Posts filed under 'Ireland'

1705: Edward Flood and Hugh Caffery

1 comment December 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1705, Edward Flood and Hugh Caffery hanged at Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green for robbing one “Mr. Casey.”

Both men were impugned by a witness who subsequently recanted — at which point the victim’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Price, stepped in to denounce them instead. In their dying statements (republished in James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches: From Eighteenth-Century Ireland) both men insist upon their innocence of the robbery.

It’s unclear to this reader all these centuries later whether we are meant by these doomed “robbers” to understand something unstated between the lines about Elizabeth Price’s animosity towards them, or whether we simply have a case of unreliable witness testimony and tunnel vision. (Obviously we also can’t know whether Flood’s and Caffery’s protestations are reliable.) Judge for yourself, gentle reader:


THE LAST SPEECHES AND DYING WORDS OF

EDWARD FLOOD AND HUGH CAFFERY

Who was Executed at St. Stephen’s-Green, On Friday the 5th of December, 1707 for Robbing of Mr. Casey, at Cabbra?

Good Christians,

Now that I am brought to so scandalous an End, and within a few Minuts of my last Breathing; I here declare before God and the World, that I was not Guilty of this Fact for which I am now to Dye for; neither was I privy thereto, nor to any other Robbery all my Life-time.

One of the same Company that I belong’d to being Confined in the Castle Guard, and transmitted to New-Gate for stealing Cloaths, was in a starving Condition; and that Mr. Casey, who was Robbed, hearing there was some of the Regiment in New Gate, and being Robb’d by some of the same Regiment, as they suppos’d, came to New Gate, to see if he cou’d hear any thing of this Robbery among them.

Then this Man who belong’d to the same Company that I was in, by name Bryan Mac Couly, being in a starving Condition, and Casey making him Drink, and Bribed him, Swore against Four of the same Company; for which we were Apprehended.

In a considerable time after, his Conscience prick’d him; and sent for the Reverend Mr. Jones, who examin’d Mac Couley, who Declared he Wrong’d us Four … That Elizabeth Price, Mother-in-law to the said Casey, hearing that Bryan Mac Couly had made the second Examination, came to him, and said; If he would not Swear against us, she would swear against Caffery and I; so she desired him to Swear, and that he shou’d have for his Reward two Guineas, but he wou’d not.

Then Mrs. Price Swore against Caffery and I, and said she knew us Both well enough … [and] Mrs. Price pitch’d upon one of Man of the Battallion, and said, that was one of the Men, and would have had him confined only he had good proof to the contrary; and made out where he was that Night.

Likewise I declare once more before God and the World, I know nothing of this Robbery that I am to Die for; altho’ I deserved Death before now, but I thank my God not for Robbing or Stealing, but for keeping Company with Women, and I was much given to that Crime, and do trust that God of his great Mercy will forgive me …

Edward Flood

Christians,

Since it has pleased Almight God, that I should Dye this most unfortunate Death; these few minutes that I have to live, shall be to satisfy the World of what was laid to my Charge. And now that I am to dye, I hope all Good Christians do believe that I have a tender regard for my poor soul, (which I hope God will be Merciful to,) and not think that I will dissemble with the World so as to deprive my self of Eternal happiness.

Dear Christians, these being my last Words, I do declare I never was Guilty of this Crime that I now suffer for, nor was I ever Guilty of so hainous a Crime as Stealing or Robbing; but all other small Vices I have been Guilty of, (and hope my Heavenly Father will pardon the same) Cursing, Swearing, and Women was the only Vice I was Guilty of; And that I do heartily forgive the Persons that hath occasion’d this my untimely End. And do further declare, that I never before knew any that was privy to the fact I suffer for; not did I see Mrs Price for 3 Years to my knowledge, ’till she came to New Gate.

I lived with one Ignatius Taffe, at the sign of the Black Swan in Smite-Field; during which service, I have been often in her House, yet never did her any wrong. I Confess I deserv’d Death long ago for the matter of keeping Company with Lewd Women, and I was as much given to that, which is all that troubles my Conscience.

I never wrong’d any living Soul, except I did my Master when I was sent to Buy small Conveniences for the House, then some small thing or other I often kept for my own use: Which is all I shall answer at the Tribunal. And pray God that all Christians may eschew those Vices of Lewd Women, Cursing and Swearing; God will one time or other revenged on ’em that Practice ’em. I desire the prayers of all that sees my untimely End. So fare well.

Hugh Caffery

These are the true Copies of the Dying Persons as delivered by ’em.
Printed by E. Waters in School-House Lane.

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1730: Cathrine M’Canna, mother’s daughter

Add comment September 23rd, 2018 Headsman

Original Dublin broadsheet via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches: From Eighteenth-Century Ireland:


THE LAST SPEECH, CONFESSION AND DYEING WORDS OF

CATHRINE M’CANNA

who is to be Executed near St. Stephens Green, this present Wednesday being the 23d of this Instant September 1730. She being Guilty of several Robberies, in and about the City of Dublin.

Good People,

Since the just Hand of Almighty God has at length over reach’d me, and that I must be cut off in the midst of my Transgressions, I shall in a few Words give you a short Narrative of my base and vicious Life, which is as follows, viz.

I drew my first Breath in this City, and descended of very honest Parents, but I wicked wretch about ten Years ago committed a Robbery, and the said Robbery being found with me, I Swore it was my poor Mother gave it me, upon the same she was Hanged, tho’ Innocent of the fact; and had I never been Guilty of no other offence but that, I doubt were I to live a thousand Years, I should not be able to make Restitution for that one Crime; and if so, Oh my God! what shall become of me, who have spent my time in Whoring and Thieving since I came to the Knowledge of committing either, yet my God will I not Despair in thy Mercies, tho’ I must Confess thou have been over and above good to me, in saving my Life when I was to be Hang’d at Killmainham not long since, that thy saying might be fulfilled, who desireth not the Death of a Sinner, but that he should live and save his Soul alive. But it was not so with me, for I no sooner got my Liberty, but (Dog like return’d to his Vomit,) I follow’d my old Trade again, spearing neither Rich nor Poor. Thus I ran on till about the beginning of August last, I went to the Pyde Bull in St. Thomas Street, and Stole thereout the vallue of five Pounds in Linnen and other things, belonging to one Mr. Murphy in said House, but I was soon taken and committed to Newgate, but when I was Try’d and lawfully convicted for the same, I began to plead my Belly, thinking to save my life but all was in vain, for my Jury of Mattrons would not forswear them selves for me, so I must Dye this Day.

Having no more to say, but beg of all Children to be more Dutiful to their Parents than I have been, I also beg the Prayers of all good Christian, [sic] I dye a Roman Catholick, in the 38th Year of my Age, and the Lord Receive my Soul. Amen.

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1731: Captain Daniel McGuire, griller

Add comment July 28th, 2018 Headsman

We return today as we have done several times previously to James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland. The crime in question recalls similar tactics being employed around the same time by McGuire’s far more famous English contemporary, Dick Turpin.

The Whole Declaration and Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of Capt. Daniel M’Guire

who is to be Executed near St. Stevens Green of Thomas Bryan in Fingal, and puting [sic] him on a hot Griddle to make him Confess his Money, the 18th of November last.

Good Christians,

Whereas the World may expect, as tis usual to those in my Condition; to give the Publick some satisfaction, for the many wrongs done to them; so may they now expect the same from me, who have not been, I acknowledge in the presence of God, and as I am a Dying Man, less Criminal then a great many who came to this shameful End; but why shou’d I thus speak, whereas no Death (tho’ never so Ignominious) ought to be regarded by me as shameful, for was I to Suffer a thousand times more, its what my Sins justly deserves; but my great hope is that these my Sufferings may in some measure appease the angry Frowns of an injured God, before whom I expect in some few Minutes to appear, and as I am a dying Man unworthy to approach so good a God, I shall give the World a true and brief account of my mis-spent Life, and do beg of the Same God, that these my words may mollify the Hearts of these who have been misled as I have been.

I was Born in the County of Farmanagh, where I lived till I came to the Years of Twenty, and acquired honest and credible Bread, by going to Fairs and other publick Places, my Employ was selling Merchandize, (but alas! as the unbridled conduct of Youth when they have not the Love and fear of God before their Eyes, are liable to several Misfortunes, such was my unfortunate state to my great Grief, not so much regarding my present state and Misfortune, as the offence I committed against my God, the severity of whose Judgment makes me tremble, but confiding in his infinite Mercy, I now reassume new Courage,) and thus did I continue in my lawfull Employ, till about two Years ago falling into the Company of one who never feared God lead me astray, and I must acknowledge tho’ I’ve been Guilty of several Enormous Crimes ever since, there is not any one of them gives me so great a concern, or loads my Soul with so much Grief, as the misfortune I had to accuse falsely honest Men, which I believe is a Crime of the blackest dye; (but my God whose Mercy surpasses all other thy Attributes, I hope you’ll Pardon all these my offences,) and which ought to be deeply considered by all our Gentlemen, before they wou’d Encourage me or any other of my kind to take away the Lives of honest Men; as I am a dying Man, and as I am to appear before the Tribunal of an unbyassed God, I never wou’d Accuse the undernamed honest Men, was I not encouraged by a certain Gentleman who promised me my Life for the said Discovery, (whose Name for a certain reason I do omit) I own in the sight and presence of God, and as I expect in some few Minutes to surpass the severity of his Judgment, I falsely Accused Dennis Kelly of Garishtown in the County of Dublin, Adam Ward, John Tyers, and his Wife of the said Town: I also declare as before, Michael Burk had no share nor knew nothing of the Robbery of Mr. Fottrel near Killsholachan, or of Councelor Smith’s Cloaths. I also falsely Accused James Murphy in the County of Caterlough, and Edward Hoy of the Parish of Crickstown in the County of Meath. But alas! as I am now going to appear before the Face of my God, I hope they will forgive me, as to the Fact I Dye for, the Evidence as it appeared were Injured, but I Dye in Peace with them and all the World, begging that all my Spectators may Pray for me, I prostrate myself at the Feet of my God, begging Pardon for my Sins, I Dye a Roman Catholick, in the 24th Year of my Age.

Daniel M’Guire.

N.B. The above is my true Speech delivered to the Printer hereof, in the Presence of the Reverend Father Andoe.

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1798: Father John Murphy, Wexford Rebellion leader

Add comment July 2nd, 2018 Headsman

Catholic priest John Murphy was executed on this date in 1798 for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.


The Black 47 jam “Vinegar Hill” celebrates Father Murphy, imagining him confronting and embracing the choice to rebel …

I return to my prayers
And reflect upon Your tortured lips
But not a word do I hear
Just a veil of silence around the crucifix
And I remember the Bishop’s words
“When faith is gone, all hope is lost”
Well, so be it
I will rise up with my people
And to hell with the eternal cost!

An exemplar of that rare type persuadable to follow his moral commitments all the way out of the safety of a status quo sinecure, Father Murphy initially eschewed the trend towards armed rebellion in 1798.

This outbreak was itself a response to a violent martial law-backed campaign of repression to crush Ireland’s growing United Irishmen movement for self-rule, republicanism, and Catholic emancipation — each of them scarlet fighting words to the Crown. The risings that finally broke out had only scanty success, weakened as they were by months of arrests.

By far the strongest rising occurred in Wexford, so much so that the Wexford Rebellion is nearly metonymous for the Irish Rebellion as a whole. And our man, John Murphy, was a priest in Wexford Town.

Giving due heed to Ecclesiastes, Murphy pivoted quickly from his previous counsel that prospective rebels surrender their arms once he saw an enemy patrol gratuitously torch some homes, a decision that would immortalize his name at the cost of greatly shortening his life.

During the brief existence of the Wexford Republic, the padre surprisingly became one of its prominent combat commanders, and also one of the signal martyrs after the rebels were shattered at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21, 1798.*

Murphy escaped that tragic battlefield only to have his remnant definitively routed a few days later.

He had only a few days remaining him at that point, days of hiding out with his bodyguard, James Gallagher. At last they were captured at a farm on July 2, and subjected that same day to a snap military tribunal and execution delayed only by the hours required to torture him.

After hanging to death, Murphy was decapitated so that the British could mount his head on a pike as a warning.

This 1798 rebellion they were able to crush, but Murphy has survived into legend. He flashes for only an instant in the sweep of history, springing almost out of the very soil into the firmament as an allegory of revolutionary redemption, brandishing together (as Black 47 puts it above) both his missal and his gun.


The ballad “Boolvague” by Patrick Joseph McCall for the 1898 centennial of the rebellion pays tribute to Father Murphy:

At Vinegar Hill o’er the River Slaney
our heroes vainly stood back to back
And the yeos of Tullow took Father Murphy
and burned his body upon the rack
God grant you glory brave Father Murphy
and open heaven to all your men
The cause that called you may call tomorrow
in another fight for the Green again.

* There was a “Second Battle of Vinegar Hill” … comprising Irishmen but not in Ireland, for it was a convict rebellion in Australia in 1804. One of its leaders, Phillip Cunningham, was a survivor of the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

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1681: Archbishop Oliver Plunkett, the last Catholic martyr in Great Britain

Add comment July 1st, 2018 Headsman

Archbishop Oliver Plunkett earned the last Catholic martyr’s crown in Britain on this date in 1681.*

Product of County Meath blood and Italian seminary, Plunkett had been back floating around Ireland as its chief prelate since 1670. In this decade, the English-imposed laws burdening Catholics had been relaxed; Plunkett was able to minister his flock, openly at first and after 1673 as a fugitive whom Irish authorities did not much wish to pursue.

Plunkett’s safety speedily expired with the emergence in England of the Popish Plot, a security panic catalyzed like its modern-day analogues by equal parts bad faith and malice.

The concoctions of an opportunistic fabulist caused the English populace to become convinced in 1678 that a vast and treasonable Catholic conspiracy menaced the land; in its day, it was a delusion held so widely and deeply as to cow into silence and compliance all skeptics, even King Charles himself. Charles’s Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, the Earl of Essex, cynically leaned into the hysteria by whipping fears of a Plunkett-hatched invasion of Ireland by the French, although he well knew that Plunkett was “of a … peaceable temper & … comforable to ye Government.”

Plunkett spent months in hiding, refusing to flee Ireland, until he was finally arrested in December 1679. After proceedings in Ireland collapsed, the prelate was moved to London for a more manageable show trial, the entire transcript of which can be perused here.

In it, the Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis Pemberton chastises Plunkett for soliciting time to collect his witnesses, and concludes with a denunciation of the enemy religion that would not look far out fo place in many a present-day comments section.

truly yours is Treason of the highest Nature, ’tis a Treason in truth against God and your King, and the Country where you lived. You have done as much as you could to dishonour God in this Case; for the Bottom of your Treason was, your setting up your false Religion, than which there is not any Thing more displeasing to God, or more pernicious to Mankind in the World. A Religion that is ten Times worse than all the Heathenish Superstitions; the most dishonourable and derogatory to God and his Glory, of all Religions or pretended Religions whatsoever, for it undertakes to dispense with God’s Laws, and to pardon the Breach of them. So that certainly a greater Crime there cannot be committed against God, than for a Man to endeavour the Propagation of that Religion; but you to effect this, have designed the Death of our lawful Prince and King: And then your design of Blood in the Kingdom where you lived, to set all together by the Ears, to destroy poor innocent People, to prostitute their Lives and Liberties, and all that is dear to them, to the Tyranny of Rome and France.

Now tormented that his opportunistic fear-mongering was actually going to lay the archbishop in his grave, Essex implored the Catholic-sympathetic King Charles to spare Plunkett. “Then, my lord, be his blood on your own conscience,” snapped Charles, politically constrained from a beneficence he would have dearly loved to grant. “You could have saved him but would not, I would save him and dare not.”

On the first of July, he was drawn to Tyburn (a stained glass depiction of it can be found in this post), where he was hanged and quartered. (The strange Anglo-Irish plotter Edward Fitzharris preceded Plunkett on the scaffold, as an undercard attraction.) “He won more credit and repute, as well for himself as for his country, by one hour of suffering, than he could have acquired perhaps by hundreds of years of life,” one observer wrote.

This might very well be so. Aside from being the last Catholic martyr in the Isles, Plunkett is among the most warmly remembered, as evidenced by his recent remit as the patron saint of peace and reconciliation in post-Troubles Ireland — not to mention the loving preservation of his relics at St. Peter’s cathedral in Drogheda.

Readers might enjoy this 68-minute lecture on Plunkett’s life and times.


St. Oliver Plunkett’s head preserved in a shrine at Drogheda, Ireland. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

* July 1 by the Julian calendar still then employed in England; by the Gregorian calendar adopted in most Catholic countries at this point, the date was July 11 — and some Catholic primary sources use the latter date.

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1718: A horse thief and two travelers, “the worst rideing that ever I rid”

Add comment June 4th, 2018 Headsman

This date’s post brings us back to one of our regular wells, James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland … and the days when a life was cheaper than a horse.

The three men hanged together on this date all concurred in their stories that only one of them stole the horses in question and the other two merely thumbed rides on his extra mounts as passing travellers. Whether or not this is true or was simply their common play for a potential ⅔ pardon posterity obviously has no way of determining.

The Last Speech and Dying Words of
Daniel O Neal, Edmond Mc. Guire, and Henery Graham

who was Executed near St. Stevens Green, on Wednesday June the 4th 1718.

Good Christians,

I was Born in the North of Ireland, of very good honest Parents, who brought me up very Tenderly, and never speard any Cost to Instruct and bring me up in the fear of God, Alas! all was in vain, for tho’ I took all the care that I could to attain to Learning but at the end I prov’d very Careless of the fame, for I neglected both the laws of God and Man, or else I had never been brought to this shameful End, it is true I was taken up for the Stealing of three Horses, and two Mares, and these my fellow Sufferers along with me, but as I shall Answer the great God, they Die Innocently, for as I was Riding along the Road, I overtook these my fellow Sufferers who seeing me leading 4 Horses asked me if I would let them ride, I tould them they should, now as I am a dying Man this is all they knew of it, which grives me to the Heart, and indeed I am more sorry for their Death, than my own.

I freely forgive all the World, and I beg forgiveness of all those whom I ever offended, I am now about six and thirty Years of Age, I die a [sic] of the Church of England, and the Lord have mercy on my Soul, Amen.

This is my true Speech and no other

Daniel O Neal

The Speech of Edmond M’Guire.

Good Christians,

I Was born in the North of Ireland, of Poor, but honest Parents, who with their Industry, Care and Labour, brought me to these Years, during which time, I behav’d my self true and honest in the World, and endeavour’d very hard for my Bread; but I being born to hard Fortune, I was taken up by one Mr. Legg, for being concern’d in stealing of three Horses and two Mares; ‘tiw true I had one of the aforesaid Beasts under me, but the way I came by it was in the manner following: I having been in Dublin for some time, was willing to return home to my Wife and Children, and overtaking Daniel O Neale, my fellow Sufferer; he having the Cattle abovemention’d, I ask’d him if he wou’d let me Ride, he said he wou’d oblige any Traveller as much as he could, and so bid me Mount one of the Horses, which I did, and was very thankful to him for his kindness; but to my great Sorrow, it has prov’d the worst rideing that ever I rid in my life: Now as I am a dying Man, I was never guilty of Stealing the value of two Pence in all my Life: nor had I any Hand in stealing those Beasts which I am to Dye for. I forgive all the World, as I hope to be forgiven. I am about 40 Years of Age, and Dye a Roman Catholik, and the Lord have Mercy on my Poor Soul. Amen, Amen.

The Speech of Henry Graham.

Good Christians,

I was born in the North of Ireland, of very honest Parents, who was very tender over me, and brought me up in the fear of GOD as much as in them Lay; but Fortune has been very Cruel to me, or else I had never came to this Place, for I liv’d with my Parents will I came to get a Wife; and indeed it was my Fortune to get a poor honest Girl, who endeavour’d very honest for her Bread as well as I, but the World frowning upon me, I went and listed in the Army, where I behav’d myself as became a good Subject, at lenth [sic] I was broak, and so return’d home to my Wife again, but my Business calling me home to Dublin, to my great Sorrow I went there, but having finish’d my Business, I was going home again, where unfortunately I met with Daniel O. Neal, and Edmond M’Guire a Riding along the Road, to whom I said, pray let me Ride, and indeed, they freely comply’d, but I had not Rid long before we were all taken and committed to Goal, and from that brought to Dublin, so Try’d and found Guilty of the same, and now brought to [t]his Place to end my life, now as God is my Judge, before whom I hope to appear in short time, I had neither Art nor Part in stealing of the said Horses, or any of them, and I die in Charity with all Men, and do freely forgive those who Swore away my Life as I hope to be forgiven, I am about 30 years of Age. I die a Protestant and the Lord have mercy on my Soul.

Henry Graham.

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1916: Thomas Kent

Add comment May 9th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1916, Thomas Kent was shot in Cork, Ireland — the only person executed that May for the Easter Rising outside of Dublin.*

The Kents were were prominent nationalists of several generations’ standing in County Cork and were all set to join the Easter Rising until the last-minute countermanding order went out.

When the Rising happened anyway in Dublin — a day later and numerically much smaller than originally intended — the constabulary was preventively dispatched throughout the island to arrest known fellow-travelers … like the Kents.

The constabulary’s attempted raid on the Kent property May 2 met armed resistance that became an hours-long siege; Constable William Rowe was shot dead, as was Richard Kent.

The surviving Kent brothers, William and David,** along with our man Thomas, were all tried for affair: William was acquitted, David condemned but the sentenced commuted, and only Thomas actually executed.

Cork’s main railway station was in 1966 re-christened Kent Station in his honor.

* In August of that year, Roger Casement hanged in London for treason in connection with the Easter Rising. Casement had not taken any direct part in the fighting, but had worked to arrange the (attempted) support of Britain’s wartime enemy, Germany.

** Both David and William Kent later sat in the Irish parliament.

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1916: Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Con Colbert, and Sean Heuston

Add comment May 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1916 — following a Sunday respite — executions in the aftermath of the Irish Republican Easter Rising against British power resumed with four more shootings at Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol.

Eamonn Ceannt was an Irish Republican Brotherhood leader and was the fifth of the seven men who signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to be executed. (The remaining two, James Connolly and Sean Mac Diarmada, were shot on May 12th.) On the night before his execution, he wrote a ferocious although arguably counterproductive summons to future Irish revolutionaries

never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy but to fight to a finish. I see nothing gained but grave disaster caused by the surrender which has marked the end of the Irish Insurrection of 1916 — so far at least as Dublin is concerned. The enemy has not cherished one generous thought for those who, with little hope, with poor equipment, and weak in numbers, withstood his forces for one glorious week. Ireland has shown she is a nation. This generation can claim to have raised sons as brave as any that went before. And in the years to come, Ireland will honour those who risked all for her honour at Easter in 1916 …

I wish to record the magnificent gallantry and fearless, calm determination of the men who fought with me. All, all, were simply splendid. Even I knew no fear, nor panic ,nor shrank fron no risk [sic], even as I shrink not now from the death which faces me at daybreak. I hope to see God’s face even for a moment in the morning. His will be done.

His firing squad failed to kill him cleanly, necessitating a gory coup de grace.

Michael Mallin was the co-founder with the pacifistic Francis Sheey-Skeffington of the Socialist Party of Ireland, and the second-in-command for the aforementioned James Connolly of the socialist union militia Irish Citizen Army. In the latter capacity Mallin led the detachment which seized St. Stephen’s Green during the Easter Rising.

A devout Catholic as well as a revolutionary militant, Mallin’s last letter to his family urged two of his children to take up holy orders. They indeed did so, and his youngest son, Father Joseph Mallin SJ, died only days ago as of this writing at the age of 104.

Con Colbert was another deeply religious rebel; an Irish Republic Brotherhood officer, he commanded rebels at several locations including the Jameson’s whiskey distillery at Marrowbone Lane.

The youngest of the group — who were, like all the Easter Rising rebels, shot sequentially rather than en masse — was 25-year-old Sean Heuston, also known as Jack or J.J. James Connolly had dispatched him to hold the Mendicity Institution for a few hours to delay the British advance; Heuston’s garrison of 26 ended up defending it for two days against several hundred enemy troops until, food and ammunition exhausted, they surrendered at British discretion.

His confessor cast the young patriot in a positively beatific light at the end:

A soldier directed Seán and myself to a corner of the yard, a short distance from the outer wall of the prison. Here there was a box (seemingly a soap box) and Sean was told to sit down upon it. He was perfectly calm, and said with me for the last time: ‘My Jesus, mercy.’ I scarcely had moved away a few yards when a volley went off, and this noble soldier of Irish Freedom fell dead. I rushed over to anoint him; his whole face seemed transformed and lit up with a grandeur and brightness that I had never before noticed

Never did I realise that men could fight so bravely, and die so beautifully, and so fearlessly as did the Heroes of Easter Week. On the morning of Sean Heuston’s death I would have given the world to have been in his place, he died in such a noble and sacred cause, and went forth to meet his Divine Saviour with such grand Christian sentiments of trust, confidence and love

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1916: Not Constance Markievicz, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me”

Add comment May 6th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1916, the British field court meting out death sentences to Irish Easter Rising rebels announced eighteen commutations — most notably including Countess Constance Markievicz.

Markievicz has long been one of the most remarkable and compelling personalities of the Irish independence struggle. As her biographer noted, many other women of that cause are best-known “mainly because of their connection with more famous men.” Markievicz, notably, “stood alone, self-driven and self-confident. She was more than a muse or an enabler or a facilitator, the preferred roles for women to play.”

She was the privileged daughter of a baronet turned polar explorer who came to her distinctive name by marrying a Polish nobleman.** In her girlhood, she’d been presented at court to Queen Victoria.

She trained as a painter and her material circumstances put within her reach that charmed state of comfortable avant-garde consciousness. The Countess gave that up, for Ireland. The abhorrence of the daughter of the Provost of Trinity College Dublin is perhaps her most definitive epitaph: “the one woman amongst them [Irish republicans] of high birth and therefore the most depraved … she took to politics and left our class.”

By the late 1900s and into the 1910s she was a mainstay of hydra-headed radicalism: nationalist, suffragist, socialist. (She was a close friend and comrade of James Connolly.) In those years she could have spent in a pleasant Left Bank garret, she walked picket lines, burned flags, faced arrest, and sold jewelry to fund the soup kitchen she worked in.†

Markievicz co-founded the Fianna Eireann youth organization as a response to Baden-Powell‘s imperial scouting project. It would become an essential feeder for the republican organs (like the Irish Volunteers); Fianna itself was also well-represented among the Easter Rising fighters, and contributed that conflagration’s youngest martyr.

Bust of Constance Markievicz on St. Stephen’s Green, where she served in the Easter Rising.

But for her sex Markievicz would probably have been among the martyrs herself for her role on the St. Stephen’s Green barricade, and perhaps she wished it were so; she greeted the news of her May 6 commutation with the retort, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” She’s been slated with having personally shot a constable during the Rising, although her defenders consider this a baseless smear.

While again in prison — she’d been amnestied from the Easter Rising stuff, but was arrested anew for anti-war activism — Markievicz successfully stood for election to Parliament, and in fact has the distinction of being the first woman elected a British M.P. … although she complied with Sinn Fein policy and refused to take the seat. She was also a member of the First Dail (parliament) of the revolutionary Irish Republic and was the first Irish female cabinet minister (Ministry of Labour).

Constance Markievicz died in 1927 at the age of 59, penniless in a public ward having disbursed the entirety of her wealth. A quarter-million of her fellow peoples of the Irish Free State thronged the streets of Dublin for her funeral.

* The other commutations (with their associated non-capital sentences) as published by the London Times of May 8, 1916:

Penal servitude for life. — Henry O’Hanrahan.

Ten years’ penal servitude. — Count George Plunkett, John Plunkett (his son).

Five years’ penal servitude. — Philip B. Cosgrave.

Three years’ penal servitude. — R. Kelly, W. Wilson, J. Clarke, J. Marks, J. Brennan, P. Wilson, W. Mechan, F. Brooks, R. Coleman, T. Peppard, J. Norton, J. Byrne, T. O’Kelly.

** It turned out that although Casimir Markievicz went by “Count Markievicz” there wasn’t actually any such title. But “Count” and “Countess” stuck nevertheless.

† She does perhaps forfeit some wokeness points for complaining of her post-Easter Rising imprisonment at Aylesbury that she was lodged with “the dregs of the population … no one to speak to except prostitutes who have been convicted for murder or violence. The atmosphere is the conversation of the brothel.”

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1916: John MacBride

Add comment May 5th, 2018 Headsman

Major John MacBride was shot on this date in 1916 for his improvised role in the Easter Rising.

A doctor by training and a republican by heart, MacBride earned his officer’s commission when, as an emigre to South Africa, he raised the Irish Transvaal Brigade to fight against the British during the Second Boer War. (The Boer nationalist cause was wildly popular among Irish nationalists: they had the same enemy.)

The British during that conflict were aggressive about treating as “rebels” even guerrillas whose nationality was in question, so the fact that the Irishman MacBride accepted citizenship from the Transvaal Republic and went to war against the Crown made him a right traitor in London’s eyes. After the war, he laid low in Paris and married Maud Gonne to the annoyance of the lovestruck poet W.B. Yeats who had unsuccessfully wooed Gonne.*

Back in Ireland once gone from Gonne, MacBride’s Boer War bona fides made him such an obvious locus of sedition that the Easter Rising conspirators kept him entirely away from their plot for fear of inviting the attention of whomever was watching MacBride. Instead, he walked into events accidentally, finding the rising occurring while he was in town to meet his brother.

A proper Irish patriot with military experience that the revolutionaries sorely needed,** MacBride recognized what was happening and presented himself to Thomas MacDonagh — who gave him a snap appointment to the command team occupying Jacob’s Biscuit Factory.

After events had run their course, MacBride embraced his martyrdom with such equanimity that some wondered whether he hadn’t tired of life. More likely, he was just being realistic: as he halloed to another prisoner who hailed him, “Nothing will save me, Sean. This is the end. Remember this is the second time I have sinned against them.” His dignified and fatalistic final address to the court that condemned him concluded,

I thank the officers of the court for the fair trial I have had, and the Crown counsel for the way he met every application I made. I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African War to fear death, and now please carry out your sentence.

* The two married in 1903 and divorced in 1905. Yeats alleged in private correspondence that MacBride had molested Gonne’s daughter, Iseult. (Repeatedly rebuffed by Maud Gonne, Yeats later also proposed to Iseult, who was 30 years his junior. There’s a lot going on here.) This allegation has blackened MacBride’s name down the years although its credibility remains in question since the jealous Yeats was an extremely hostile observer.

After the Easter Rising was crushed, Yeats spared some verse in his poem “Easter, 1916” to throw some (qualified) shade at his dead rival, which drew him a rebuke from Maud.

This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

** General Charles Blackader, who suppressed the Easter Rising and presided over the ensuing courts-martial, reportedly admired “the most soldierly” MacBride: “He on entering the court stood to attention, facing us. In his eyes, I could read: ‘You are soldiers, so am I. You have won. I have lost. Do your worst.'” (From Secret Court Martial Records of the Easter Rising)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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