Death of an Irishman

Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2003
Death of an Irishman
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Willie Farrell receives Catholic funeral 183 years after his death

TULLY –– On a crisp, cold Saturday morning in November, close to 200 people gathered to honor Willie Farrell at a memorial Mass at St. Leo’s Church. One hundred and eighty three years after his death, Farrell was given a true Irish send off. A lone bagpiper started the procession down the aisle of the church followed by more than 40 members of Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) whose leaders carried flags of both Ireland and America. Dressed in green blazers and yellow ties, the well-known a cappella group, the Tom Dooley Choraliers, sang Irish ballads throughout the Mass. Father James Carey, pastor at St. Leo’s, said that the congregation came together as people of faith to mourn and grieve for Willie Farrell. “Thank you to the Ancient Order of Hibernians for your care and concern of Willie Farrell,” said Father Carey. He compared the death of Farrell to that of Jesus’ execution on the cross –– brought about by violence and evil. “Jesus overcame the violence and evil of His execution as did the people of Tully,” said Father Carey. “A woman named Thurgood took Farrell, a complete stranger, into her home and cared for him until his death eight days later.”

Farrell was travelling to Tully on that fateful winter day in March 1820 to meet up with a fellow Irishman. Having traveled many miles, he stopped at Henry King’s Barter Store eager for warmth and a hot meal. A local resident, Joseph Mason, poked fun at Farrell’s Irish brogue and a fight broke out. More than a dozen men witnessed the altercation that would take Farrell’s life. During the trial of Mason, witnesses told what transpired. Lewis Redfield, publisher of the Onondaga Register, printed the trial transcripts. Witness Smith Johnson recalled, “The Irishman advanced and struck (Mason) in the face near the mouth or nose. As (Mason) received the blow he sallied back, but did not fall down.” Witness Henry Strail said, “Then Mason turned partly ‘round, and the axe stood by the side of the store, and he took it and struck, and hit Farrell.” At the time of his death, no one knew Willie Farrell, but the contrite Tully townspeople collected enough money to bury him in the only cemetery in town, which was Protestant. It wasn’t until several days later that the townspeople would learn Farrell’s full name when his acquaintance arrived in town, asking for him. Daniel Case, a member of the AOH, said that it was time that Farrell receive what he had not received a time of his death –– a Catholic burial and a blessed grave site. “Bigotry is alive and well,” said Case. “It existed in the 1820’s in Tully and it still exists all over the world today. The Protestants of Tully took it upon themselves to bury Farrell and buy him a headstone. The AOH wanted to thank and honor the Protestants for their care of Farrell,” he said. “Can you imagine how those people were ostracized for burying a Catholic?” said Case. “We want to honor the people of the village of Tully for what they did.”

Geordy Austin, also a member of the AOH, spent many hours researching the death of Farrell. With the help and cooperation of the Onondaga County Historical Society and the Tully Historical Society, Austin was able to learn what happened on that day in 1820. “The women of Tully deserve great credit for what they did,” said Austin. “They not only cared for Farrell and buried him, but they bought him a headstone –– in those days, the size of that headstone would have been very expensive. We wouldn’t have been able to give Willie closure if it hadn’t been for the headstone that those women put there,” he said. Austin said he could relate closely to what Farrell experienced in Tully –– the bigotry and hatred for the Irish Catholic. Austin was born and raised in Belfast, Ireland and has lived in the U.S. for 28 years. “I feel so strongly about what Willie went through,” said Austin.

Pat Ahern, president of the AOH, said that the Hibernian’s have received very positive feedback about the Mass and the blessing of the burial site. “It was one of our shining moments,” said Ahern. “Anyone who attended it will never forget it.” Ahern was grateful to Father Carey for his hospitality and graciousness. “Did you know that Father Carey blessed Farrell’s gravesite with water from Galilee?” said Ahern. “If there is anything St. Leo’s Parish ever needs, I hope they will call upon the Hibernians,” he said. “Our organization helps several parishes in the Syracuse area. We raise about $13,000 a year in fundraising events and of that, about $8,000 is donated to support Catholic organizations,” Ahern said. In the past the Hibernian’s have donated funds to help support the food pantries of St. Lucy’s, Assumption and St. Patrick’s Parishes. They have also donated money to the St. James School Fund. Currently, the AOH has raised $2,000 to be sent to Father Adrian Troy, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Belfast. The money will be hand-delivered to him by three members of the Hibernians when they travel to Ireland in January. “The money will be used to help the children,” said Ahern. “The girls suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are too little to understand the hatred and bitterness of the war between the Protestants and Catholics. The money will be used to provide counseling for the little girls.”

In putting Willie Farrell to rest, the AOH was also able to raise awareness of bigotry and hatred. Those who gathered to pay their respects to Farrell processed to the cemetery at the close of Mass. The bagpiper led the group down the main street of Tully where Father Carey said a final prayer, “Dear Father, we ask that you bless the grave, give our brother Willie eternal life and comfort us from the violence that caused Willie’s death.”

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