(Cursai Coireolaiochta Na h-Eireann)
Created By Seamus Breathnach.
10. Capital Punishment
Studies In Irish Criminology: Book 8
10.a. last Of The Betagii
Last Of The Betagii
Other Works by the Author:
Emile Durkheim On Crime And Punishment
The Riddle Of The Caswell Mutiny
Crime And Punishment in Twentieth Century Ireland
Vol 2: A Description Of The Criminal Justice System (CJS)
(1950-80) - UPublish.com 2003
Death of A Protestant
My task was to point out the horror and the iniquity of capital
punishment under any circumstances. The horror of capital punishment
is great when it falls to the lot of courageous and honest people
whose only guilt is their excess of love and the sense of
righteousness - in such instances, conscience revolts. But the rope is
still more horrible when it forms the noose around the necks of weak
and ignorant people. And however strange it may appear, I look with a
lesser grief and suffering upon the execution of the revolutionists,
such as Werner and Musya, than upon the strangling of ignorant
murderers, miserable in mind and heart, like Yanson and Tsiganok. Even
the last mad horror of inevitably approaching execution Werner can
offset by his enlightened mind and his iron will, and Musya, by her
purity and her innocence.
Author of: The Seven who were Hanged
Release Date: October, 2004 [E Book #6722]
Before pronouncing sentence Judge Kenny held out ‘no hope of mercy’. He called it
a ‘hideous crime’. Despite his earlier efforts to commit suicide in his cell, Joseph
Taylor still maintained his innocence of the murder. And if Mary Daly, who was
now found guilty of the same murder, had gone out to the back of her house and, as
was suspected by the Judge, killed her husband with a fork in the early hours of the
morning, then, in some very real sense, what Joseph Taylor said concerning his innocence made perfect sense. Indeed, Mary Daly’s guilt almost excluded Joseph Taylor’s; for what man, being party to a murder, has a passionate fist fight with his opponent,
and then quits the field for his lover to deliver the coup de gras? And, by the same
token, what man would meet his opponent face to face, knock him out, and then
place a horse’s reins in his hands to suggest that the horse had kicked him to death?
Surely, such a ruse was more suited to a woman’s way of thinking than a man’s?
When Judge Kenny said to Joseph Taylor, “You will have more time to make your
peace with God than poor John Daly had...”, it implied that Taylor premeditatedly
killed Daly. But it was hardly an implication which upon the evidence the Judge could
properly make. In so far as it suggested that Joseph Taylor set out to take the life of
John Daly, it was more surmised than proved. That the Judge (more than the Jury)
took such a view, prompts the question as to whether public executions did not in the
past contain something more than conventional jurisprudence is prepared to admit.
If we look closer both at the conventional theories as well as what actually
happened when death was visited upon these two Betagii peasants, we begin to recognise some residues -- not so much of ancient justice but of the blood-sacrifice still
obtaining in executions. Through religious and political conventions these sacrificial
elements are converted to social and, indeed, political arrangements. In this respect,
therefore, it behoves us to look briefly at the following considerations incidental to the
hanging of Joseph Taylor:
i. The Theory of Execution;
ii. The Grace Period;
iii. The Execution Day; and
iv. The Inquest.
i. The Theory of Execution
Deterrence, as a means of protecting the public from a repetition of past
crimes, has always been one of the most stated reasons justifying the execution of
criminals. In the case of murderers, there was also the added sense of retribution.
With retribution the state reserved the deterrent effect of execution, but also retained
the ingredient of revenge. Retribution also enjoyed a simple if aesthetic balance, in
that those who were found guilty of deliberately taking life, were now called upon to
forfeit their own lives. The aesthetic of ‘a life for a life’ also reflected the Christian
notion that God the Father sent his only begotten son to expiate the sins of the world.
For centuries both the necessity of deterrence and the desirability of retribution were readily used on the wider canvas of expiation to justify hanging the criminally culpable.
Despite the widely-held beliefs justifying the rationale of execution, however,
it was sometimes felt that the ritual of execution harbored other dimensions besides
those of deterrence, retribution and even expiation. While it was invariably pleaded
that each and all of these theoretical reasons for execution stood on their own or in
combination, their aim was always atonement of one description or another, No
dimension in the human psyche runs deeper, it seems, than the social need to atone
for wrong-doing. And while deterrence is aimed at preventing the further commission
of the crime of murder, either at an individual as well as a social level, retribution
pays the criminal back in kind after the crime is committed. Retribution by way of
execution, moreover, sanctifies at the social level the very homicide which, when
committed by an individual, society cannot forgive. Theoretically speaking, expiation, conceivable both on a personal level as well as a social level, more often than
not operates only on the personal level. It is on the personal level that it personifies
Christianity; for it rejoices in the individual admitting his excesses and, by so doing,
shows himself willing, in a confessional sense, to make an honourable amendment as
prelude to making his peace with society at large. Allied to the more modern notion
of rehabilitation, it makes for the most enlightened of penal policies. By definition,
however, expiation cannot occur at the social level (except in the Divinity); but
where Christianity celebrates voluntary and enlightened expiation at the personal
level, as in the person of the prodigal son, it joins with the secular State to enforce it
by way of sacrifice at the social level. Such atonement, as of old, is not made to a‘personal’ God but to society’s God, whose exigencies are relieved in the blood sacrifice.
Apart from its primitive nature, execution by hanging answers all the requirements of a penal policy. By its visible gruesomeness, execution by hanging visibly
achieves deterrence and retribution. In the need for sacrifice lies the inception of
much that is religious; for the sacrificial idea is not only chorally central to every
church but it is also theatrically essential. In accepting the need for sacrifice, society
enters a process of group fear and group control, which, once installed, is operable
as if by an infant with a bell, a book, and a candle.
In a way, it is self-evident that all human sacrifice presupposes the prior existence of a divine being --- a God, in fact, who by definition arrogates unto himself
all violence as well as all virtue. When a shaman or priest insists that he is ‘God’s
vicar on earth’, in effect he arrogates to himself the unwarranted privilege of
embodying communal jurisdiction in a way that we would find offensive in a king.
Moreover, by so doing, he thereby assumes hegemonic power over the group for
whom the Godhead, so defined, is significant. No sooner is the human sacrifice as an
appeasing procedure acknowledged, than religious hegemony is confirmed. Over
time, such hegemony becomes legitimated by social custom and sanctified by repetition.
Despite fulminations to the contrary, however, nothing -- including our concept of God -- remains unaltered forever. And even as time and custom change, so,
too, does the 'Godhead' and our notions of it. Faced with the realities of secular evolution, the face of the all-violent/all-loving Godhead becomes denuded and is sedulously constrained to communicate a willingness to compromise. Later rather than
sooner, therefore, under the teleological constraint of modernizing secular values,
the violent aspect, once so prominent, begins to recede. Then, in the face of secular
science, it is compelled to recede appreciably further than ever before from public
view, lest it do more visible harm than it has traditionally done. Religion in effect
recedes wantonly and shamefully, so much so, in fact, that even when the principle
of capital punishment has been abolished by more secular communities, the religious
need for sacrifice as well as it’s will to violence, though never totally eclipsed, hides
itself in denial of its origins. As an alternative to ‘preaching the Crusade’, Christianity’s violent character is allowed to bivouac behind the raison d’être of the modern
army, the contesting party-political theatre, the punitive sentence of the judiciary,
the Christian inseparability of the Separation of Powers, the democratic competition,
the differential pay rise, the race meeting, the hunt, the competitive sport, the Christian state. In the sacrifice, then, the memory of the social significance of the original
violence still lingers; it hovers around a time when there was no Separation of Powers, when all was 'conquest by the heavy hand'. In the sacrifice of the Mass is the recall of the power struggle between pagan Roman Imperialism and the Judeo-Christian
patriotic front. The execution of Joseph Taylor (and Mary Daly) was more a continuation of Christian and Pagan Rome than it was of Gaelic paganism, the same holy Roman
reasons applying the same remedy as the unholy empire it succeeded.
In this vein it should not, perhaps, be forgotten that Christianity is itself built
upon a penological conundrum. That’s why the crucifixion of Christ, even in its condemnation is ‘celebrated’ in the mass. The celebration envisages neither reparation
nor forgiveness. It is used exclusively for present and future stratagems rather than for
any purposeful reparations of the past. It’s continuity as a method of social control is
thereby assured; for if the Jews absolved the Romans and the Christians absolved the
Jews of their part in the execution of Jesus, or if, indeed, the Romans and the Jews were
allowed to expiate their alleged crimes against Christianity, then their could be no raison
d’etre for its continuity. Alternatively, if Jesus had been sentenced to ten years penal
servitude rather than to crucifixion, where then would the continual need for sacrifice and reparation be! What then would happen to the prospects of the new religious
Christian cult? What then needed to be celebrated? What then of the Christian agenda
for world conquest?
In executing a citizen, the Christian State purported to do so in a civilizing
manner and not by resorting, after the fashion of the non-Christian or Muslim states, to
the use of brutish or barbaric means; for the Christian State was always, according toits own lights, informed with a rationale that has made its punitive practices above
reproach. Although biblical in nature, the execution of a citizen rank-orders religions
inter se. It also confirms society’s internal power-elite in their primary legitimate
role as generators of social value. In this way it manages to institutionalize society’s
full and uncompromising acceptance of its various stratified powers.
In the sacrificial sense, there is nothing more instructive than a public hanging.
It puts religions, politics, people and things in their proper place: that is, it manifests
their true relation to each other according to their capacity to exercise power in this
world. In the absence of a social science, the reality of execution acts as a substitute
science of morals, a discovery of propriety and of correct social location within the
firmament of social power. Unfortunately, as we are only too painfully aware, when
the great religious powers come to share a common territory -- as when Roman
Catholic and English Protestant claim Ireland as their common heritage -- even
though they are inspired by the same Christian God, the great antagonism and resentment that exists between them comes to the surface. Whatever measures, therefore,
that are from time to time required to relieve us of these our most malignant social
evils, we devoutly embrace, more out of fear of social reprisal than out of love of
God. Besides miracles and religious relicts, what mostly kept these powerful bodies in
their fixed and acceptable orbits was honest executions, without the service of which
the political firmament would have been constantly in a state of bloodied chaos.
In Christian terms the combined execution of Joseph Taylor and Mary Daly was
the only acceptable solution that the murder of Mary Daly’s husband created. Even
though he protested his innocence to the murder, how would it seem if only Mary
Daly (a Catholic) was executed, while the young man who beat her husband senseless should go free? Or, alternatively, how would people have felt if Taylor (a Protestant) had been executed, but his older Catholic seducer was set free?
On Saturday January 10 1903 the The Kilkenny People, in hindsight, tried to
lay the whole tragedy to rest. It did this by completing the story and, at the same
time, interpreting the meaning of the murder :
‘On Wednesday morning last the closing scene in the miserable and sordid tragedy
known as the Clonbrock murder was enacted in Kilkenny gaol when Joseph Taylor paid the
dread penalty of the law for the awful crime of which he was adjudged guilty by a jury of
his fellow-countrymen -- the willful and cruel murder of John Daly, a small farmer residing
a Clonbrock, in the Queen’s County.
' To say that it was the closing scene is not strictly accurate, because on the morning when
Taylor expiated with his life the awful crime of which he was guilty, another miserable
creature, his accomplice in guilt - not merely in the guilt of murder but in the guilt which
preceded and gave rise to the murder -- lay awaiting her doom in a cell in Tullamore prison.
The crime for which Taylor was sentenced to death -- and the verdict of the jury in his case
was supported by commonsense and carried with the approval of the public -- belongs fortunately in a class which is so rare in Ireland as to be almost unparalleled. It was a crime
prompted by the vilest motives. it began with a wife’s guilt. It resulted in the cruel murder
of her husband, finally done to death while she stood by a passive and approving spectator;
it ended in that terrible and awe-inspiring procession from the prisons to the cell to the
scaffold in Kilkenny on Wednesday morning and in Tullamore on Friday morning.'
Both in the motive that inspired it and the methods by which it was carried out, it was, we
repeat, a crime almost unparalleled in this country. The motive was the satisfaction of a
woman’s lust; the methods were so absolutely brutal as to place the crime altogether out of
the category of the crimes that are recorded in the criminal annals of Ireland.'
To a people rehearsed in absolutes, such a rhetorical account was reassuring. It
is ever sufficient and adequate to palliate the most phlegmatic minds by informing
them of truths concerning which they are already aware. And if husband-murder was
not as unusual as the press believed, it was once popular enough to receive the name
of Petty Treason.
ii. The Grace Period
In sentencing the defendants Judge Kenny gave each of the accused a month to make
what he called ‘the prisoner’s peace with God.’ For all its brevity, the apportionment
of a month was a more seemly practice than that to which the eighteenth-century Defenders and Whiteboys were allowed. Since hanging statutorily followed some 24
hours after sentence, defendants would bellow from the dock: ‘Long Day, m’ Lord!’ Their last request of officialdom was for a few days within which they might organize
what was left of their lives. It was that final space where, free of all life’s continuing
concerns, they might talk to those to whom it was necessary for them to speak; to
impart some vital personal things and, maybe, petition the Lord Lieutenant for a reprieve. How the condemned spent their grace month is a matter of some curiosity.
What does a person do when they have been told that they are to die on such
and such a day?
One suspects that the shock is traumatic, that the mind recoils before the finality of things. The inner realization that life’s fretful course is abruptly confronted with
the certainty of lifelessness. The motive force which, since birth, had focused forward
is now instantly closed down, the inner window that looked outward becomes a necessary mirror, a one-way vista of one’s self, and the dialogue with self concerning
life’s ados becomes a monologue concentrated on one final happening. Is it not true,
that ordinary people live in the further expectation of life? Is it not the case, that we
all continually live in the expectation of further and continual expectations? Is it not
true that no one really expects to die? After the initial shock and still quivering from the violence of the sentence, one suspects that Joseph Taylor retired to shed from
his existence all excess baggage.
Perhaps this solitary journey into himself had already happened in Joseph Taylor’s case -- when he attempted suicide is his cell, that is, after the children had
given their renewed evidence against him and his lover. Even then, he was forbidden to take the life that the State had garnered for its own purposes.
Even so, there had to be some instant when Joseph Taylor saw with blinding clarity
what was important in his life and what was not, who was to be seen and who was
not, who it was that he needed to embrace and kiss away life’s last blossom. And, if
there were others left in a walking dead-man’s vista, then they were practically forgotten already. Perhaps, in that suicide-attempt Joseph Taylor had turned his back on
the world in its entirety. In keeping him alive, the Christian state was depriving him
even of his right to despair.
So, who was there to be seen?
There was Mary Daly, of course, his partner (and, perhaps, through her female wiles seducer and conspirator in crime); but....that affection was all gone.
Whatever Joseph Taylor might feel for Mary Daly, he could not on reflection have
anything to say to her. With such an end, only one meaningless clockwork logic survives and exceeds that of all others, chron-o-logic. Only a month remained! So, who
was it whose forgiveness Joseph Taylor most required? Who was it to whom he
needed most to say: ‘I love you’? Who was it to whom he needed to say ‘adieu,’‘fare-thee-well’? Who was it who had brought desultory laughter into life? Who was
it whose spirits were true? In the hour of certain death, little reflection upon these
matters is needed; for the spirits that have moved others coalesce in an instant; their
faces are felt instinctively. Above all others, these had to be seen, while those who
brought no laughter or who only brought wretchedness and depression
to the feast of life -- these were instantly left without in the shadows, where they cast
It was Christmas and Joseph Taylor, who had great difficulty in putting pen to
paper, wrote a letter to his mother (22nd). A week later, he made a statement (27th) to
the prison warders. He also informed them of his inner thoughts and reminiscences,
and the warders took notes. There was nothing as yet forthcoming from Mary Daly.
The letter to his mother was taken down by the Warders and, as we are
informed, at his dictation. The letter, in a tortuous hand and without a conscious
scintilla of humour (and in need of some grammatical corrections ) read:
I am writing you these few lines to tell you not to be fretting about me. Give everything I
have belonging to me to my brother Thomas.
Tell my brother and sister to come and see me this week. God knows I am not guilty and I
know that myself, and so I am not fretting. I have been continually praying to God to forgive
me my sins. The Clergy here are very good; they come to visit me every day. I got a letter
from my friend Mr. Moore of Three Castles. He was very sorry for me and wrote a very
consoling letter. He is to come see me some day as soon as he gets time.
Tell my brother William not to give up his trade on any account and to supply his customers
and not run away out of the country. I am very sorry for all the money you are after losing
on my trial. It will be well known and seen yet that there was wrong done on me.
I am in the very best of health thank God; so do not fret about me, wishing you all a very
merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Your loving son
Joseph (X mark) Taylor, initialed S.E.W
PS. Tell my brother William to get my knife from head constable Murphy.
Joseph (his x mark) Taylor, initialed
Witness S.G. Willis, warder
C.W. Castles, Cf. Warder.
Further, remarks regarding his innocence (H M S Kilkenny, 22.12.1903), were
made to Warder S.G. Willis three days before Christmas day. They more or less recited the evidence tendered on his behalf at his trial. He said:
“I suppose if I had been acquitted, I would have been brought forward to give evidence
against Mary Daly and if I had, she was sure to have been convicted; for on the night that
the murder was committed she asked me to go out along the road and meet him coming
home and murder him. When I refused to do this, she said: ` I will have revenge on him this
night, before I go to bed.` And if I had stood up in the dock and told all this to his Lordship
and the jury (although it was then gone so far), I am sure my case would have gone differently”.
And to W. Elliot, Warder he said:
“... On the 16th of June last when I was in Daly`s house Mary Daly asked me to meet Daly
that night coming home a couple of miles form the house at some lonely part of the road and
give him a blow in the cart and kill him.
I told her I would not --for I would not have the sin of it hanging over me, she then said I
will have revenge of him this night before I sleep. If I had stood up in the dock etc., I and
Daly were always the best of friends he was a good neighbor to us. Anything we ever
wanted of him he always gave it to us
If I wanted to kill him, it is not to his own house I would go to do it -- where his children
would be watchindrunk at night.”.
After Christmas, Joseph Taylor made another formal statement. (See also a
sample of his handwriting at page?)
27 December 1902
I beg to make a statement
I was at John Doyle’s house on the 16 of June at 4. His wife was there. She said to me
that her husband was drunk on Saturday night and put out her and 2 children. She said
she got him arrested. He was as bad on Sunday (and) put them out. So she it was said to
me: would I go meet (?) on the road that night, that I could hang, and kill him with a
blow. I said I would do no such thing. She said I was a mean (spelled and pronounced‘mane’) clown. I said I did not want to go to hell for to be hung. She said she would get
revenge of him herself to night. I said: How? She said she (would?) stay in the field till he
would go out with the mare -- that he would be surely drunk and she would be well able
for him with a good fork -- as there (is) behind the door. I never go away and leave him
(with) the two children because he would kill them. I said: ‘You will be hung.’ She said
how? Who would know? I went away then... about 6 -- straight up on the road till about
10 o` clock.... I went down to Crettyard store and it was short. I came on home. On my
road home I met James Brennan. I said ‘Good Night’ and said ‘what time is it?’. He said
it was 15 minutes after 10. I got a candle from my sister, where she was sleeping. I went
to bed with? my brother. I was taking a little that day.
iii. The Execution Day
In the court room we had already seen the ritual by which truth, justice and the capital sentence were arrived at; now we were to behold the sacrifice.
As there was order to be observed in their criminal trials, so, too, would there
be order in their respective punishments. The Christian church(es) and the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were agreed on two things: one was that execution by hanging was a suitable way to proceed and, secondly, that in matters
executionary, the proper principle was ‘males First, females last’. Accordingly, the
order of events was scheduled as follows:
Date of conviction of:
Joseph Taylor -- 8th of December. 1902, and of
Mary Daly -- 12th of December, 1902
Date of Execution of:
Joseph Taylor -- 6th of January 1903, and of
Mary Daly -- 9th of January 1903
Judge Kenny sentenced Joseph Taylor to be hanged on the 6th of January 1903.
In actual fact, however, this date had to be set aside to accommodate the ‘powers-that-be’ who felt compelled to have their inter power relationships agreed and con
firmed anew. The date allocated created an unforeseen problem – a problem which
nevertheless summoned from their subterranean slumbers the oldest forces of Christian hegemony in Ireland. In the Catholic calendar it was known as the Feast of the
Epiphany. Obviously Mr. Justice Kenny – himself a Catholic -- had forgotten the significance of this date to the religious mind and needed to be reminded. It was a mistake of sorts; but now that it was made, the true order of things would have to be
No sooner was the Taylor-trial over, than the news of the outcome broke in
Kilkenny. Alderman James Nowlan exhorted the Kilkenny Corporation to protest
against hanging Joseph Taylor on a Catholic holiday. No man should be hanged in
Kilkenny on the Feast of the Epiphany; the idea was somehow offensive to the
Catholic mind. Alderman Nowlan’s exhortations were met with shouts of ‘Hear,
Hear.’ Another member pointed out that the condemned man was a Protestant, not a
Catholic, and the sentence had no effect on Catholics. But no matter! What was said
was said, a hanging was a hanging, and it still fell on a Catholic holiday.
Whether Alderman Taylor had been prompted in his indignation or whether it
was a spontaneous response to the judge’s decision is not known. Before the press,
carrying his outrage hit the streets, the sentence had become an official faux-pas --
one that could not be allowed to pass unnoticed, or, more significantly, one that had to
be set right: and seen to be set right. By such tic-tac diligence did not the effeminate
Sylvester steal from Constantine overlordship of the Roman world! In this same tic-tac, tit-for-tat sense, it wasn’t so much the survival of the fittest institution that was at
stake, as much as the reassertion of the most fossilized. Primacy in the order of time
was more important within the Irish paradigm, than any on-going notion of anything
on-going. In a culture that had no evolution, a Darwinian prescription was not possible. And where competition, whether concerning concepts of God, history or the production of toothpaste, are forbidden, power and pride of place goes to the most superstitious, the most pious, the most punctilious, the most effeminate, and the most inauthentic.
While no one was to blame for the faux-pas, everyone in Hibernia would have
to be told about it; everyone had to be informed how offensive the date was to the
Catholic mind. To make such a protest was, by necessary inference, no more than
one’s Christian duty. In amending or -- more properly -- in correcting the Judge’s
sentence, the primacy of moral power was being acknowledged; the reason for the
correction was reserved to the Christian and democratic nature of the Hibernian State,
its origins, its existence, its ascent, its promise for the future and its raison d’être. In
its origins as in its propriety, capital punishment remained an intrinsic part of the
In every ritual where people gather, they attest to the attitudes that make them
uniquely what they as a group are, and every execution is precisely what the sacrifice
of the mass purports to be for Catholics – it is, first of all, the continuation of an event
that the governing forces will not allow to die or become faded or forgotten for fear
of losing their own privileges associated with such an event. It is also the assertion of
the sacred (i.e., the social feelings of the righteous mind to life) by the continuous
destruction of the profane (i.e., the social feelings of repulsion in the presence of
murder). Fortunately for modern man (and woman) that which was regarded as
sacred by one age (a religious age), also proves to be profane to another (a secular
age). Otherwise, like modern America, Japan and China, we should still be executing
people and calling it justice. The only difference between the barbarians and the
moderns is the notion of history, that sweet muse that more than any other puts a
critical mirror before our collective face, raises our consciousness about ourselves
and, accordingly, civilizes those who would be so.
Destruction by hanging is undignified and awful. It was designed to be so. It
affirms the very murder it purportedly found profane in its citizens (but excuses in its
collective self). By so doing it contradicts itself: a society that executes its individual citizens introduces itself and the remainder of its citizenry to the very profanity it
purports to condemn: in refusing to preserve as sacred the very life of the murderer,
it doesn’t just kill the killer, but rather extinguishes what was socially sacred in itself
(the Godhead). How can such an apparent contradiction be explained?
Peculiarly, it was not the first time that Protestant Ireland had forgotten its
Hiberno-Catholic origins, its Anglici extraction, or its debt to Papal treachery, no
more than it was the first time that a bishop checkmated a Judge and returned him
momentarily to the Royal stables with his tail between his legs. The transgression
upon the finer feelings of the earlier empire's universal sensibilities had to be redressed. In his letter to the Lord Lieutenant, therefore, (and another one to Judge
Kenny), the Bishop of Ossory reminded his correspondents that the City of Kilkenny,
like Augustine’s City of God, was `a very catholic place, the proportion of Catholics
to those of other denominations being ninety per cent.’ The Catholic Church, despite
it aversion to materialism, always knew that quantities, in sufficient doses, altered
qualities -- a managerial truth that preceded the insights of either Frederic Hegel or
Karl Marx. With a hint of sarcasm undetectable in holy men -- because of their proclivity, no doubt, to curtsy and effeminate at will -- the bishop broached and rallied
protestant practice to his cause, secure in the belief that whatever happened, the fallout would find him unassailably perched on the higher moral ground. He wrote:
"I believe the Feast of the Epiphany is marked as a Holy Day in the Book of Common Prayer and is very usually observed with a solemnity, second only to Christmas day, by members of the Protestant communion."
Ever since the Reformation Lords Spiritual and Temporal had been compelled
to make common cause in the House of Lords. It was a partial response to the unresolved struggle between the Church of Rome and every government it could intimidate into submission. The England that had listened to Wycliffe and learned from the
Puritans had not lost its marrow, nor was it likely to bend its secular knee to holy
Roman bullying. Nevertheless, conscious of one’s cultural environment, the Crown
thought little of baubles that appeased the transalpine proclivities of the Catholic
people of Kyteler-city.
At this juncture we might recall the fourteenth century circumstances of
Thomas Beckett, following which no English bishop would with impunity dare tell
a high court judge what to do -- and even less so in Post-Reformation England! In
Ireland, however, things were invariably and genetically perverse: although not as
perverse, perhaps, as under the latter day Free State or, worse, the Republic, when
judges, ministers and even Presidents readily submitted lest they be bought and bro-ken in an instance on the episcopal wheel. By then, it would be argued,of course, that
all was homogeneously Catholic and that the Irish -- the lack-lustre ‘middle nation’ --
deserved every blessed bishop that descended upon them.
Be that as it may, the plain intelligence of the bishop’s letter indicated that in
1903 Protestant Ireland was no longer Protestant Ireland, but was being successfully
subverted by a new Catholic swell, and that perhaps was why the bishop of Ossory
One way or another, religious tensions had to be reconciled -- otherwise, no
one would get hanged! Between the de facto jurisdiction of the British and the de juro jurisdiction of the Catholics in waiting, lay the business of propaganda. It was important, therefore, to remind the people who was who. The crux of the matter was that
the feast of the Epiphany had to be as observed as had the execution of the Protestant,
Joseph Taylor, and while the feast of the Epiphany had to take precedence -- because
it was fixed of old -- the day selected for the execution, however ‘singularly unsuitable’, was nevertheless changeable. In his anxiety to have it changed, the bishop conjured up the following picture:
“ At the very time that the bells of our Churches here will be summoning our people to
divine worship, the bell of the prison will be sounding also to tell of the gruesome work
about to be carried out within the walls of the prison, and the black flag will be displayed
immediately after the execution.”
Obviously the day of execution had to be changed, and now that the Protestant
bishop of Ossory and Judge Kenny had joined in the chorus, it wasn’t long before the
Under Secretary took up the tune and echoed the good news from the Vice Regal
Lodge. Joseph Taylor’s sentence was reprieved by one day, and his execution was reset for January 7.
Even this indelicate manipulation of death was not without precedence. And
already the bishop had included it in his letter. ‘By a very curious coincidence,’ he
wrote, ‘the very same mistake was made about four years ago by Mr. Justice Madden
who fixed an execution for the very same day that year.’ It was sufficient to mention
the event but it would have been indelicate to name names, recall past executions, or
reopen old wounds. In any event, it was perfectly sufficient to mention the matter as
an item of administrative detail -- a detail concerning a corrected matter whose repetition could not now be undone! (The reference was to the convict Patrick Holmes,
who had been sentenced to be executed in Kilkenny Prison on the 6th of January
1899. At the time, Holmes had his execution respited for one day by Lord Cadogan.)
And now that things had been put into their proper if medieval perspective, the
State was free to get on with the business of hanging murderers, male and female.
The Church could celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass without the interruption of death
bells reminding the faithful of the `gruesome` fate that attended mere mortals. On
Wednesday, January 7, 1903, the Catholics of Kilkenny were free to pray their
hearts out for whatever it was that needed their prayers.
Meanwhile, according to the Kilkenny People,
The scene outside the gaol on Wednesday morning certainly suggested some unwonted
occurrence inside, yet, though the crowd numbered a couple of hundred, it was largely
composed of small boys, with a sprinkling of small girls, and some big girls too, and a lot
of policemen and Pressmen. Shortly after seven o’clock the principal officials concerned in
the dread function entered the jail, including the Sheriff. Dr. James, and Rev Dean Lyons
and Rev Mr. Dowman. The Dean and Rev Mr Dowman at once repaired to the cell of the doomed man who was aroused at six o’clock and partook of a very light breakfast, and
remained with him in earnest prayer until the terrible announcement was made that the time
had arrived when he should prepare to meet his maker. Then the awful preliminaries were
arranged, the funeral procession, as it might be called -- the unfortunate man’s arms being
first pinioned by the executioner -- consisting of the Rev Mr Dowman, who read the prayers
for the dying as prescribed by the Protestant Ritual, and walked by the side of the doomed
man, followed by the /governor of the jail, Dr. James and the warders. It was but a short
distance to the scaffold, and taking his place on the fatal trap, the condemned man’s legs
were bound,the cap drawn over his face, the noose adjusted, the lever was pulled -- and
Joseph Taylor was launched into Eternity. A subsequent examination of the body showed
that death was practically instantaneous and painless, the features wearing a calm and placid
appearance, and there being nothing to indicate the manner of his death except the sinister
blue mark on the neck. A drop of six feet was allowed.
The prison bell was then tolled, and outside the jail the crowd gradually melted away.
iv. The Inquest
(As described in the The Kilkenny People, Saturday, January 10, 1903)
Dr Denis Walshe, Coroner, for South Kilkenny, held an inquest on the remains at the
prison at 12 o’clock noon. The following jury was sworn -
Mr John Willoughby (foreman),
Messrs Philip Stone,
James F. Hackett,
J. Slator, and
J. Wm. Tallis.
Mr R. J. Harrison, D.L.R.I.C. conducted the examination of the witnesses.
The jury having viewed the body, (assembled).
Mr Richard Bull, sub-sheriff of the Queen’s county, was sworn and deposed that he
produced the warrant of execution and the Lord Lieutenant’s respite of one day from the 6th
to the 7th January. the execution of Joseph Taylor was carried out at 8’o clock that morning,
according to law, in Kilkenny prison.
Dr C E James was the next witness sworn. He deposed he was the surgeon to Kilkenny
prisons. He was preset at the execution of Joseph Taylor that morning. He had examined
the body which had just been viewed by the jury. In his opinion the cause of death was
dislocation of the neck by hanging.
Samuel McArthur, Governor, Kilkenny Prison, deposed that the body just viewed by the
jury was the body of Joseph Taylor. he was a prisoner under sentence of death in Kilkenny
Prison. He was sentenced to death at the Leinster Winter Assizes at Maryborough, on the
8th December 1902. he was a single man and 26-and-a-half years of age. He followed the
occupation of labourer. he was executed within the precincts of the prison that morning at
8 o’clock am. He was under sentence of death for murder.
Mr Gardicere (juror) - Would it be necessary to say by whom he was executed?
Coroner (to witness) -- Who was the executioner?
Witness -- William Billington.
Mr Harrison, D I -- That is all the evidence
Coroner -- I suppose that is all the evidence you require, gentlemen. This is a mere matter of
form, and of course there is no use in taking up your time with any further evidence. The
only verdict, of course, you can return in a case of this kind is a verdict in accordance with
the medical evidence, that is, that he died from dislocation of the neck caused by hanging, in
the due execution of the law,and in the carrying out of a sentence of death passed on him at
the Leinster Winter Assizes at Maryborough.
The jury concurred, and the coroner thanked them for their attendance, after which they