Legend of The Kings Head
In 1641 an insurrection of the Catholics in Ireland broke out and heralded the beginning of a war that was to last 11 years. During the same period a civil war raged in England between the royalist forces of King Charles I and the parliamentarians headed by Oliver Cromwell. The royalist forces were defeated and in 1649 King Charles I was be-headed in London. That same year Cromwell and his parliamentary army landed in Ireland with a mission of revenge and conquest.
In 1651 the English parliamentarian army gathered its forces around the fortified city of Galway and a long siege lasting nine months ensued after various truce offers were turned down by both sides. A Colonel Peter Stubbers had been appointed Military Governor of Galway and on the 12th of April 1652 after the great siege he led the Cromwellian army as they marched triumphantly into the city. Two years later in October 1654 the last tribal mayor of Galway, Thomas Lynch, was forcibly removed from office and replaced by Stubbers who now became the first protestant mayor of the new order in Galway. Stubbers also took over the mayor’s house at No. 15 High Street. While Governor and then Mayor of Galway Stubbers initiated and enforced a brutal puritan regime on the town and peoples of Galway. Stubbers had all priests rounded up and marched off to prison to the sound of beating drums and blowing bugles. He also made frequent nightly raids throughout the countryside rounding up over 1000 people for transportation to the West Indies where they were sold as slaves.
The town also witnessed the more excessive elements of Puritanism in the despoiling of the churches and tombs both within and outside the town walls. They went so far as to break open the tombs and root out the bodies in search of treasure, usually when disappointed they left the carcasses uncovered so that they were often found mangled and eaten by dogs. After their desecration the town churches were used as stables for the horses of the Cromwellian soldiers. Stubber’s reign of terror, however, came to an end with the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Upon this event Stubbers suddenly and mysteriously disappeared without a trace.
After the restoration, the act of indemnity was introduced by Charles II which absolved all those who had supported Oliver Cromwell once they had admitted their crimes. The fact that Stubbers was deliberately excluded from the terms of the act and that he disappeared from Ireland would indicate that he certainly feared for his life. The new royalists had several people tried and executed for their part in the death of King Charles I. Peter Stubbers was accused of signing the king’s death warrant and even as being a halberdier or axe carrier at the Kings execution. There had been two masked executioners, one severed the kings head with an axe while the other held it up, streaming with blood. Both men had insisted their identities be kept secret. While Col. Stubbers had lived at 15 High Street his neighbour to the rear was a man called Richard Gunning. The belief once was that Gunning was given the property as payment for his part in the execution of Charles I. He was also making a very successful living by exporting white slaves from Galway to work on his plantation in the West Indies. Gunning was facilitated in this operation by his neighbour Col. Stubbers. This arrangement continued very profitably for both parties until 1655 when Col. Stubbers was removed as Governor, having become extremely unpopular.
The legend was that Gunning was heard to boast in the taverns of Galway that, “this arm felt the muscles on the neck of the king of England”. It is more likely however that on that fateful day in 1649 that the man who executed Charles I was in fact Col. Peter Stubbers. There is also a legend handed down in the tribal Deane family that one of their kin had uncovered the true identity of the man who executed the king. It relates how a tobacco merchant named John Deane became friendly with the then Governor and Mayor Peter Stubbers, so much so that they entered into partnership exporting tobacco from Virginia. One night after an excessive drinking session the Governor boasted to Deane, while holding up his right hand, “this hand knew the strength of King Charles Stuart’s neck”. Friendship, or more likely fear, influenced Deane to keep secret this revelation until Charles son was restored to the throne in 1660.
Stubbers was to be the only member of Cromwell’s inner circle to escape any form of punishment. Very little is known of him after this period, but it appears he fled to Germany. Some even maintain that he returned to Ireland years later and lived in seclusion until his death. Stubbers had at least one son Edward, who had also acquired property in Galway and the building at 15 high street was actually in the Stubbers family until 1932 when it was finally sold. The building was later turned into a public house and was appropriately named the Kings Head.