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Séaghan na Sagart entry in the Folklore Commission records. Click on image to view the full written story.

The next day the old priest was to be buried and Sean thought that another priest might be there to bless his grave and that that was his chance to get five pounds more in these day a lot of pedlars used to go round the country selling little things. The people thought a lot of these pedlars that time for they were nearly all good true men and they always had a lot of news and stories to tell . Johnny McBann was the name of the pedlar that was going about these parts.

Johnny hated Séaghan but pretended to be very great with him for he thought that was the only way to get the better of him . He told Séaghan that the young priest would be blessing the old priest graves. But him was a very active and that Séaghan would be no match for him with the dagger.

But if you give me your dagger says Johnny I’ll give you a loaded pistol and you can shoot him with it. All night said Séaghan. Johnny put a wad of tow into the barrel of the pistol. He then filled the nest of barrel with water and then he put another wad of tow outside to keep the water in. In this way he made the pistol useless. Johnny returned to the priest with Séaghan's dagger. That evening when the priest was blessing the grave he saw Séaghan coming and a pistol in his hand. To get away from Séaghan's pistol, for he did not know it was useless, the priest made off in the direction of Cluancoc. Séaghan saw him and followed him. Johnny Mc Bann followed Séaghan. The priest was very supple and Séaghan was not overtaking him. So he shouted to Aran Andrews to stop him. Aran was a Scotch man. He was a Protestant and an iron moulder by trade.

“Killing priests is not my business” said Andrews.

Just then the priest’s foot got caught in a briar and he fell forward. Séaghan rushed on and pulled the trigger to shoot him. But the pistol would not go off. Johnny McBann came up now. “Séaghan na Sagart” he shouted to the priest. The priest flung back the dagger. It hit him in the throat. Séaghan fell. He called to the pedler to pull out the dagger.

Johnny took hold of the dagger. “It has great hold” said he “tis very hard loosen it wait till I get a stone.”

Johnny got a stone but what he did was to drive the dagger in farther. And that’s the way Séaghan was killed with his own dagger. He was buried in Ballintubber Abbey. But some time afterwards the body was dug up and thrown into Lough Carra.

Séághan was not married and his sister Nancy had no children.



Told to Michael Garry by his grandfather Pat Keaveney aged 80 of Ballintubber, Co. Mayo. The story tells of the notorious priest hunter, Séaghan na Sagart who relentlessly sought to kill priests during the Penal Times for the £5 on offer for each head. 

Séaghan na Sagart - Dúchas link.


There lived in Ballyheane a man named John Mollowney. When John was a young man he was a horse stealer. In those days it was a hanging crime to steal a horse. The hangman who named Bingham lived in Newbrook. Bingham heard of John and was going to hang him but he changed his mind and gave him the job of priest hunting. Every priest that John would kill he was to cut the head off and to bring it to Bingham. Bingham would give him a reward of five pounds for it. Bingham would give back the head to John would throw it into a lake. This lake is now called Lochán na gCeann. It is near Aille within a few hundred yards of the road going from here to Westport. That is why John Mollowney is called Séaghan na Sagart which means John of the Priests. Nancy Mollowney was Séaghan’s sister. She married a man from Shehanec named Loftus. Séaghan killed the first man in his house. Nancy had a Public house in Skehanec. A school teacher named Jennings used to visit her house every night for a drink.

Séaghan used to visit her often. One night Séaghan was in the house when Jennings came in. Séaghan started drinking with him. But he only wanted to kill him.

Seán knew that Jennings had a dagger hidden in his clothes, and he thought of a plan to get the dagger from him.

He bet him a pound that he would not take out a piece of silver lay it on the counter and drive his dagger through it.

Jennings took out a piece of silver and laid it on the counter and struck his dagger through it. The blade was held by the wood of the counter under the silver coin.

When Jennings could not draw his dagger Séaghan stuck him to the heart with his dagger and then cut off his head.

Next day he brought the head to Bingham but Bingham would only give him 50 shillings for it, for he knew it was not a priest’s head but only a schoolteacher’s. Séaghan brought back the head and threw it in Lochán na gCeann.

After this Séaghan went through the side of Mayo Looking for priests to cut off their heads. I do not know how many priests heads he sold.

This is how he met his death in the end.

It happened that two priests were hiding near Nancy's house and Séaghan heard about them. In order to find out where they were he came to Nancy's house and pretended to be sick. He said he was dying and for God's sake to send for the priest for him to anoint him and to hear his confession before his death.

Nancy knew where the priests were for she was a good woman. She went to the priests but she told him that she did not know whether Séaghan was “rogueing” or not. One of the priests was an old man but the other was a young man. The young priest said he would go anyhow but the old priest wouldn't let him.

“I am an old man said he and my days in this world will be short in any case and if I am killed, small is the loss. But you” are said he to the young priest “are a young priest with a long life and a lot of work before you to do in this world with God's help and if anything should happen to you the loss would be great.”

Nancy went home and the old priest followed her. The priest went into the room were Séaghan was he was just about to amount when Séaghan jumped up and caught him round the neck by the glory of hell I have you at last said Séaghan the priest got into the kitchen but Séaghan followed and caught him again there Nancy took the tongs and hit Séaghan with it across the head and hands and the priest ran out the door a child was coming in just then and the priest tripped on the door step and fell before he could rise Séaghan was on him and had his head cut off.

That evening he brought the head to Bingham and the next morning he threw it into Lochán na gCeann. (Part 2 on left)

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