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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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: 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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1916: Edward Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan, Willie Pearse, and Joseph Plunkett

Add comment May 4th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1916, four Easter Rising rebels were shot in Kilmainham Gaol’s Stonebreakers Yard — an almost novelistic selection of thematic successors to the three men who had been executed there the day before.

Journalist/novelist Michael O’Hanrahan was the close friend and aide-de-camp of one of those May 3 executees, Tom MacDonagh — the two of them directing the rebel occupation of the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory during the week of April 24.

Edward Daly was the brother-in-law of Fenian ultra Tom Clarke, another man who had been shot on May 3.

Daly, at least, was a battalion commander during the Easter Rising and a part of the rising’s leadership; sculptor Willie Pearse was a mere run-of-the-mill rebel of the type that the British were not executing … save for that surname which he shared with his brother Patrick, the third Republican ringleader shot on May 3. Having seemingly absorbed an extra ration of fury intended for his brother, Willie Pearse’s execution was keenly felt as an injustice from the first.

But perhaps none of the Easter Rising executions tugged the heartstrings quite like that of Joseph Plunkett, a poet and Esperantist who was also one of the signatories of the seditious Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Plunkett had been one of the conspiracy’s secret emissaries to Germany, arranging shipments of arms that the British ultimately intercepted.

At midnight, due to be shot in a few hours with the day’s first light, Plunkett was married by a prison chaplain to his sweetheart, artist and Sinn Fein activist Grace Gifford. This tragic union made Grace Gifford and her sister Muriel double widows, for Muriel’s husband was Tom MacDonagh — the aforementioned already-executed associate of Michael O’Hanrahan.

There are roads, railway stations, football clubs, and the like named for all four of these men at various places in Ireland.

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1916: Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse, and Thomas Clarke

Add comment May 3rd, 2018 Headsman

Thomas MacDonagh, Padraig (Patrick) Pearse, and Thomas Clarke — three of the principal Irish Republican leaders of the Easter Rising against British domination that had been crushed just days before — were shot in Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol on this date in 1916.


Illustration from the New York Times, May 7, 1916.
“To a Poet Captain”
by Thomas MacDonagh

His songs were a little phrase
Of eternal song,
Drowned in the harping of lays
More loud and long.

His deeds were a single word,
Called out alone
In a night when no echo stirred to laughter,
To laughter or moan.

But his songs new souls shall thrill,
The loud harps dumb,
And his deeds the echoes fill
When the dawn is come.

MacDonagh and Pearse were contemporaries of one another: poets, progressive educators, Gaelic revivalists; men who girded for battle “with a revolver in one hand and a copy of Sophocles in the other.” Each dreamer commanded a unit of Irish Volunteers during the week of April 24-30, MacDonagh occupying Jacobs Factory and Pearse the iconic General Post Office, in which post it was Pearse’s sorrow to issue the surrender order by the end of the quixotic week.

Clarke, cut from another cloth, was a Fenian revolutionist of an older vintage, who had disappeared into British prison after trying to bomb London Bridge in the 1880s, then emigrated for a time to the United States. Drawn to a reviving nationalist movement, Clarke had the honor of affixing his name first upon the Rising’s Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Pearse and MacDonagh signed it too: a fatal endorsement for they three and for each of the other four men to lend it their signatures.

“My comrades and I believe we have struck the first successful blow for freedom,” Clarke said via a statement given out by his impressive wife Kathleen. “And so sure as we are going out this morning so sure will freedom come as a direct result of our action … In this belief, we die happy.”


This traditional Irish song was updated with patriotic verse by Patrick Pearse.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Ireland,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1916: Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Patrick McIntyre and Thomas Dickson, by Captain Bowen-Colthurst

Add comment April 26th, 2018 Headsman

On the morning of this date in 1916, British Captain John Bowen-Colthurst ordered the summary execution of three Irish journalists in his custody: part of a still-notorious murderous rampage through Dublin amid the Easter Rising.

Bowen-Colthurst’s subsequent “insanity” skate has been a sore subject in the century since its predictable enactment.

The product of landed Anglo-Irish elites — his childhood manor, Dripsey Castle, still stands — had trotted the globe in service of the empire: the Boer Wars, India, Tibet, and the western front.

It’s the sort of background that should have made Bowen-Colthurst a calm hand in a tight spot.* Instead, the Easter Rising panicked him. Atrocities against Irish nationalists are not exactly surprising in the abstract here, but Bowen-Colthurst’s behavior in these hours was so erratic and violent that his men would remark that he had lost his head … although they strikingly never disobeyed his patently illegal orders.

At Portobello Barracks in Dublin, which in this week swarmed chaotically with off-duty leave soldiers reporting themselves for duty in the face of the armed insurrection, the Third Royal Irish Rifles’ commander was absent on sick leave and evidently took command discipline with him. “Captain Colthurst, although not the equal in rank of Major Rosborough, was the senior office in point of service and, according to all the evidence, considered himself at liberty to ignore his brother-officers,” Francis Sheehy-Skeffington’s widow explained.

Sheehy-Skeffington — a gentle pacifist affectionately known among antiwar socialists and the women’s movement as “Skeffy” — had been arrested on sight on April 25th, while out and about trying to dissuade looters. Bowen-Colthurst marched him out overnight as a human shield for a random patrol, and did not mind murdering before his eyes a passing young man caught out after curfew.

Proceeding along, Bowen-Colthurst grenades a tobacconist’s shop, mistakenly thinking that its owner, named Kelly, was Sinn Fein man Tom Kelly. In fact, the tobacconist Kelly was a loyalist, as were the two publishers that Bowen-Colthurst arrested at his place: Patrick McIntyre and Thomas Dickson.

Ignoring their protests, our unstable captain brought all three men back to the barracks. By morning’s light, he had decided on no authority but his own to have them executed.

“I am taking these prisoners out and I am going to shoot them because I think it is the right thing to do” was all the justification that he submitted. Later, he would say that he feared the prisoners would escape; that, believing that Germans were landing and revolutionaries were gunning down Black and Tans throughout Dublin, “I took the gloomiest view of the situation and felt that only desperate measures would save the situation.” So he shot the one guy who didn’t want to fight and two guys who were on his own team. According to later testimony, he would even order Skeffy to be re-shot upon being informed that the man was still moving several minutes after execution.

Still, the tilting captain had enough self-possession to openly worry to a brother-officer that he might have committed a hanging offense … and to actively conceal the evidence of it. Had events not been exposed by a courageous whistleblower, Sir Francis Vane, everything surely would have been obfuscated into the soupy fog of war. Embarrassingly compelled by Vane’s tattling to court-martial Bowen-Colthurst only to pass him off to an asylum (and later, to Canada), the brass took it out on Vane by terminating his career a few months later: “this officer was relegated to unemployment owing to his action in the Skeffington murder case in the Sinn Fein rebellion.”

Uproar at the Bowen-Colthurst affair had some interesting knock-on effects: for one thing, the naked impunity available to an officer at a time when enlisted men in France were being shot at dawn for minor disciplinary lapses might have contributed to the British command’s decision later in 1916 to permit the execution of a shellshocked lieutenant. And, an associate of the loyalist British commander in Ireland during the Easter Rising claimed that Sheehy-Skeffington blowback subsequently led to the execution reprieve granted to Eamon de Valera: that future president of independent Ireland just so happened to have his name “first on the list” when the matter came to a head.

Today, a visitor center at the former Portobello Barracks (now called Cathal Brugha Barracks) memorializes the three men executed there on April 26, 1916.

* We don’t mean to be cavalier about the psychological strains inflicted by violence. Bowen-Colthurst seemed to exhibit signs of shell shock in the trenches, whether due to the shells themselves or to having lost his younger brother in the war.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Ireland,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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