Posts filed under 'Ireland'

1725: James Dunbar, with paternal advice

Add comment April 10th, 2016 Headsman

A (lengthy) gallows broadsheet via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland. Almost all the [bracketed] content is exactly as Kelly has rendered it, interpolating wherever possible damage to the document that obscures small bits of text.

The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of Mr. J. Dunbar

who was Try’d and Condemn’d, for High Treason against his Majesty King George; at the Assizes, of Oyer, Terminer, or Goal Delivery, holden, at Carrickfergus, for and in the County of Antrim, the 17th Day of Ma. 1725. And was Executed Saturday, April 10th for the same together with his last Advice to his Children prov’d by Scripture Texts, &c. As it was taken from his own Mouth in the Goal, and desir’d to be Printed.

Courteous Readers,

Into whose Hands those my Dying Words shall come; they may not be look’d upon as a Form, because it is Customary, for unfortunate Persons under my Fate so to do; No, but with a sincere Heart to clear my Conscience, as I am a Dying Man. First to my Creator & Redeemer, by whom and thro’ his great Mercy I hope to merit Salvation.

I JAMES DUNBAR, was born in the Town land of Grogan, in the Parish of Drummal, near Ronaldstown, in the County of Antrim of honest Parents; My Father was a Farmer, Liv’d in the fear of God, attended the Meetings constantly with his Family, doing to the best of his Knowledge as became a Man in his Station; brought up all under his care in the fear and service of God. To this Day I well remember when I was about Eleven years of Age, I had amongst others learned a great Word to swear by my Conscience, and in his hearing, he finding it became practice took an opportunity to Chastize me for it, but with that pleasant Fatherly Correction, that he perfectly sham’d me out of it, the same was so imprinted in my mind, be in what Company soever, I never was any way addicted to that Sin of Swearing to this Day. He taught me the Catechism and Psalm Book; brought me up to the Age of Sixteen, then I stray’d away from him and Listed in the Service, where in Flanders and Ireland I served seven years under King William, in which time I receiv’d three Wounds, during my whole Travels my mind was always bent upon the Genuine part, casting Molds of several sorts, each exceeding the other.

Upon my return I settled, Marry’d a Wife, and got things necessary about me: But in process of time, hearing such a Character of New England, what great Advantage was to be made by those that could carry some Money with them, I resolv’d for that place: In order thereunto I made Sale of all I had, & proceeding forward at Newtown-Stuart chang’d my Mind, which I now dearly repent. Settles again there about three Years. At Leisure times to recreate my self with an Innocent Pleasure I took delight in Fishing; but once too often, for by an unhappy fall, there was a Knife with the point Towards me, stuck into and gave me a Wound six Inches deep, the same I lay by sixteen Weeks. Even upon my Recovery, came three Idle Fellows, knowing me to be an Ingenious Artist, desired me to make them a Crown Molud in Steel for the use of Coyning, I told them in Horn, Brass, Pewter, Silver or Gold I could; but because I had never try’d in Steel I should spoil it, they not fearing told me that I should have twelve pence per Day if I did, not being of Steel as I said, I did notwithstanding they paid me twelve Shillings. Sometime after they came to me again to do the same the which I dextrously Perform’d to a truith, and [for] the same receiv’d forty Shillings; Some of the same 3 [men] have been Executed on that Head since: As for In[stance] David Denniston at Omey the last Assizes. For my [own] part my Genious so far exceeded other Men that I have [no] occasion for help but for Company sake; I ca[n make] Molds and could Perform all that Art requir’d; [but because] the Laws of the Land are so strict I must own an[d confess] myself Guilty of what is laid to my Charge, a[nd I am] willing to resign my Vital Breath and Soul to hi[m, my God,] for the same, in whom I trust thro his great Me[rcy, with] sincere Repentance I have made my Peace, and s[eek out] the ingdom of Heaven, forsaking this Life for [that of the etern]nal. I Die in Charity with all People, freely fo[rgiving] those that was the cause of this my untimely Dea[th and any] others that ever wrong’d me in Thought Word [or Deed] and for all those that I have wrong’d Directly or [Indirectly] I ask Pardon and Forgiveness. First of my Grea[t and Glo]rious GOD, the which I hope to obtain for all [my off]ences; next of them, hoping they will do the s[ame, I] do expect to be forgiven at the latter Day.

My dear Friends and Countrey-Men, and all [people that] hears of my Unhappy Fall to take Warning in t[his; let it] be an Example to all; especially Young People, w[hatever walk] of Life it is the[y] go on in, and to their utmost En[deavour] shun all lewd Company. Besure [sic] first choose the [compa]ny, than their Liquor, and then not to Debauch […] with it, so as to be bereft of Sense; it is the f[irst step to] Destruction. Next to shun all lewd Women, […] Total Overthrow, and nothing but the Works [of the Devil] proceeds from them. Thirdly be not Covetous of […]stance. And fourthly, If the LORD is pleased to [endow us] with a Talent to be more Ingenious than any other [to put] it to that Use that the great Giver of all Design[s ordains.] I leave behind me one Son and three Daughters [; Grant] them Grace to lead their Life and Conversation u[ntroubled be]fore God and Man. I hope there is no Person w[ill put] either upon my Wife or them after my Decease. T[o] all that knew me in my Settlement in the County of Derry; and all others, that knew me else where, what a Value and Esteem all People had for me, for my Ingenuous Performances in that Trade of Horning. How I lived in my Family is well known for many years together, performing the Duty as becometh a Professor or Christian to do, I could inlarge: But let no Man boast in his own Strength least he Fall, they are well kept whom the LORD keeps.

I have laid down some Scripture Proofs to shew the Error of Man, and the Scourage [sic] that attend it, which I hope may prove of some Use after my Decease, as follows

Jeremias [sic] 17:17 17 18. Heal me O Lord and I shall be heal’d, save me and I shall be saved for thou art my praise.

V. 17. Be not a terrour unto me thou art my hope in the Day of evil. V. 18. Let them be confounded that presecute [sic] me, but let not me be confounded. Let them be dismayed bring upon them the day of evil and destroy them with double Destruction.

I will look unto thee O Lord for Deliverance from all my Troubles: For there is no Power like unto thy Power, who delivered thy People from all the Power of Egypt, and with a strong Hand brought them through the Red Sea.

Mat 9.10[-13]. And it came to pass as Jesus sat at Meat in the house behold many Publicans and Sinners came and Sat down with him and his Disciples; And when the Pharisees saw it they said unto his Disciples, Why eateth your Master with Publicans and Sinners. But when Jesus heard that he said unto them, They that be well need not a Physician, but they that are sick. Now go ye and learn what that meanet, I will have Mercy and not Sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but Sinners to Repentance.

[Some] Advice from a Father to his Children, when he was near to his Death.

[My] Son James Dunbar, I Charge thee in the Name of [the L]ord thy God, that thou keep thy self from the Unlaw[ful, Lewd] Women strong Drink, and Sabbath breaking for [they d]raw away thy Heart from the Lord thy God, & [follow the w]ay of his Commandments.

[Proverbs 5:]3. For the Lips of a strange Woman drop as a Hon[eycomb an]d her Mouth is smoother than Oil. V. 4. But her [end is bitter] as Wormwood, sharp as a two edged sword. V. 5. [Her feet go] down to Death, her steps take hold on Hell. V. 6. [Lest thou sh]ouldest ponder the path of Life, her ways are move[able th]ou canst not know them. V. 7. Hear me therefore, [o sons], and depart not from the Words of my Mouth re[move thy way] far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house.

[Keep thy]self from all Woman kind, except thy own [wife (if] you live to have one) for that Unlawful Use of [them an]d strong Drink hath been the Ruin of me, and [others], and so it will be of thee and thine, if ever thou [follow that pr]actice.

[Hear m]e my dear Children, hear the Instruction of your [dying Fa]ther, from the Word of God, receive them and [take them dee]p in your Hears [sic], for they will be an Ornament […] to your Hands, and Chains of Gold about your [wais]t as They will render you Beautiful and Accept[able to Go]d and good Men. When you are in Trouble, God [hears y]our Cries when ye pray unto him, and will deliv[er you ou]t of all your Distresses, if you be not in the wrong; [These a]re the Troubles that Afflict the Just but the [good be]ereth them out of them all. My dear children, [let your e]yes be fixed on the Lord your God in all your [actions;] if you offend in one you are guilty of all; there[fore keep e]qual Regard and Respect to them all, and when [you have d]one all that you can, say you are Unprofitable […].

[But] be not Lifted up, nor High in your own Eyes, but fear least ye be Tempted to Sin and God be provoked to cast you down again, as he has justly done to me. Therefore I beseech you for your Saviour’s sake, beware of vain Glory and high Mindedness but Contrarywise of be Humble and Meek and Lowly, and God will lift you up, but if he do not be Content he is well worth the trusting for he is not Unrighteous to forget your Work and Labour of Love for when he seeth you Diligent and Sincere in your Christian Course he will help you with his Blessing in the Work of your Hands and he will encourage you and strengthen your Hearts with the gracious of his Spirit, but if it be his Will to keep you Low and Mean in the World be Content and do not fret nor repine at the Dispensations of God, for that is the way to keep you Low and Mean still, but contrarywise be thankfull, and say with Paul I have learned in whatsoever State or Condition I am therewith to be content. [Philippians 4:11 -ed] For if you be content and have but a Morsel of dry Bread or Herbs you have a good Feast. For Contentment is great gain, Likewise I beseech you my dear children set your Hearts to seek the Lord with all your might.

Thess. 5:16,17. Rejoice evermore Pray without ceasing. V. 18. in every thing give thanks, for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesu,concerning you. V. 19 Quench not the Spirit. V. 20. Dispise not Prophesying. V. 21. Prove all things hold fast that which is good V. 22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, V. 23. And the very God of Peace sanctifie you wholly, and I pray God your whole Soul and Body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ &c.

Consider my Chidlren, these words, Pray without Ceasing. It is not that you should always be upon your Knees at Prayer, but that you shall be always in a Praying Flame of Spirit. But more particularly, dear Children see that ye neglect not to Pray in secret every Morning, and at Night, for that is the Duty of all others. That you may pour foth [sic] your Hearts to God, in the most familiar way without Bashfulness or Confusion, and expect most of the Presence of the Holy Ghost.

Eph. 6 16, [sic: he means Ephesians 6:18] Praying always with all prayer and Supplication in the Spirit and watching thereunto with all Perseverance and Supplication for all Saints.

And now my dear Children, I might have Recommended you to many more Places of Scripture, but I rather Recommend you to the search of the whole Old and New Testment, [sic] which is able to make you Wise unto Salvation.

I humbly beg leave of thee, O Father, of Heaven and Earth, to return thee my hearty thanks, for inspiring an Spirit of Remorse & Pity, into the Hearts and Minds of those Learned Gentlemen the Clergy of the Presbytery of the Town of Belfast &c. Who was pleas’d to remember me in their publick Service, joyn’d with their Congregations, on Sunday last. Humbly rendering their Prayers to thee O GOD to have Mercy on me, a poor lost Soul, without thy help; hoping thou was pleas’d to hear the same, and that I may find the Sweetness, Joy and Comfort of it, at this my Sudden Departure; altho’ I was no ways deserving of such a Compassionate Christian Favour, being a fallen Member and Transgressor of the same; That they will be pleased to receive this as in obedience of thanks Paid to them as true Professors obedient to God’s Holy Word, and Teachers of the same; and all those that joyn’d with them in that Charitable Act.

Also those Worthy Gentlemen of the Church of England, who hath since offered up their Prayers for me.

My time is spent my Glass is run, sweet Saviour open thy Arms of Mercy, for unto thee I come. O Lord, shut not thy Gate against me stretch forth thy Almighty Hand, and take me to thy self and let not SATAN have Power over me; now I launch into Eternity in full Hopes of Assurance to be with thee in thy Heavenly Kingdom, there to remain with thee and thy holy Angels, World without end.

I Die in the Presbyterian Communion, and upwards of Fifty Years of Age.

Have Mercy on me O LORD sweet JESUS I COME. I COME, Mercy I crave at this my last Minute, Grant it for thy dear Son’s sake Amen.

JAMES DUNBAR.

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1719: Patrick Carraghar and Two Arthur Quinns

Add comment February 21st, 2016 Headsman

The Last Speeches of
Patrick Carraghar, Nephew to the great Collmore, and Two Arthur Quinns

who were Executed on Saturday the 21st of this Instant February 1718-19 at Dundalk. Together with the Tryal of Capt. Collmore.

The Speech of Patrick Macallaher

Dear Christians,

I Patrick Carraghar am the Nephew of that Collmore who was Executed last Wednesday, who was the Ruin of me, who am but Eighteen Years of Age now, tho’ of these Tender years, I am very sensible of the great Follies and Sins that I have been Guilty of, my Father and Mother Liv’d in the Place call’d Loghross, in the County of Armagh, as for my Father People may say what they please of him; for he is Alive, but for my Mother she was never charg’d with anything that was ill, and the Neighbours in the Country knew her to be an honest good Woman she dy’d when I was very young, neverthleess I was bound Prentice to a Taylor, but did not serve my Master long, but followed my Uncle, which is the Cause of my coming to this untimely End, tho’ I was Try’d for keeping Company and assisting one Gillaspy M’Culum, a Proclaimed Tory, for my part I was neither Guilty of Murhter nor Robbery of my self, but I have been by when Robberry was committed, I have no more to say but that I die a Roman Catholic, and I beg of thee O my great God to have Mercy on my poor Soul. Dear Christians Pray for me.

The Speech of the Two Quins

Good Christians,

For our Parts we have but little to say for our selves, only that we were born in the Fews, in the County of Armagh, and our Parents Lived Poor and Honest, but many honest Parents has had Wick’d Idle children as we both have been very Disobedient to our Parents or Friends, which gave us good advice, but we follow’d too much of our own, which Brings too many young Fellows either to the Gallows or to be Transported, and as we are Dying Persons, we desire all young People to take the Advice of their Parents and Friends, here we die for Robbing a poor honest Man’s House in the County of Cavan, his name is one Coleman, we can’t deny the Fact, it being prov’d so home on us, though we thought what we took there did not deserve Death, but this with other wicked Sins and Crimes is the Cause of our being Brought to this shameful End, O great God we Crave Mercy, and Begs of thee O merciful Father to receive our Souls, O good People pray for us, for we die Roman Catholicks, and sweet Jesus receive us Amen. One of the Quinn’s had the Impudence to Curse and Abuse the High Sheriff, the Grand Jury and the whole Court, and told them that they Murdered him.


The Whole Tryal and Examination of Capt. Collmore a Proclaim’d Tory, and was Noted for being Guilty of Bloody Murthers, Rapes and Robberies in the County of Armagh

When Collmore was brought to the Bar to be Tryed, he denied himself to be the Man, then the Clerk of the Crown was obliged to Swear to the Proclamation where he was nam’d; so when the Jury was call’d and Sworn, he was asked several Questions, but answered to no Purpose, then one Andrew Thompson appear’d, and the Book was given him, who Swore that he was the same Charles Carraghar who Liv’d formerly with Mr. Blykes of Darcy in the Fews, and that he Stole Two Heffers from Aldarman Grimes, and was for the same Indicted and Proclaimed at Ardee[.] Collmore objected against the Evidence, because he said that Thompson had formerly forsworn himself, to which the Evidence answered, that as he was coming home late to his House one Night, that he was met by this Collmore, and was forced in Defence of his Life, which was so much threaten’d by him, to Swear that he never Presented him, the Jury immediately brought him in Guilty.

Councellor Townly gave him the following sentance, That he should be Hanged; and be Cut down before he was dead, his Privy Members to be Cut Off, his Bowels burn’d, and his Quarters to be dispos’d off at the King’s Pleasure.

When Collmore was brought to the Gallows, he Hang for a small Time, he was Cut down while alive, when the Hangman was cutting off his Privities, he cry’d out, then the Sheriff ordered his Throat to be Cut, the Hangman could not do it readily, for he strugled very much, his Head was afterwards Cut off, his Chops open’d and shut, tho’ his Head was a Yard from his Body, his Carcass was divided into 4 parts, and set up in 4 several Parts of the Country. He died very obstinately.

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1719: Collmore, Hang’d, Quarter’d and his Intrals burn’d

Add comment February 18th, 2016 Headsman

The Last Speech and Dying Words of
Charles Calahar alias Collmore
who was Try’d on Tuesday the 17th Inst. Feb. 1718/19 at the Sessions of Dundalk, for being a Proclaim’d Tory, and was the next Day Hang’d, Quarter’d and his Intrals burn’d.

Deliver’d at the Gallows to Will Moore Esq.
High Sheriff of the Country of Lowth

Good People,

Almighty God has by a just Providence brought me to this untimely End, He has been Mercifully pleas’d not to Cut me off in the midst of my Sins, but to allow me some Time to reflect on my unhappy mis spent Life, and to Implore Forgiveness for my many Iniquities, which I trust he will graciously Pardon.

And as my Crimes have been of publick crying Nature, so I think myself Bound to make a publick Confession of them both to God and my Country.

And first with Shame and Confusion of Face I confess I have been Guilty of many Robberries and Thefts, and have also Seduced and Encouraged others to do the like.

I Barbarously and Unjustly Embru’d my Hands in the Blood of my Fellow Creatures, and in particular I Murder’d Martin Grey and Christopher Betty, and suffer’d that worthy honest Gent. Mr. Edmond Reily to be wrongfully Executed at Cavan Assizes for the said Murders; He being no ways Privy or Accessary to them, but entirely Innocent of that bloody Fact which was the ruin of his Wife and several small Children. [emphasis mine, not in the original -ed.]

I likewise Confess I was at the Inhumane Murders and Butchery of Bryan O’Hanlan, and M’Gibbin, for all which I most humbly beg the Almighty’s Pardon, and the Pardon of all whom I have in any way Injur’d, and declare I have a thorow sence of my former Impietys and an utter Abhorence and Detestation of them, and hope God will please to look on me, and accept of my Blood, tho’ a most unworthy Offering, since my Punishment is not half what I deserve.

I die a Member of the Church of Rome, tho’ an unworthy one, and do freely forgive every one that have Injur’d me, especially John M’Keoine who betray’d me, and I declare I wou’d have Fought my way thro’ the Soldiers who surrounded the Cabbin where I was, and had new Charged and Prim’d my Pistols in order to it, but was prevented by the Entreaties of my Nephew, and am now thankful to God for it since I have by that had opportunity to think of my Soul. I humbly Recommend into the Hands of my most Merciful Redeemer, and beg the Prayers of all good People.


After he was Executed there was 3 Kishes of Turff lighted, wherein his Harts Livers Lights and Members were Burned, and his Head set on the Goal, Two Yards higher than any of the rest, with His Hat and Wigg on; his Nephew James McCaraghar and 3 more are to be executed on Saturday 21st.

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1784: Richard Barrick, Massachusetts highwayman

Add comment November 19th, 2015 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

I then went to Boston, and got in company with one John Sullivan … we went to Winter’s-Hill, and there robbed one Mr. Baldwin, for which crime Sullivan and myself are to suffer Death, as being the just reward of our demerits.

— Richard Barrick, convicted of highway robbery and murder, hanging, Massacusetts. Executed November 18, 1784

Richard Barrick was born in Ireland in February 1763 and brought up in the Foundling Hospital. He was an apprentice to a silk-weaver and lived with him for three years. But during those years, he was treated poorly and so he eventually left the silk-weaver and joined a gang of thieves. When he was caught, the authorities agreed to pardon him if he entered on board one of his Majesty’s ships. After arriving in New York, Barrick and some others robbed many people and became a notorious and wanted man. He was an accomplice to murder of a man they first robbed. He was eventually caught by a British Colonel and convicted.

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1915: Peter Sands, home leave

Add comment September 15th, 2015 Headsman

Irish lance corporal Peter Sands was shot as a deserter one hundred years ago today at Fleurbaix, near Armentières.

Sands, a nine-year veteran age 26 or 27, left the Royal Irish Rifles with another soldier on a home leave pass in February 1915 and returned to his family in Belfast.

Sands had a pass for four days. Instead, he stayed for five months — openly living with his wife, and wearing his military uniform, until some unknown busybody turned him in as a deserter that July.

He would tell his court-martial that he had lost his travel documents to return to the horrible front, and had been blown off when he visited a Belfast barracks to see about a replacement. He did not aim to desert, he insisted; “Had I intended to desert I would have worn plain clothes, but up to that time I was arrested I always wore uniform.” It is not so hard to reach Corporal Sands, psychologically — a man perhaps indulging a lethal opiate of denial. Suppose his “desertion” began with a good-faith mishap and thereafter did not last for five months, but just for one day more … day upon day.

He had no pass, so what was he to do next? He stayed in Belfast with his wife and daughter wearing his service duds while he contemplated that question. (Who can say whether he contemplated it in bemusement or terror.) He stayed every day in March, and it became every day in April, and every day in May and June, too. Nobody came for him on any of those days.

Had his war ended, then? Had he somehow slipped the toils of the machine back to a domestic idyll?

Maybe he truly had … but for that anonymous snitch.

Even if it had to be reminded of its prodigal corporal’s absence, His Majesty’s royal meatgrinder expected a little more hustle from its meat than one barracks call in five months: while Sands was at home, his mates had gone out of the trenches in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (11,000+ British casualties), and the disastrous* Battle of Aubers Ridge (another 11,000+).

His commanding officer “consider[ed] this a bad case of desertion and I recommend that the sentence be carried out.” And it was.

Sands was buried at a nearby churchyard, but his resting-place was lost during the war. He has a marker at Cabaret-Rouge Military Cemetery at Souchez.

* The report of the Times from Aubers Ridge — headlined “Need for shells: British attacks checked: Limited supply the cause: A Lesson From France” — precipitated the “Shell Crisis of 1915″.

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1921: Richard and Abraham Pearson, the Coolacrease killings

2 comments June 30th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1921, an Irish Republican Army detail detained Richard and Abraham Pearson at their farm in rural County Offaly.

While the Pearson brothers watched in horror along with their mother, three sisters, and other family members, the Republicans readied the kindling to fire the family house. Then, Richard and Abraham were executed by an IRA firing detail.

The shooters were inexperienced as executioners and nobody delivered a coup de grace, so the Pearson brothers took hours to bleed to death from their assortment of debilitating torso wounds; Abraham did not expire until the next morning, some 14 hours later.

It might perhaps be said that few places exemplify like Ireland after its dirty war of independence Faulkner’s bromide that the past is never dead, and it’s not even past.

The Irish network RTE exhumed these once-past Killings at Coolacrease in a 2007 broadcast —

— claiming that the evangelical Protestant Pearsons were essentially targeted by neighboring Catholics on grounds of sectarian bigotry and/or an interest in pinching their 341 acres. (The surviving Pearsons emigrated to Australia and their land was indeed broken up and distributed.)

This line, whose upshot obviously impugns Irish Republicanism, occasioned a furious counterattack from that sector arguing that the Pearsons were punished for a much more prosaic reason: that they had shot at and wounded IRA volunteers who were setting up a roadblock by cutting down trees at the perimeter of the Pearson farm.

The family patriarch, William Pearson, was away at the time and later filed for compensation from London, noting that “I was always known as a staunch Loyalist and upholder of the Crown. I assisted the Crown Forces on every occasion, and I helped those who were persecuted around me at all times.” “Crown Forces” in this instance would have been the hated paramilitaries, the Black and Tans, who pack their own upshots.

Extrajudicial executions might perhaps rate among the inevitable casualties of a tooth-and-claw war over the nation’s destiny, but so too are the clash of interpretive meanings given them by later generations. Even eighty-odd years later, the urgent need to confute RTE’s “revisionist” gloss on the Pearson executions led almost immediately to a book of essays by Republican historians.

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1868: Michael Barrett, the last public hanging in England

2 comments May 26th, 2015 Headsman

England held its last-ever public execution on this date in 1868, and made it big game indeed: Fenian Michael Barrett, whose Clerkenwell Prison bombing long remained one of the most infamous atrocities of the Irish nationalist cause.

The bill certifying the end of that distinctive institution, the public hanging, would be finalized three days hence, so the occasion’s milestone was anticipated in advance. Elites increasingly disdained the boorish carnivals that unfolded under the gallows, like Dickens who complained that “no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness; nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness, and flaunting vice in fifty other shapes” redeemed the 1840 hanging of Courvoisier.


“The Great Moral Lesson at Horsemonger Lane Gaol”, Punch magazine’s view of the notoriously rowdy mob at Frederick and Marie Manning execution.

“The crowd was most unusually orderly,” ran the Times‘ report of Barrett’s death — a sort of dual eulogy — “but it was not a crowd in which one would like to trust.”

It is said that one sees on the road to the Derby such animals as are never seen elsewhere; so on an execution morning one see faces that are never seen save round the gallows or near a great fire. Some laughed, some fought, some preached, some gave tracts, and some sang hymns; but what may be called the general good-humoured disorder of the crowd remained the same, and there was laughter at the preacher or silence when an open robbery was going on. None could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England. Towards 7 o’clock the mass of people was immense. A very wide open space was kept round the gallows by the police, but beyond this the concourse was dense, stretching up beyond St. Sepulchre’s Church, and far back almost, into Smithfield — a great surging mass of people which, in spite of the barriers, kept swaying to and from like waving corn. Now and then there was a great laughter as a girl fainted, and was passed out hand over hand above the heads of the mob, and then there came a scuffle and a fight, and then a hymn, and then a sermon, and then a comic song, and so on from hour to hour, the crowd thickening as the day brightened, and the sun shone out with such a glare as to extinguish the very feeble light which showed itself faintly through the glass roof above where the culprit lay. It was a wild, rough crowd, not so numerous nor nearly so violent as that which thronged to see Muller or the pirates die. In one way they showed their feeling by loudly hooting a magnificently-attired woman, who, accompanied by two gentlemen, swept down the avenue kept open by the police, and occupied a window afterwards right in front of the gallows. This temporary exhibition of feeling was, however, soon allayed by coppers being thrown from the window for the roughs to scramble for. It is not right, perhaps, that a murderer’s death should be surrounded by all the pious and tender accessories which accompany the departure of a good man to a better world, but most assuredly the sight of public executions to those who have to witness them is as disgusting as it must be demoralizing even to all the hordes of thieves and prostitutes it draws together. Yesterday the assembly was of its kind an orderly one, yet it was such as we feel grateful to think will under the new law never be drawn together again in England.

Michael Barrett’s ticket to this last assembly was punched by a different execution six months previous — the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs. This trio of Irish patriots were part of a mob who liberated some comrades from a police van, shooting a policeman in the process — though it was far from certain that any of these three actually fired shots.

Of importance for our purposes today was the crackdown on other Fenians occasioned by the Manchester affair. In November of 1867, a Fenian agent named Richard O’Sullivan Burke was arrested with his companion Joseph Casey in London purchasing weapons for the movement. They were clapped in Clerkenwell Prison pending trial.

The bombing that brought Michael Barrett to the gallows was a bid to liberate these men … and it did not pause for subtlety. The conspirators simply wheeled a barrel of gunpowder up to the wall of the facility when they expected the inmates to be at exercise in the adjacent yard. The explosion blasted a 60-foot gap in the wall; the inward-collapsing rubble might easily have been the death rather than the salvation of the prospective beneficiaries, except that they weren’t actually in the yard at all — nobody was there, and nobody escaped Clerkenwell.

But numerous working-class families lived in little tenements opposite the prison and were there, and in fact Clerkenwell had a reputation for political radicalism and Fenian sympathy. This monstrous new “infernal machine” tore through Clerkenwell homes, leaving 12 people dead and numerous buildings near to collapse, while windows and chimneys shivered to pieces all up and down the block.


Improvised struts shore up damaged buildings opposite the wall of Clerkenwell Prison reduced to rubble by the December 13, 1867 Fenian bombing.

Karl Marx, a strong supporter of the Irish cause, despaired this counterproductive turn towards terrorism: “The London masses, who have shown great sympathy towards Ireland, will be made wild and driven into the arms of a reactionary government. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.”

English reformer Charles Bradlaugh agreed. “The worst enemy of the Irish people could not have devised a scheme better calculated to destroy all sympathy,” he wrote.


Punch magazine depicts the Clerkenwell bomber(s) as the “Fenian Guy Fawkes“.

Considering the magnitude of the crime, someone would have to pay for it. That Barrett was that someone did not sit well for many.

Five men and a woman stood trial at the Old Bailey in April for the Clerkenwell outrage, but Barrett was the only one of them convicted, a terribly inadequate investigation/prosecution outcome given the infamy of the crime.

That conviction stood on the basis of disputed eyewitness identifications: Barrett produced witnesses who said he was in Glasgow when the bomb went off, while the crown found others who would swear he was actually in London. (The length of Barrett’s whiskers on specific dates in late November and early December forms a running subplot of the dueling testimonies.)

The reliability and even the good faith of all such winesses might well be impugned. A highly questionable stool pigeon named Patrick Mullany who ducked prosecution by turning crown’s evidence, charged that Barrett personally set off the ordnance.

Despite his certain doom, Barrett eloquently vindicated himself at his sentencing

To give me credit for such an undertaking is utterly absurd; being, as I am, a total stranger to acts of daring, and without any experience which would in any way fit me for engaging in such an enterprise. Is it not ridiculous to suppose that in the City of London, where … there are ten thousand armed Fenians, they would have sent to Glasgow for a party to do this work, and then select a person of no higher standing and no greater abilities than the humble individual who now stands convicted before you? To suppose such a thing is a stretch of imagination that the disordered minds of the frightened officials of this country could alone be capable of entertaining.

If it is murder to love Ireland more dearly than life, then indeed I am a murderer. If I could in any way remove the miseries or redress the grievances of that land by the sacrifice of my own life I would willingly, nay, gladly, do so. if it should please the God of Justice to turn to some account, for the benefit of my suffering country, the sacrifice of my poor, worthless life, I could, by the grace of God, ascend the scaffold with firmness, strengthened by the consoling reflection that the stain of murder did not rest upon me, and mingling my prayers for the salvation of my immortal soul with those for the regeneration of my native land.

Benjamin Disraeli’s government could not in the end realistically entertain the agitation from liberal and radical circles for sparing Barrett, because that would mean that nobody would hang for Clerkenwell. But as the next day’s edition of Reynold’s News noted, “Millions will continue to doubt that a guilty man has been hanged at all; and the future historian of the Fenian panic may declare that Michael Barrett was sacrificed to the exigencies of the police, and the vindication of the good Tory principle, that there is nothing like blood.”

Three months after Barrett made that expiation, England officially began its era of fully private hangings behind prison walls.

* James Joyce hung out with a (much-older) Joseph Casey in Paris in the early 20th century. Yes, that’s in Ulysses too: “He prowled with Colonel Richard Burk, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and crouching saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.”

Part of the Themed Set: Terrorism.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Ireland,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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1307: Murcod Ballagh, beheaded

Add comment April 1st, 2015 Headsman

“In the yeare 1307 the first of Aprill,” Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland records, “Murcod Ballagh was beheaded neere to Merton by sir David Caunton knight.”

First published in 1577, this document — heavily mined by Shakespeare for his histories — is silent as to the further particulars of the beheading. But the accompanying image depicting the execution surprisingly presents a guillotine-like device being employed for the task.

As John Wilson Croker’s History of the Guillotine observes, this one illustration 270 years after the fact scarcely suffices to establish that a guillotine precursor really was in use in Ireland in the first years of the 14th century. Were that the case, this might be the earliest quote-unquote “documented” execution by a beheading-machine.

(Executions in Halifax, Scotland, can be sourced as early as the 1280s, but it is not known if the famed Halifax Gibbet was in use at that early date.)

But it does at least establish the authors’ awareness of such technology — perhaps by familiarity with the Scottish Maiden, or perhaps by having caught wind of similar gadgets in France and Italy.

“This mode of execution was common on the Continent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” Croker concludes with a bit of overstatement. “And yet had passed into such entire desuetude and oblivion as to have appeared as a perfect novelty when proposed by Dr. Guillotin.”

“This is certainly a striking illustration of the proverb that there is nothing new under the sun.”

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1612: Bishop Conor O’Devany and Father Patrick O’Loughran

Add comment February 1st, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1612,* Bishop Conor O’Devan(e)y and Father Patrick O’Loughran were hanged, drawn, and quartered as traitors at George’s Hill outside of Dublin.

In the wake of the Gunpowder Plot, Ireland’s Catholics found things increasingly uncomfortable under King James.

In 1607, reacting to a squeeze on their incomes and prerogatives, two native noblemen fled to the continent hoping to make arrangements with the Spanish for a reconquest that would never come. This Flight of the Earls spelled the end of Ireland’s homegrown Gaelic aristocracy and set the stage for the Plantation of Ulster, the settler statelet that formed the germ of present-day Northern Ireland.

O’Loughran’s crime was very simple: already on the continent himself, he had administered the sacraments to those attainted fugitives, later having the boldness to return to Ireland.

There, the charge of collaborating with Bishop O’Devany was also laid to his shoulders.

While O’Loughran was in the summer of his natural life, O’Devany was around eighty years old. Consecrated a bishop in Rome in 1582, he had returned to the north of Ireland and been briefly detained in the post-Spanish Armada security scare.

In the 1600s, O’Devany’s protector had been Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyronne, and unfortunately this man was one of the earls in the aforementioned Flight.

He wasn’t a difficult man to target, but the somewhat gratuitous decision by England’s viceroy to do so was not widely supported even by the English and Protestant factions. O’Loughran’s conduct could perhaps be stretched to resemble treason; O’Devany was just an old man being persecuted for his faith. Going to his glory, the bishop did not fail to play that angle up under the eyes of a sympathetic Gaelic crowd.

Far from being cowed by the bishop’s butchery, those onlookers swarmed the gallows, touching the spilled blood and the quartered flesh as holy relics. “Some cut away all the hair from the head, which they preserved for a relic; some others gave practice to steal the head away … the body being dissevered into four quarters, they neither left finger or toe, but they cut them off and carried them away … with their knives they shaed off chips from the hallowed gallows; neither could they omit the halter with which he was hanged, but it was rescued for holy uses.” (Barnabe Rich)

Days after the executions, that aforementioned aggressive viceroy, Lord Chichester, reported to London how “a titular Bishop and a priest being lately executed for treason merely are notwithstanding thought martyrs and adored for saints.”

Thanks to the counterproductive outcome, the British laid off the policy of martyring Catholic priests thereafter (at least until Cromwell, but that’s another story).

Both men were beatified in 1992 among the Irish Catholic Martyrs.

* The date was February 1 according to the Julian calendar still in use by England at the time; it was February 12 according to the Gregorian calendar. England occupied Ireland through the period of the new Gregorian calendar’s initial 16th century adoption by Europe’s Catholic countries, so the official date in Ireland was February 1 … even though the padres’ boss in Rome would have considered it February 12.

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1651: Terence Albert O’Brien, Bishop of Emly

Add comment October 30th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1651, three days after the Irish city Limerick surrendered to a withering five-month Parliamentarian siege, the victors hanged Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien on Gallows Green.

Limerick was the southern stronghold of the Catholic and anti-Parliamentarian Confederate Ireland.

It was this polity, which allied itself to English Royalists, that Cromwell assailed in his bloody conquest of Ireland.

Though Cromwell lives forever as an oath in Irish memory, the man himself left Ireland in 1650 to smash an awkward Royalist alliance with Scottish Presbyterians.

That left the Irish campaign in the hands of Cromwell’s capable fellow-general (and by this time, son-in-law) Henry Ireton, and it was Ireton who laid Limerick under a siege at an estimated cost of 5,000 civilians succumbed to starvation and plague.

The Catholic Bishop of Emly, Terence Albert O’Brien, had been trapped in the mixed English-Irish city and encouraged continued resistance to the siege. Ireton advanced him to the very front of the queue for punishment, and had him put to death directly after the city’s capture.

A “Last Speech and Prayer” of the martyr was published in London within a few days, together with a “humble petition” of then-imprisoned (and later executed) pro-Stuart highwayman James Hind.

Good people,

This is a very uncomfortable place, for me to deliver my self unto you; but I beseech you pardon my failings, and the rather, by reason of the sad occasion that hath brought me hither: Indeed, I have been long in my race, and how I have looked unto Jesus the Authour and finisher of my faith, is best known to him; I am now come to the end of my race, which I find to be a death of shame, but the shame must be despised, or there is no coming to the right hand of God; Jesus despised the shame for me upon the Crosse, and God forbid but I should despise the shame for him upon the Gallowes; I am going apace, as you see, towards the Red Sea, and my feet are upon the very brinks of it, an Argument I hope that God is brining me to the Land of promise, for that was the way by which of old he led his people.

But before they came to the Sea, he instituted a passe over for them, a Lamb it was, but it was to be eaten with very sowr herbs, as in the 12. of Exodus. I shall obey and labour to digest the sowr herbs, as well as the Lamb, and I shall remember, that it is the Lord’s passe-over, I shall not think of the herbs, nor be angry with the hands that gathered them, but look up only to him who instituted the one, and governeth the other: For men can have no more power over me, than that which is given them from above; and although I am denyed mercy here on earth, yet I doubt not but to receive it in heaven. I am not in love with this passage through the Red Sea, for I have the weakness and infirmity of flesh and blood in me, and I have prayed as my Saviour taught me, and exampled me; ut transiret calix ista, That this cup might passe away from me; but since it is not, that my will may, his will be done; and I shall most willingly drink of it as deep as he pleases, and enter into this Sea, I and I passe through it, in the way that he shall be pleased to leade me. And yet (good people) it would be remembrad [sic], That when the Servants of God, old Israel, were in this boystrous Sea, and Aaron with them, the Egyptians which persecuted them, and did in a manner drive them into that Sea, were drowned in the same waters while they were in pursuit of them: I know my God whom I serve, is as able to deliver me from this Sea of blood, as he was to deliver the 3 Children from the furnace. Dan. 3. And I most humbly thank my Saviour for it. My resolution is now, as theirs was then; their Resolution was, they would not change their principles, nor worship the Image which the King had set up; nor shall I the imaginations which the people are setting up; neither will I forsake the Temple and Truth of God, to follow the bleating of Jeroboams Calves in Dan and in Bethel.

And I pray God blesse all this people, and open their eyes, that they may see the right way, for if it fall out that the blind lead the blind, doubtless they will fall both into the ditch: For my self I am (and I acknowledge it in all humility), a most grievous sinner, and therefore I cannot doubt but that God hath mercy in store for me a poor penitent, as well as for other sinners; I have upon this sad occasion ransack’d every corner of my heart, & yet I thank God, I have not found any of my sins that are there, any sins now deserving death by any known Law. And I thank God, though the wait [weight] of the sentence lie very hard upon me, yet I am as quiet within, (I thank Christ for it) as I ever was in my life; I shall hasten to go out of this miserable life, for I am not willing to be tedious; and I beseech you, as many as are within hearing, observe me, I was born and baptized in the bosome of the Church of Rome (the ancient and true Church) and in that Profession I have ever since lived, and in the same I now die. As touching my engagement in arms, I did it in two respects. First, for the preservation of my principles and Tenents. And secondly, for the establishing of the King, and the rest of the Royal issue in their just Rights and Priviledges. I will not inlarge my self any further, I have done, I forgive all the world, all and every of these bitter Enemies, or others whatsoever they have been, which have any wayes prosecuted me in this kind; I humbly desire to be forgiven first of God, and then of every man, whether I have offended him or no; if he do but conceive that I have: Lord do thou forgive me, and I beg forgiveness of him, and so I heartily desire you to joyn with me in prayer.

From Hugh Fennin’s “The Last Speech and Prayer of Blessed Terence Albert O’Brien, Bishopp of Emly, 1651,” in Collectanea Hibernica, No. 38 (1996).

Any Limerick Catholics who didn’t share the prelate’s forgiving attitude might have taken some spiteful comfort that the strain of commanding the siege caused Ireton to fall ill with fever. He died on November 26 — barely outliving the bishop whom he had hanged.* After the Stuarts regained the English throne, Ireton was exhumed and posthumously executed alongside the body of Oliver Cromwell.

* Ireton’s death indirectly spared the royalist commander of Limerick’s defeated garrison from an execution his conqueror had intended for him: Ireton’s successor instead sent him to the Tower of London, and he was eventually released to Spanish custody.

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