The Dodder mystery of 1900

By Dermot Carmody

In the early morning of Thursday August 23rd, 1900, the body of a woman was found floating face down in the Dodder between London Bridge and Herbert Bridge (also known as the New Bridge), near the Lansdowne Road rugby ground.

The woman was discovered around 6 am by Frederic Cummins and Patrick O’Keefe on their way to work. O’Keefe, who lived in Bridge Street, Ringsend, went straight to the Dublin Metropolitan Police barracks in Irishtown to raise the alarm and two officers, Constable Toal and Constable Henry Flower, headed to the scene.

John Humphreys, a labourer from Keegan’s Lane in Ballsbridge who had heard that a woman’s body had been found in the river, drove to the scene with his horse and cart. With Constable Toal, Humphreys managed to haul the body out of the Dodder with a rope and he and Constable Flower were detailed to take her to the morgue in Londonbridge Road using the horse and cart.

Humphreys noticed that Flower was muttering to himself and glanced often at the cart as they went. This was because, although he failed to identify the body at the time, Flower knew the woman. And not only that but he had been one of the last people to see her alive. Sgt. Hanily of the Irishtown Barracks, who was later himself to be a victim of events, was in charge of affairs at the crime scene.

To understand the events of the preceding days leading up to this gruesome discovery in the Dodder, we need to go back to the preceding Thursday and the movements of the victim, Bridget Gannon. Bridget was a maid in a house at 124 Lower Baggot Street. On Sunday, August 19th, she left the house after work, shortly before 7pm and called to pick up her friend, Margaret Clowry, from Lower Mount Street where she lived. Clowry was also a maid by profession, but was not employed at the time. The two women set off for a walk down Northumberland Road.

Meanwhile Constable Flower and his colleague Thomas Dockery came off duty at Irishtown, got into their civvies and set off for a stroll of their own. They wandered in the direction of Lansdowne Road and thence to Northumberland Road.

The two gentlemen met with the two ladies at the corner of Haddington Road. Dockery knew Margaret Clowry quite well. It appears they had been romantically involved at some stage, although by now they were not that close. He knew Bridget Gannon by association, but not as well as Margaret.

The four continued their walk together, travelling along Northumberland Road and then back to Baggot Street via Pembroke Road. At the corner of Lower Baggot Street and Fitzwilliam Street they split up. Flower escorted Bridget home and they made an appointment to meet at the same corner where the group had split in two at 8pm the next Wednesday, August 22nd.

When Henry Flower met Bridget Gannon on Wednesday night as arranged, she was once again accompanied by her friend Margaret Clowry. The three walked along Baggot Street and up Pembroke Road to Lansdowne Road. At that point, Margaret parted company and the couple walked on down Lansdowne Road towards the Dodder.

They were seen by the signalman at the level crossing on Lansdowne Road, who knew the policeman to see, and walking through roadworks at Herbert Bridge as they made their way towards the Dodder bank. This was a regular haunt for couples at night and their presence there would not have raised any particular notice. 

It seems that Henry Flower left Bridget shortly after they appeared near the river, because a fellow officer later confirmed that he came into a pub on Bath Avenue at around 9.30 or 9.45, and stayed for about an hour. No unusual behaviour on the policeman’s part was noted in the witness account of his visit to the pub. The following morning, Bridget Gannon’s body was found face down in the Dodder as described above.

After the body was brought to the morgue, the coroner, Christopher Friery, was summoned and the policemen went about the task of assembling a jury for an inquest. This took place around 4pm on the day the body was found. Dr. John G. Synott of Tritonville Road, declared that the evidence was consistent with death by drowning and with no further suspicions being aroused, the inquest produced a verdict of “Found drowned”.

Meanwhile, Margaret Clowry, noticing her companion’s absence since the previous night, called to the house where Bridget worked. Not finding her there, she made her way to Ballsbridge where she found Constable Toal. He told her that Flower was engaged at an inquest of a woman who had been found drowned and Margaret said she thought that it might be Bridget.

She then went to Bridget’s sister Annie Wogan and her husband James, who had not seen Bridget at their home in Gloucester Street since the previous Sunday. James Wogan went to the mortuary in Irishtown and identified Bridget’s body. She was buried in Glasnevin the next morning, Friday the 24th.

On Friday afternoon, Margaret met Sgt. Hanily and told him Flower had been in company with Bridget on Wednesday night. Sgt. Hanily took a statement from Flower in which he denied any knowledge of Bridget or Margaret Clowry. The next day the coroner, Friery, got a report from the DMP connecting Flower with Bridget on the night before her body was found.

A post mortem and second inquest was ordered. Bridget’s body was disinterred for the post mortem. The doctor determined there were no conclusive signs of a struggle and that she had become unconscious on immersion in the water and drowned.

The body was reinterred in Clonsilla, probably a family plot. Flower was represented at this inquest by a Mr. Harrington, who argued that the second inquest shouldn’t be allowed by virtue of the finding of the first one. Some days later the first inquest was quashed and a third set for Saturday September 8th. Bridget was again disinterred for the jurors of the final inquest to see the body, and then reinterred for the final time.

During the third inquest Flower stated under oath that he did not know Bridget Gannon. Harrington then told his client to say nothing further. Eventually, the inquest found that Bridget had died by drowning, adding she was last seen in the company of Constable Flower, but that there was no positive evidence of how she came to be in the water.

On Wednesday September 12th Flower was brought before a police court in connection with what was widely covered in the newspapers as “The Dodder Mystery”. Evidence for all witnesses was taken and Flower was remanded in custody, ultimately for two weeks, as the case was heard.

In the meantime on September 14th, Sgt. Hanily was found dead by his own hand with his throat cut in the Irishtown Barracks. He had been to see the Superintendent in Rathmines and appeared distracted and thought that people were trying to poison him. Whatever his mental condition, it seems that the involvement of his station and officers in this very public affair pushed him over the edge. 

Henry Flower was eventually acquitted of any charge in relation to Bridget’s death and promptly disappeared. However, he is thought by scholars to be an inspiration for Leopold Bloom’s alias, Henry Flower, in the Lotus Eaters episode of Ulysses, so in that sense he is still with us to this day.

A final twist to the story occurred forty years later when, on her deathbed in a house in Gardiner Street, Margaret Clowry, Bridget’s friend who had implicated Flower, called a solicitor to her bedside. She confessed to struggling with Bridget that evening over a sum of money, and to pushing Bridget into the river where she drowned. She said she then took the money from her friend’s dead body.

I’m indebted to Brendan Ellis for pointing me in the direction of this story and to Ben Gibey for allowing me to use his detailed research into events.