neill’s defence that her aunt was expected to die any time was not accepted by the court.
Bitter after having been sentenced to two months’ hard labour, she informed the court that she was sure Mrs Connell would be dead and buried before she came out. It is not clear if this happened.
What is clear, however, is that old habits die hard…
….Three years later, Mary O’Neill was again before the Southern Police Court, this time as the ringleader of the famous Dublin Mammies Insurance Scam – a complicated bit of trickery involving four middle aged women, six insurance companies and not-so-dead corpses too numerous to count.
This time, her husband, William O’Neill, whom she had described, when registering his death, ‘as fine a man as you could wish to see, and now he is gone’, who came back from the dead to give evidence against her….
illustration: ‘The Spectre of the Hall’ by JM Rymer
Previously: Forgotten Irish Tricksters 1: Mary Kate Hodges