By Paul Craven
ELLEN HANLEY was born in Ballycahane, near Croom, County Limerick. Her date of birth is given variously as 1803 and 1804. Her parents were Michael Hanley, a farmer, and his first wife, whose maiden name was believed to be Connery.
Known as Ellie, tragedy struck when she was aged only six – her mother died. So, she was adopted by her uncle, John Connery, her late mother’s brother. A ropemaker by trade, he also lived in Ballycahane.
Young Ellie grew up to be strikingly beautiful. She became known as “An Cailín Bán”, or, “The Colleen Bawn”, which literally translates as “The White Girl”.
The word, “Bán”, or “White”, referred to the purity or innocence of her character, rather than her appearance. However, her Uncle John’s cottage was less than a mile from Ballycahane Castle, the home of the Scanlan family.
The eldest son of this family was John Scanlan, who enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a “Buck”.
This word, which comes from the Irish word, “boc”, was intended as a term of insult for a young man of poor character. He had held a Commission in the Army, but, in 1815, he was unceremoniously kicked out of the Army.
He then returned to the family home, Ballycahane Castle, and spent his time fishing and hunting. Then, on the 29th of June, 1819, he asked Ellie Hanley to elope with him. Ellie, who was barely sixteen years old at this stage, agreed.
So, she robbed her Uncle John’s house of a hundred pounds in banknotes and twelve guineas in gold coins. (These were astronomical amounts in 1819!)
She then quit Ballycahane with her sweetheart, who was accompanied by his servant and bestman, Stephen Sullivan. They travelled to Limerick where a mock marriage ceremony was performed.