Tag Archives: may 5

1916: John MacBride

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)

1725: John Coamber

The Dublin hanging of John Coamber on this date in 1725 for the previous year’s notorious mugging/murder of a city counselor named Richard Hoar(e) arrives to us, as have several previous posts, via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland.

In this instance, Kelly gives us two rival “last speeches.” It’s a genre that he says was exploding in the 1720s, with the burgeoning of print culture and the importation of similar purported gallows unburdenings.

And as we saw in a 1726 exemplar from the same book, the publishers who flooded this burgeoning market were at daggers drawn with one another over precedence for inside information and autobiographical authenticity. This is another case where one of the documents — Cornelius Carter’s — takes space to take a shot at the rival tract.

We also see here in Carter’s more detailed (and here, sarcastic) narrative that two different, innocent, men were hanged for the murder some time before one of the three real killers saved his own neck by shopping Coamber.


The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of

John Comber

who is to be Hang’d and Quarter’d this present Wednesday, being the 5th, of this Inst. May 1725. Near St. Stephen’s-Green; for Murdering Councellor Hoar, in January last.

Good Christians,

My Heart has been so hard hitherto, that I had no Manner of thought of either Soul or Body, but now I seeing Death plainly before my Face, causes me to consider of my latter End; and praise God for giving so much Grace so to do; therefore I am resolv’d to make a Publick Confession of my past Life and Conversation, which is as follows.

As to my Birth and Parentage, it is but a folly to relate, yet I can say I came from very honest Parents, who took what Care they could to bring me up in the Love and Fear of God, but I contrary to the Laws of God and Man, have gon [sic] astray, and follow’d Loose Idle Company, which brought me to this untimely Death; and how it came to pass was thus.

I being Entimitly Acquainted with one Patrick Freel, and David McClure, with whom I went to a House in New-street, where we then (after several meetings) made a Plot to get Money, by reason it was scarce with us, at length we Consulted the 19th, of January last, to Robb the first we wou’d meet with, and being over perswaided by the Devil, I went to the House of Mr. Carter and meeting a Child of his, bid him fetch his Dady’s Pistol, and I would fetch him some sweet things, upon the same promise, the Child brought me a Pistol, and then I, in Conjunction with the above Named Persons, went towards Stephen’s-Green, where we met with Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Leeson’s Clerk, whom we Robb’d of a Ten Peney Piece, from that we proceeded to Henry-street, where we met the Deceased Gentleman, to whom I went up, and Demanded his Money, with that he moving his Arm, and I having the Pistol Cock’d, caused the same to go off, tho’ as I shall Answer my God I did not think of being his Butcher; and when I found the Pistol went off, I never staid to know whether he had Money or no, but took to my Heels as fast as I could.

Then I went to the Sign of the Black Swan in Mary’s-Lane, where I and my Comrads met; from that my Prosocuter Patrick Freel and I, went to the Country where we staid for some small Time, then I came back, and as God, who never suffers Murder to be Conceal’d, I was soon Apprehended and put to Goal, upon Suspission, where I lay as good as a Month, but a Proclamation being Isued out, concerning the Murder, he came in and made Oath that I was the Person that Shot the Councellor, which to my sorrow is True.

Having no more to say but beging the Prayers of all good Christians, I die a Roman Catholick, and in the 22d. Year of my Age, and the Lord have Mercy on my poor Soul Amen.

Dublin: Printed by C.P. 1725.


The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of

John Coamber

who is to be Hang’d, Drawn and Quarter’d this Day, being the 5th of this Instant May 1725. For the Murder of Councellor HOAR in Henry Street the 19th of Jan. last.
Deliver’d to the Printer hereof C. CARTER the 5th of May, and to no other, By me John Coamber. And All others are Imposing on the Publick.

All you my Spectators,

This is to give you the following Account, I was born in the Town which is Call’d Thurles, in the County of Tipperary in Munster, of very honest Parents, that brought me up in the fear of God, and Wou’d give me good Learning, but I was too Head-strong, and wou’d not be Rul’d or Guided by my tender Parents, but left ’em and went to serve a Tobacco-twister, which I work’t at for about 5 years, being weary of that I came for Dublin, being a stranger, I turn’d Porter about Cork-hill, where I stood and follow’d that business for near 3 years, all this time I behav’d my self very honestly, and was well belov’d by all that knew me, especially in the above Neighbourhood, being weary of that, I took a fancy to Cry News about this City, which in a little time, I began to get a great many pence by it, and in sometime after, I became Acquainted with Idle and loose Company, Viz. and in the process of time I came to be acquainted with particular Persons and some others who first brought me in Company among Whores to Drink and spend my Money &c. Which was the first Cause of my Destruction.

Afterwards I went of my own Accord, and follow’d the said Evil Custom and other ill Actions, then I became as obdurate and as Wicked as the worst of my Ring-leaders.

I have Reason to Curse them Idle fellows which made me first acquainted with the whores and Pick-pockets in this City, of which there is abundance too many.

But finding Money not Answering to keep the above Company, being acquainted with one David McClure who was my chief Comrade, and who made his Escape to France after the Murder was Committed, he and I stuck together, and followed a very Idle Course of Life, and we Committed several ill Facts in this City and Liberties thereof.

All our shifts not Answering, I, McClure, and Patrick Freel (who was the first Evidence against me) Resolv’d to turn Robber, but never did design to be Guilty of Murder, and did design when we got a Sum of money that was worth While, to leave the Country.

I confess, that Patrick Freel, David McClure and I went on the 19th of January last at Night, to Henry Street, with a Design to Rob, or Plunder the first Gentleman that came that way; which was the luck of that worthy honest Gentleman Councellor Hoar, though I declare before God I did not design to hurt him, or any Man else that time.

I do also Confess that I did own to the Blind Boy, Lawrence Dugan, (who was the t’other Evidence against me) that Patrick Freel, David McClure and I myself, were all Guilty of the Murder for which I now suffer, but I wonder he did not Discover, it when one Pitts and another one Hand, had like to suffer for this Murder. (emphasis added -ed.)

I further Declare, tho’ it was falsely and Scandalously Publish’d in Print, by one Mrs. Needham and her Son Dickson; that I had got Mr. Carter’s Pistols from his young Son about 8 years of Age, (we had but one Pistol among us) and as I am a Dying Man I got no such thing from the said Child, nor none of his Family, neither did I steal any such thing out of his House in my Life time.

I accused one Daniel Field and Michael Tankard falsly, which I am heartily sorry for, but it was by the Advice of Winfred Dunn and Patrick Dunn the 2 Informers, that swore against Pitts and Hand that was Try’d the last Term for this Fact.

I beg of my great God to forgive my Prosecutors, and all my Enemies, as I do forgive them from the bottom of my heart.

I hope this my untimely End will be a Warning to my Comrades, and also to all young Men, which I pray to God it may. For my own part I own I am Guilty of the Fact for which I Die, And I hope the Lord of his infinite Goodness, will have Mercy on my Soul and forgive me.

I am about 19 Years of Age I dye a Roman Catholick, and Desires the Prayers of all Good Christians, and the Lord have Mercy on my poor Soul. Amen.

JOHN COAMBER

DUBLIN: Printed by Corn. Carter. 1725.