seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Execution of James Cotter the Younger


cotter-family-burial-spotJames Cotter the Younger, the son of Sir James Fitz Edmond Cotter who had commanded King James‘s Irish Army forces in the Counties of Cork, Limerick, and Kerry, and Eleanor/Ellen Plunkett, daughter of Matthew, 7th Baron Louth, is executed on May 7, 1720 for high treason in supporting the Jacobite cause. His death is seen by many, especially within the Catholic population of Ireland, as a form of political assassination.

At the time of his death Cotter is seen, like his father before him, as the natural leader of the Catholics of Cork. He is also a prominent patron of poetry and other literature in the Irish language. The Irish text Párliament na mBan or ‘The Parliament of Women’ is dedicated by its author, Domhnall Ó Colmáin,’ to a young James Cotter in 1697. As one of the few major landowners of the Catholic faith remaining in Ireland, and as a man of known Jacobite and Tory sympathies he is distrusted by the authorities. He is also held in suspicion by those of his landed neighbours who are part of the Protestant Ascendancy and of Whiggish political views. Amongst his overt political actions he is believed to play a leading part in the instigation of the election riots of 1713 in Dublin. His trial, ostensibly for rape, is a cause célèbre at the time and widely seen as an example of judicial murder.

Though married, Cotter has a reputation as a ladies’ man. His wealth allows him to flaunt his independence of the Protestant ruling class and anti-Catholic laws of Ireland. These characteristics, allied to his political activities, lead to his downfall. He makes an enemy of a powerful neighbour, Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton. Brodrick, it appears, arranges that Cotter be accused of abducting and raping a young Quaker woman named Elizabeth Squibb, reported by some to have been Cotter’s mistress. When news of this trumped-up or exaggerated charge reaches Cork City, the Quakers of the town live in fear of their lives for many weeks. Believing the charge cannot hold up in court, Cotter gives himself up to the Cork sheriff.

The judge presiding on the case is Sir St. John Brodrick who, as a close relative of James Cotter’s accuser, is hardly impartial. The jury has also been packed as all twelve of its members are justices of the peace. The trial takes place in a period of heightened rumour of Jacobite invasion. A large number of arms for cavalry are found in Cork which triggers a scare until it is discovered that they are government owned and intended for a local militia unit. James Cotter is held in jail, though bail has been granted, and is convicted of the crime.

A bizarre element in Cotter’s downfall are the pleas for mercy expressed by both the jury which has convicted him and Elizabeth Squibb, his alleged victim. Attempts to gain a pardon in Dublin are proceeding and a stay of execution is sent, however, the hanging is deliberately brought forward and the stay does not arrive in time. Cotter has attempted to escape and spends the night before his execution in chains. The gallows erected for the execution are destroyed by some of the citizens of Cork and the hanging is extemporised using a rope attached to a metal staple in a vertical post. James Cotter is hanged in Cork City on May 7, 1720. News of his execution triggers widespread riots on a national scale. He is buried in his family’s vault at Carrigtwohill.

Some have seen the death of James Cotter as the working of a family feud. His father had been intimately involved in the assassination of the regicide John Lisle in Switzerland (1664). The wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time of James Cotter’s trial is a granddaughter of John Lisle.

Up to twenty poems in Gaelic survive which reflect the widespread dismay felt at James Cotter’s execution, including ones by Éadbhard de Nógla, son of his close friend, the lawyer Patrick Nagle.

(Pictured: the Cotter Family burial vault in Carrigtwohill)


Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017) and a commissioner on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, 2021-Present, Chairman 2017-2018).

10 thoughts on “Execution of James Cotter the Younger

  1. I read with interest your article on James Cotter, my name is Jim Barry and I live near Carrigtwohill, about a half mile from the old Cotter homestead at Anngrove (Ballinsperrig) I am Chairman of the Carrigtwohill and district Historical Society, this year on the 7th of May we marked the 300th anniversary of the death of James Cotter by laying a wreath near the spot where he was buried, we do know according the the available information he was hanged in Cork, what we dont know is where in Cork the hanging took place
    From what know there were three main places in Cork where hangings took place, Gallows Green, Broad Lane, and the Mardyke
    If you could help with any information on this we would be delighted
    If you would like any local information or photos let me know
    Kind Regards
    Jim Barry Chairman Carrigtwohill & District Historical Society


    • Thank you for the information. I know of some maps of gallows located in Cork I need to look through my photo archive and get back to you but meanwhile I will message Dr Coleman A. Dennehy @ColemanDennehy who studies these executions and is quite familiar with the James the youngers trial and execution.
      James J Cotter


  2. My husband is a direct descendent of James Cotter, the Younger. We are visiting Cork in October and would appreciate any
    information you might have of places to visit. Also, since he was Catholic, is there any information about a church where he was baptized or married?


    • Hello, Cathie! Thank you for visiting my site! I have not come across any information regarding the church he was baptized or married. As for places to visit, I have not actually been to Cork myself but do have a friend who has been a longtime resident of the city. I’ll ask her to recommend some sites to visit and pass them along.


    • Hello Cathie,
      I have an entire history of the Cotter family from Cork dating back to AD 866. The history was compiled by my cousin who was a university professor here in the USA. It includes a substantial section on Sir James Cotter, Knight of Annegrove and his son James Cotter Jr. If you are interested, I will scan it and email it to you.
      Jim as this is your site, it would be my pleasure to email the same information to you. I will share your kind act of laying the wreath on May 7th with my extended family.

      John Cotter


      • If you could send me a copy also I would deeply appreciate. I have been doing extensive research on the assassination of Lisle.


      • I would really appreciate that! Please send the information to my email address.


        On Tue, Aug 16, 2022 at 7:37 PM seamus dubhghaill <> wrote:

        John Cotter commented: “Hello Cathie, I have an entire history of the > Cotter family from Cork dating back to AD 866. The history was compiled by > my cousin who was a university professor here in the USA. It includes a > substantial section on Sir James Cotter, Knight of Annegrove ” >


      • John! I am a great (x8) grandson of James Cotter. I am filling in my family tree. I would very much appreciate a copy of that tree going further back as I have actually hit a brick wall in my research at William Cotter (possibly born 1503) and married to Sarah Hodnett.


      • John,

        My wife is a Cotter descendant as well. American from when Cotter’s immigrated to upstate NY. My records show him to be her 6th grandfather. I am building that part of the family tree, so any data you have going as far back as you have would be appreciated.


  3. Hi everyone, this post and the comments are all interesting reading! I’m his fifth great grandson but I first came across this event in the book by AK Groeger.

    As Blake mentioned it’s hard to find anything earlier than William. John, I’d be very keen on help you could provide as well!


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