1820: Stephen Sullivan, for murdering the Colleen Bawn

Add comment July 27th, 2017 Headsman

The hanging this date in 1820 of Stephen Sullivan for killing a 15-year-old a year before closed the real-life case that inspired the popular Irish play The Colleen Bawn.

In the play — which in its own turn is based on the 1829 Gerald Griffin novel The Collegians — an older landowner unhappily wed to an unsuitable younger wife has the marriage murderously annulled by the offices of a loyal factotum.

In The Colleen Bawn, these figures are Hardress (the husband), Eily (the wife),* and Danny (the hunchbacked murderer). It’s still performed today, both on stage and in an operatic adaptation, The Lily of Killarney.

In 1819, their real-life equivalents were John Scanlon, his wife Ellen Hanly, and our man Sullivan, the killer.

Scanlon, the regretful groom and instigator of the murder, had already been captured and executed at a previous assize; Sullivan likewise blamed his patron with his dying breath for “when I looked in her innocent face, my heart shuddered, and I did not know how I could do it!” Somehow he found a way.

The final scene, courtesy of Edinburgh’s Caledonian Mercury, August 14, 1820

* Eily is also the play’s title character — from the Gaelic cailín bán, “fair girl”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Murder,Public Executions

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