Thomas Prince lived in a thatched cottage directly opposite the present day Parnell Street. He made his living as a gingerbread maker. The family were Protestant, but during the Croppy Year, as 1798 was known, the Prince family were noted for their conduct and kindness to the Catholics in the neighbourhood.
General Ashgall was supreme commander in Kilkenny in 1798, the city and county being under martial law. He lived in Kilcreene House and any whisper or suspicion was enough to deprive a person of their life and liberty.
The first Sunday in May was the patron of Cuffes Grange with dancing and other amusements carried on under the canopy of the lime tree. Two men from Kilkenny went to the patron. One was James Quigley, a resident of Parliament Street, the other was named Dooley, a resident of Walkin Street. General Ashgall had his informer at the patron, and before the two men had returned home, arrangements were made that both should be arrested that night.
At ten that night, Quigley was lodged in the city gaol. Dooley was preparing for bed, when a loud knocking on the door made him aware of danger. With great presence of mind he directed his wife to open the window and tell the infantry, all the family were in bed, but she would dress and open the door. In the mean time Dooley escaped through the back door into Tom Prince’s gardens. Having been admitted to Prince’s house, explained his position, placing his life in Tom’s hands.
Prince replied “Dooley, you have one chance, the oven is cool , get in at once, I will get in the furze after you.” The offer of the oven was accepted, the furze crammed in after Dooley. Prince opened the front door and became aware of the excitement in the street, caused by the soldiers searching for their prey. They searched every hole, nook and corner of the gardens from the Friary chapel to Tom Prince’s house. His manner and been a Protestant disarmed suspicion, entering the kitchen and seeing the oven crammed with furze they soon retired.
On the soldiers departure, Prince withdrew the furze from the oven and exclaimed, “Well, Dooley, your bread was near being baked forever”. Dooley made his way to a relative’s dwelling in High street, where he was concealed for a week.
The authorities resumed the search next day. Ashgall became so exasperated at the escape, he ordered Quigley to be hanged. The sentence was carried out in front of the Court House. His wife and family witnessed the scene from their home directly opposite.
All the weaving machinery and house furniture belonging to Dooley was seized by the soldiery and ordered to be burned in Cottoner’s Garden, now the Bottling Store in New street. Tom Prince bribed some of the soldiers and saved a good portion of the furniture from the flames.
The largest starch hogshead that could be found was provisioned for a three day journey to Dublin. Dooley being nailed down was transported as starch to the care of an influential Dublin merchant. This merchant pleaded Dooley’s case to the authorities and obtained his protection. Dooley soon returned to Kilkenny and walked unmolested through the streets.
Some years later, one Sunday morning Fr Mulligan had the high altar of the Friary Chapel decorated with green boughs, flowers and candles. Just as the bells rang out for twelve o’clock Mass, four men carried Tom Prince then eighty years old in an arm chair up to the High Altar. He read his recantation and was received into the church and baptised by Fr Mulligan. Old Tom Prince died twelve months later.