seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Death of Theobald Wolfe Tone

theobald-wolfe-toneTheobald Wolfe Tone, Irish republican and rebel who sought to overthrow English rule in Ireland and who led a French military force to Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies at Provost’s Prison, Dublin on November 19, 1798 from a stab wound to his neck which he inflicted upon himself on November 12. His attempted suicide is the result of being refused a soldier’s execution by firing squad and being sentenced to death by hanging.

Wolfe Tone is born in Dublin on June 20, 1763. The son of a coach maker, he studies law and is called to the Irish bar in 1789 but soon gives up his practice. In October 1791 he helps found the Society of United Irishmen, initially a predominantly Protestant organization that works for parliamentary reforms, such as universal suffrage and Roman Catholic emancipation. In Dublin in 1792 he organizes a Roman Catholic convention of elected delegates that forces Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. He himself, however, is anticlerical and hopes for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to the attainment of Irish political freedom.

By 1794 Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen friends begin to seek armed aid from Revolutionary France to help overthrow English rule. After an initial effort fails, he goes to the United States and obtains letters of introduction from the French minister at Philadelphia to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris. In February 1796 he arrives in the French capital, presents his plan for a French invasion of Ireland, and is favourably received. The Directory then appoints one of the most brilliant young French generals, Lazare Hoche, to command the expedition and makes Tone an adjutant in the French army.

On December 16, 1796, Wolfe Tone sails from Brest with 43 ships and nearly 14,000 men. But the ships are badly handled and, after reaching the coast of west Cork and Kerry, are dispersed by a storm. He again brings an Irish invasion plan to Paris in October 1797, but the principal French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, takes little interest. When insurrection breaks out in Ireland in May 1798, Wolfe Tone can only obtain enough French forces to make small raids on different parts of the Irish coast. In September he enters Lough Swilly, Donegal, with 3,000 men and is captured there.

At his trial in Dublin on November 10, Wolfe Tone defiantly proclaims his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair and open war to produce the separation of the two countries.” He is found guilty and is sentenced to be hanged. Early in the morning of November 12, 1798, the day he is to be hanged, he cuts his throat with a penknife and dies at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown, County Kildare, near his birthplace, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

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The Execution of Edward “Ned” Kelly

ned-kellyEdward “Ned” Kelly, Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer, is hanged at Old Melbourne Jail in Australia on November 11, 1880. One of the last bushrangers, and by far the most famous, he is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police.

Kelly is born in the British colony of Victoria as the third of eight children to John “Red” Kelly (born 1820 in County Tipperary), and Ellen (née Quinn). The exact date of his birth is not known, but a number of lines of evidence, including a 1963 interview with family descendants Paddy and Charles Griffiths, a record from his mother, and a note from a school inspector, all suggest his birth was in December 1854. He is baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O’Hea, who also administers last rites to Kelly before his execution. His father, a transported convict, dies shortly after serving a six-month prison sentence, leaving Kelly, then aged 12, as the eldest male of the household. The Kellys are a poor selector family who see themselves as downtrodden by the Squattocracy and as victims of police persecution.

While a teenager, Kelly is arrested for associating with bushranger Harry Power, and serves two prison terms for a variety of offences, the longest stretch being from 1871 to 1874 on a conviction of receiving a stolen horse. He later joins the “Greta mob”, a group of bush larrikins known for stock theft. A violent confrontation with a policeman occurs at the Kelly family’s home in 1878, and he is indicted of attempted murder. Fleeing to the bush, he vows to avenge his mother, who is imprisoned for her role in the incident. After he, his brother Dan, and two associates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, fatally shoot three policemen, the Government of Victoria proclaims them outlaws.

Kelly and his gang elude the police for two years, thanks in part to the support of an extensive network of sympathisers. The gang’s crime spree includes armed bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie, and the killing of Aaron Sherritt, a sympathiser turned police informer. In a manifesto letter, Kelly, denouncing the police, the Victorian government and the British Empire, sets down his own account of the events leading up to his outlawry. Demanding justice for his family and the rural poor, he threatens dire consequences against those who defy him.

In 1880, when Kelly’s attempt to derail and ambush a police train fails, he and his gang, dressed in armour fashioned from stolen plough mouldboards, engage in a final gun battle with the police at Glenrowan. Kelly, the only survivor, is severely wounded by police fire and is captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, he stands trial on October 19, 1880 in Melbourne before Sir Redmond Barry. The trial is adjourned to October 28, when Kelly is presented on the charge of the murder of the three policemen, the various bank robberies, the murder of Sherritt, resisting arrest at Glenrowan and a long list of minor charges. He is convicted of the willful murder of one of the officers and sentenced to death by hanging. After handing down the sentence, Barry concludes with the customary words, “May God have mercy on your soul,” to which Kelly replies, “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there where I go.”

On November 3, the Executive Council of Victoria decides that Kelly is to be hanged eight days later, November 11, at the Melbourne Gaol. In the week leading up to the execution, thousands turn out at street rallies across Melbourne demanding a reprieve for Kelly. On November 8, a petition for clemency with over 32,000 signatures is presented to the governor’s private secretary. The Executive Council announces soon after that the hanging would proceed as scheduled.

The day before his execution, Kelly has his photographic portrait taken as a keepsake for his family and is granted farewell interviews with relatives. The following morning, John Castieau, the Governor of the Gaol, informs him that the hour of execution has been fixed at 10:00 AM. His leg irons are removed and, after a short time, he is marched out. He is submissive on the way, and when passing the gaol’s flower beds, remarks, “What a nice little garden,” but says nothing further until reaching the Press room, where he remains until the arrival of chaplain Dean Donaghy. His last words are famously reported to have been, “Such is life.”

Historian Geoffrey Serle calls Kelly and his gang “the last expression of the lawless frontier in what was becoming a highly organised and educated society, the last protest of the mighty bush now tethered with iron rails to Melbourne and the world.” In the century after his death, Kelly becomes a cultural icon, inspiring countless works in the arts, and is the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. He continues to cause division in his homeland as some celebrate him as Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood while others regard him as a murderous villain undeserving of his folk hero status. Journalist Martin Flanagan writes, “What makes Ned a legend is not that everyone sees him the same—it’s that everyone sees him. Like a bushfire on the horizon casting its red glow into the night.”


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Death of John Kelly, United Irish Leader

john-kelly-markerJohn Kelly, also known as Kelly of Killanne, a leader of the Society of United Irishmen, is hanged along with seven other rebel leaders on Wexford bridge on June 22, 1798.

Kelly lives in the town of Killanne in the parish of Rathnure and is a United Irish leader who fights in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

While Kelly is obviously well known to rebel and loyalist alike during the short duration of the Wexford Rebellion, almost nothing is known of him outside this time. He is one of the leaders of the rebel victory at the Battle of Three Rocks which leads to the capture of Wexford town but is later seriously wounded while leading a rebel column at the Battle of New Ross.

Kelly is under orders from the Wexford commander Bagenal Harvey to attack the British outposts around New Ross but on no account to attack the town itself.

The rebels outnumber the British forces and so Harvey sends a messenger to give them an opportunity to surrender. The messenger is shot while carrying a white flag. This angers the rebels who begin the attack without receiving the official order from Harvey.

Kelly’s column of 800 men attacks and breaks through Ross’s “Three Bullet Gate” and proceeds into the town itself. After initial success, they are eventually beaten back by British troops and Kelly is wounded in the leg. He is moved to Wexford to recuperate but, after the fall of Wexford on June 21, he is dragged from his bed, tried and sentenced to death.

John Kelly is hanged on June 22, 1798 along with seven other rebel leaders on Wexford bridge, after which his body is decapitated, the trunk thrown into the River Slaney and the head kicked through the streets before being set on display on a spike.

Kelly’s exploits are commemorated in the famous Irish ballad Kelly the Boy From Killanne written by Patrick Joseph McCall (1861–1919). Don Partridge records a solo acoustic version of the song in 1964, and later regularly plays the song during street busking, before and after his hit records in the late 1960s.

(Pictured: The grave of John Kelly, Kelly of Killanne, in Saint Anne’s Churchyard, Killanne, County Wexford)


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The Last Execution in the Republic of Ireland

michael-manningMichael Manning, Irish murderer, becomes the twenty-ninth and last person to be executed in the Republic of Ireland on April 20, 1954.

Manning, a 25-year-old carter from Johnsgate in Limerick, County Limerick, is found guilty of the rape and murder of Catherine Cooper, a 65-year-old nurse who works at Barrington’s Hospital in the city, in February 1954. Nurse Cooper’s body is discovered on November 18, 1953 in the quarry under the New Castle, Dublin Road, Castletroy. She is found to have choked on grass stuffed into her mouth to keep her from screaming during the committal of the crime.

Manning expresses remorse at the crime which he does not deny. By his own account, he is making his way home on foot after a day’s drinking in The Black Swan, Annacotty when he sees a woman he does not recognise walking alone. “I suddenly lost my head and jumped on the woman and remember no more until the lights of a car shone on me.” He flees at this point but is arrested within hours, after his distinctive hat is found at the scene of the crime.

Although Manning makes an impassioned plea for clemency in a letter to Minister for Justice Gerald Boland, his request is denied despite it also being supported by Nurse Cooper’s family. The execution by hanging is duly carried out on April 20, 1954 in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin by Albert Pierrepoint, who has traveled from Britain where he is one of three Senior Executioners.

Frank Prendergast, subsequently Teachta Dála (TD) for Limerick East who knew Manning well, recalls later, “Friends of mine who worked with me, I was serving my time at the time, went up to visit him on the Sunday before he was hanged. And they went to Mass and Holy Communion together and they played a game of handball that day. He couldn’t have been more normal.”

Manning leaves a wife who is pregnant at the time of the murder. His body is buried in an unmarked grave in a yard at Mountjoy Prison.

The death penalty is abolished in 1964 for all but the murder of gardaí, diplomats and prison officers. It is abolished by statute for these remaining offences in 1990 and is finally expunged from the Constitution of Ireland by approval by referendum of the Twenty-First Amendment on June 7, 2001.

The hanging of Michael Manning inspires a play by Ciaran Creagh. Creagh’s father, Timothy, is one of the two prison officers who stays with Michael Manning on his last night and Last Call is loosely based on what happened. It is shown in Mountjoy Prison’s theatre for three nights in June 2006.


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Execution of “Half-Hanged MacNaghten”

half-hanged-macnaghtenJohn MacNaghten, Anglo-Irish land owner, gambler, and convicted murderer also known as “Half-Hanged MacNaghten,” is hanged at Strabane jail on December 15, 1761, for his involvement in the killing of Mary Anne Knox, daughter of Andrew Knox MP.

MacNaghten is born into a landed Anglo-Irish family and attends Raphoe Royal school in County Donegal. In 1740, he inherits his family estate worth £500 a year and that same year enters Trinity College, Dublin. MacNaghten marries the sister-in-law of the first earl of Massereene. However, he is quickly enamoured of the extravagant lifestyle of Ascendancy Dublin where he becomes a popular and colourful character. He develops an addiction to gambling and squanders away a large part of his inheritance, running up substantial gaming debts and by 1750 is threatened with arrest.

Following the death of his wife in childbirth, he is appointed to the lucrative post of tax collector for Coleraine but gambles away £800 of the King’s money. His estate is sequestered and by 1760 he is penniless.

He gains support trying to help overcome his addiction from a childhood friend, Andrew Knox. Knox is a wealthy land-owner and Member of Parliament (MP) for Donegal who lives on an estate at Prehen about two miles outside the city of Derry. Mary Ann, Knox’s 15-year-old daughter, is already a substantial heiress, having received some £6,000, and would collect a further legacy if her brother dies without issue. MacNaghten and Mary Ann develop a relationship as the former visits Prehen regularly. Nonetheless by 1761 their relationship has run into difficulties.

The practice of abduction and marriage is prevalent in 18th century Ireland among young men of social standing but with little property and, within their society, it is tolerated. So, on November 10, 1761, MacNaghten and his followers attempt to abduct Mary Ann from a carriage on a family journey to Dublin Parliament with the intention of eloping with her. The attempt fails miserably as MacNaghten shoots and mortally wounds her by mistake. He is taken to Lifford Courthouse in County Donegal, where a court finds MacNaghten guilty of murder and he is sentenced to execution by hanging.

At Strabane jail on December 15, 1761, MacNaghten hurls himself from the gallows with such force that the rope breaks. He has the sympathy of the crowd who believe this is divine intervention for a man distraught with grief over the death of his love. Despite the belief that MacNaghten could not be hanged a second time, he fails to use the cover of a sympathetic crowd to make good his escape. Rather he defies the public mood of the people with the never-to-be-forgotten words, “I vow that no one will ever speak of me as Half-Hanged MacNaghten.” He returns himself to the jurisdiction of the hangman and, with a new rope, is dispatched into the arms of eternity.

John McNaghton is buried at Patrick Street graveyard, Strabane, County Tyrone.


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First Prisoners Arrive at Kilmainham Gaol

kilmainham-gaolKilmainham Gaol in Dublin receives its first prisoners on August 12, 1796. When it is first built in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol is called the “New Gaol” to distinguish it from the old prison it is intended to replace. It is officially called the County of Dublin Gaol, and is originally run by the Grand Jury for County Dublin.

Originally, public hangings take place at the front of the prison. However, from the 1820s onward very few hangings, public or private, take place at Kilmainham. A small hanging cell, located on the first floor between the west wing and the east wing, is built in the prison in 1891.

There is no segregation of prisoners as men, women, and children are incarcerated up to five in each cell, with light and heat provided by a single candle which has to last for two weeks. The cells are roughly 28 square metres in area.

At Kilmainham the poor conditions in which women prisoners are kept provide the spur for the next stage of development. Remarkably, for an age that prides itself on a protective attitude for the “weaker sex,” the conditions for women prisoners are persistently worse than for men. Male prisoners are supplied with iron bedsteads while females lay on straw on the floor. Half a century later, however, there is little improvement.

Many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, are imprisoned and executed in the prison by the British.

Kilmainham Gaol is decommissioned as a prison by the Irish Free State government in 1924. Seen principally as a site of oppression and suffering at the time, there is no declared interest in its preservation as a monument to the struggle for national independence. The jail’s potential function as a location of national memory is also undercut and complicated by the fact that the first four republican prisoners executed by the Free State government during the Irish Civil War are shot in the prison yard.

The Irish Prison Board contemplates reopening it as a prison during the 1920s but the plans are abandoned in 1929. In 1936 the government considers the demolition of the prison but the price of this undertaking is seen as prohibitive.

In February 1960 detailed plans submitted by the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society for the restoration of Kilmainham, which notably also envisions the site’s development as a tourist attraction, receive the approval of the notoriously parsimonious Department of Finance. Restoration work begins in May of the same year. The final restoration of the site is completed in 1971 when Kilmainham Gaol chapel is re-opened to the public.

Kilmainham Gaol now houses a museum on the history of Irish nationalism and offers guided tours of the building. An art gallery on the top floor exhibits paintings, sculptures, and jewelry of prisoners incarcerated in prisons all over contemporary Ireland.  It is run by the Office of Public Works, an agency of the Government of Ireland.


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Fenian James Carey Killed by Patrick O’Donnell

james-careyJames Carey, a Fenian and informer most notable for his involvement in the Phoenix Park Murders, is shot and killed by Patrick O’Donnell aboard the Melrose on July 29, 1883.

Carey is born in James Street, Dublin, in 1845. He becomes a bricklayer and builder as well as the leading spokesman of his trade and obtains several large building contracts. During this period Carey is engaged in an Irish nationalist conspiracy, but to outward appearance he is one of the rising men of Dublin. He is involved in religious and other societies, and at one time is spoken of as a possible lord mayor. In 1882 he is elected a town councillor.

About 1861 Carey joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, soon becoming treasurer. In 1881 he breaks with the IRB and forms a new group which assumes the title of the Irish National Invincibles and establishes their headquarters in Dublin. Carey takes an oath as one of the leaders. The object of the Invincibles is to remove all “tyrants” from the country.

The secret head of the Invincibles, known as No. 1, gives orders to kill Thomas Henry Burke, the under-secretary to the lord-lieutenant. On May 6, 1882, nine of the conspirators proceed to the Phoenix Park where Carey, while sitting on a jaunting-car, points out Burke to the others. At once they attack and kill him with knives and, at the same time, also kill Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed chief secretary, who happens to be walking with Burke.

For a long time no clue can be found to identify the perpetrators of the act. However, on January 13, 1883, Carey is arrested and, along with sixteen other people, charged with a conspiracy to murder public officials. On February 13, Carey turns queen’s evidence, betraying the complete details of the Invincibles and of the murders in the Phoenix Park. His evidence, along with that of getaway driver Michael Kavanagh, results in the execution of five of his associates by hanging.

His life being in great danger, he is secretly put onboard the Kinfauns Castle with his wife and family, which sails for the Cape on July 6. Carey travels under the name of Power. Aboard the same ship is Patrick O’Donnell, a bricklayer. Not knowing his true identity, O’Donnell becomes friendly with Carey. After stopping off in Cape Town, he is informed by chance of Carey’s real identity. He continues with Carey on board the Melrose for the voyage from Cape Town to Natal. On July 29, 1883, when the vessel is twelve miles off Cape Vaccas, O’Donnell uses a pistol he has in his luggage to shoot Carey dead.

O’Donnell is brought to England and is tried for murder. After being found guilty, he is executed on December 17 at Newgate.