1858: William and Daniel Cormack, for murdering John Ellis

Add comment May 11th, 2013 Headsman

“Land agents” — the rent-squeezing fist of distant landlords — were not popular people in Ireland. These bill collectors literally ran people out of house and home: one late 19th century land agent in Ireland recalled in his memoirs having received over a hundred threatening letters and, in November 1884, having his house in Kerry dynamited.

So the 1857 murder of Tipperary land agent John Ellis drew little surprise (his life had been attempted at least twice before, when he evicted people to prospective starvation during the Great Famine), and drew scarcely any mourning.

“He had been earning this for many a year, if any man however bad could be said to earn such an end, by turning people out in the road,” an observer noted. That observer was the Archbishop … talk about a tough crowd.

Since £90 had been left undisturbed in the murdered man’s pockets, authorities were pretty sure it was no passing robber that got the best of John Ellis but someone who targeted the hated land agent. However, the only witness — and the word applies only in the loosest sense — was the teenage cart-driver who had been ferrying Ellis home near midnight when his passenger had been shot by ambush from the bushes. Young Thomas Burke hadn’t seen anything useful.

Still, within only days, police had zeroed in on their suspects — with classic tunnel vision.

In fine, the working official hypothesis was that Ellis had been shot over a personal grudge, and not because of his distasteful profession. William and Daniel Cormack had a sister who had just given birth out of wedlock in the poorhouse; they had another sister who was known to be carrying on with John Ellis, who was a notorious cad during his downtime between evictions. The idea was that the brothers shot Ellis to preserve their one sister from the other sister’s fate.

With no actual evidence to buttress this just-so story, John Law got to twisting arms. An 11-year-old girl was parked in solitary confinement for two months to try to get her to incriminate the Cormacks.

The child, to her glory, stubbornly refused to do so. But Thomas Burke, the cart-driver, could not equal her steel. After initially deposing that he had seen nothing — it was very dark, after all — he managed to “remember” that he actually had seen the Cormacks on the scene after all. Another man also “verified” this testimony.

On the strength of these eminently impeachable eyewitnesses the Cormacks were doomed to die. Burke would later admit that he lied, and 2,000-plus people signed a petition pleading for a pardon.

None was forthcoming.

Mounting a public scaffold at Nenagh for a crowd welling with pity, Daniel Cormack made a dying declaration that everyone believed: “Lord have mercy on me, for you know, Jesus, that I neither had hand, act, nor part in that for which I am about to die. Good people, pray for me.”

This rank injustice only rankled more* as years passed.

Fifty-two years later the hanged boys were exhumed from their graves in Nenagh Gaol and given a long honorary procession to their native town of Loughmore, where they were laid to rest in a prominent white mausoleum that can still be visited today.

The plaque at that structure records the closest thing to the verdict of history upon the case:

By the Irish Race in memory of the brothers DANIEL and WILLIAM CORMACK who for the murder of a land agent named ELLIS were hanged at NENAGH after solemn protestation by each on the scaffold of absolute and entire innocence of that crime, the 11th day of May 1858. The tragedy of the brothers occurred through false testimony procured through GOLD and terror, the action in their trial of JUDGE KEOGH, a man who considered personally, politically, religiously and officially was one of the monsters of mankind, and the verdict of a prejudiced, partisan packed perjured jury. Clear proof of the innocence of the brothers afforded by ARCHBISHOP LEAHY to the VICEROY of the day but he nevertheless gratified the appetite of a bigoted, exterminating and ascendancy caste by a judicial murder of the kind which lives bitterly and perpetually in a nation’s remembrance.

The excellent Irish History Podcast site is all over this story, with a detailed post and a heart-wrenching podcast episode.

* A later ballad (just one of several) ramps up the nationalist-confrontation factor for the age of Fenianism … and fabricates the detail of an exculpatory thunderstorm.

In the year of fifty eight, my boys, that was the troublesome time
When cruel landlords and their agents were rulers of our isle.
It was then that Ellis was shot down by an unknown hand.
When the news spread round Killara that Trent’s agent he was shot,
The police were then informed and assembled on the spot.
They searched every field and garden, every lane and every shed,
Until they came to McCormack’s house where two boys were in bed.

They accused these boys of murder from information they had got
From the coachman who was driving at the time that Ellis was shot.
They said that they were innocent, but ’twas all of no avail.
They were handcuffed and made prisoners and conveyed to County Gaol.
At the Spring Assizes these two young men stood their trial in Nenagh town.
By a packed jury of Orangemen, they were guilty found.
The judge addressed the prisoners. He asked what they had to say
Before he signed their execution for eleventh day of May.

“In Mill Killara we were reared, between Thurles and Templemore,
Well known by all inhabitants around the parish of Loughmore.
We’re as innocent of shooting Ellis as the child in the cradle do lie,
And can’t see the reason, for another man’s crime, we are condemned to die.”
The execution it took place, by their holy priest reconciled, their maker for to face.
Such thunder, rain and lightning has ne’er been witnessed since
As the Lord sent down on that day, as a token of their innocence,
That their sould may rest in heaven above as their remains rest in Loughmore.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Murder,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1883: Joe Brady, the first of the Invincibles

Add comment May 14th, 2011 Headsman

“All patriots on earth must respect him (Joe Brady).”

John Boyle O’Reilly

On this date in 1883, Britain set about the grim work of avenging the assassination of its Irish plenipotentiaries by hanging Joe Brady at Kilmainham Gaol.

“He was brought up as a stonemason,” the May 15, 1883 London Times recalled of the by-then-hanged man, “of herculean strength, his occupation developing the muscular power of his arms, which told with such terrible effect when he drove the knives into the bodies of his victims.”

Those knife-driven bodies belonged to Irish civil servant Thomas Henry Burke (a quisling figure, in the eyes of Irish nationalists) and the English politician Lord Frederick Cavendish, who were jumped while taking a stroll in a Dublin park on May 6, 1882.

The authors of their destruction — beyond Joe Brady, personally — were the splinter of radical Fenians known as “the Invincibles”, who figured on the vincibility of the collaborators and informers who made British control of Ireland possible. Especially their vincibility to stonemason-wielded surgical knives.

Efficient, and surely less than genteel, police work busted up the cell after those spectacular homicides, inducing leadership figures to turn state’s evidence against their subordinates. Four more men consequently hanged in the month following Brady’s execution. The stool pigeons got to walk.

History did not delay her verdict on these characters.

While Invincible-turned-informer James Carey was promptly murdered in retaliation, Brady et al joined nationalist mythology as martyrs who “died a Fenian blade.”

Ballad of Joe Brady

I am a bold undaunted youth, Joe Brady is my name,
From the chapel of North Anne Street one Sunday as I came,
All to my surprise who should I espy but Moreno and Cockade;
Says one unto the other: “Here comes our Fenian blade”.

I did not know the reason why they ordered me to stand,
I did not know the reason why they gave me such a command.
But when I saw James Carey there, I knew I was betrayed.
I’ll face death before dishonour and die a Fenian blade.

They marched me up North Anne Street without the least delay,
The people passed me on the path, it filled them with dismay.
My sister cried, “I see you Joe, if old Mallon gives me lave,
Keep up your heart for Ireland like a true-born Fenian Blade.

It happened in the Phoenix Park all in the month of May,
Lord Cavendish and Burke came out for to see the polo play.
James Carey gave the signal and his handkerchief he waved,
Then he gave full information against our Fenian blades.

It was in Kilmainham Prison the Invincibles were hung.
Mrs Kelly she stood there all in mourning for her son.
She threw back her shawl and said to all:
“Though he fills a lime-pit grave,
My son was no informer and he died a Fenian blade.”

And if the Times‘ report (the same May 15 article) is to be believed (reporters weren’t actually allowed to witness the execution itself), Brady wore that invincible conviction to the scaffold.

“Up to the last moment,” the paper reported, “he retained the animal courage which he displayed in the deed itself, which, though dastardly as regards the unarmed men whom he attacked, was daring in its other circumstances.”

Speaking of animal courage.

Our man Brady, very famous in Ireland around the turn of the century, makes a little appearance in the referential soup of James Joyce’s Ulysses* for animal spirits of a different sort: a conversation about his hanging provides the departure point for a Joycean meander into the phenomenon of scaffold priapism.

–There’s one thing it hasn’t a deterrent effect on, says Alf.

–What’s that? says Joe.

–The poor bugger’s tool that’s being hanged, says Alf.

–That so? says Joe.

–God’s truth, says Alf. I heard that from the head warder that was in

Kilmainham when they hanged Joe Brady, the invincible. He told me when they cut him down after the drop it was standing up in their faces like a poker.

–Ruling passion strong in death, says Joe, as someone said.

–That can be explained by science, says Bloom. It’s only a natural phenomenon, don’t you see, because on account of the …

And then he starts with his jawbreakers about phenomenon and science and this phenomenon and the other phenomenon.

The distinguished scientist Herr Professor Luitpold Blumenduft tendered medical evidence to the effect that the instantaneous fracture of the cervical vertebrae and consequent scission of the spinal cord would, according to the best approved tradition of medical science, be calculated to inevitably produce in the human subject a violent ganglionic stimulus of the nerve centres of the genital apparatus, thereby causing the elastic pores of the CORPORA CAVERNOSA to rapidly dilate in such a way as to instantaneously facilitate the flow of blood to that part of the human anatomy known as the penis or male organ resulting in the phenomenon which has been denominated by the faculty a morbid upwards and outwards philoprogenitive erection IN ARTICULO MORTIS PER DIMINUTIONEM CAPITIS.

* As was Brady’s getaway driver James “Skin-the-Goat” Fitzharris, who became a national celebrity by serving a long prison sentence for refusing to inform on anyone.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Separatists,Terrorists

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