'The Colleen Bawn' Bust – Tiervarna, Ireland - Atlas Obscura

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'The Colleen Bawn' Bust

Tiervarna, Ireland

A monument to a 19th-century Irish woman whose murder inspired several literary works. 


In the Autumn of 1819, the body of a 15-year old girl was found floating along the estuary of the River Shannon. Through a police investigation, it was discovered that her death was orchestrated by her recently eloped husband John Scanlan, who was a few years her senior.

Ellen Hanley was orphaned at an early age and was being raised by her uncle John Connery. She was known by the nickname “Colleen Bawn,” because of her innocence and beauty. This attracted the eye of Scanlan, who convinced the lower dispositioned maiden to run away with him and get married.

Within a few weeks of their betrothal, Scanlan’s unaware sister had arranged another marriage with a tempting dowry. In order for him to take advantage of the situation, he conspired with his servant Stephen Sullivan to kill his young bride. Sullivan lured the innocent girl onto a boat, where he shot Ellen and dumped her body into the river with a stone. Her body was eventually discovered floating near Money Point.

To avoid detection, both men fled the area. Scanlan was captured first and put on trial for murder. He was defended by Daniel O’Connell, a national hero known as the Great Emancipator. Scanlan was found guilty and was hanged at Gallows Green. A year later, Sullivan met a similar fate.

The plight and account of Ellen’s death became the inspiration for several plays, novels, operas, and even a silent movie in 1911. Ellen was buried in a cemetery outside the town of Kilrush, Co. Clare. Due to the popularity of her narrative and eager souvenir hunters, her grave no longer exists. There is, however, this monument placed near her final resting place.

Know Before You Go

Visible and accessible at all hours of the day and night. Located very close to Killimer Ferry Terminal, near the Burrane Burial Ground on R486, Burrane Lower.

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January 11, 2021

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