Seamus Breathnach’s examines Irish society through its norm-creating as well as its norm-breaking agencies. These include the Church controls of Ireland’s State -- its Schools, Law, Police, Courts, Prisons, Media and much more...


10.) Capital Punishment

    10.)  Capital Punishment
    10a.) Bk. 8: Last of the Betagii
    10b.) Bk. 10: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland


Volume 1: The Evil That Men Do

    10c.) Bk.11: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland

Volume 2: The Nineteenth Century Female Calendar

    10d.) Bk. 12: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland

Volume 3: Petty Traitors

    10e.) Bk. 13: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland

Volume 4: Infanticide Or The Mercy Miracle

    10f.) Bk. 9: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland

The Penology of Samuel Haughton
(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" - By Seamus Breathnach.

Last Of The Betagii
By Seamus Breathnach.

Other Works by the Author:

Emile Durkheim On Crime And Punishment

(An Exegesis), 2002

The Riddle Of The Caswell Mutiny 2003

Crime And Punishment in Twentieth Century Ireland
Vol 2: A Description Of The Criminal Justice System (CJS)
(1950-80) - 2003


Dedication i
Introduction vi

CHAPTER 1: Parish and Townland 1

CHAPTER 2: Dramatis Personae 13

CHAPTER 3: The Taylor Trial -- One 23

CHAPTER 4: The Taylor Trial -- Two 35

CHAPTER 5: The Trial of Mary Daly 47

CHAPTER 6: Death of a Protestant 62
i. The Theory of Execution
ii. The Grace Period
iii. The Execution Day
iv. The Inquest

CHAPTER 7: Petitions 75
i. Petitions
ii. The Press as Church-State Reconciler
iii. Petty Traitors
iv. Co-Defendants

CHAPTER 8: Death of a Betagii 89

CHAPTER 9: Nymphomania In Clonbrock 106

CHAPTER 11: Aftermath 115

References 130
Index 135

Sketch used By Judge Kenny During Taylor/Daly Trials

Chapter 6:

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.

Respectfully yours,

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 no reflection.

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:

Dear Mother,

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

I remain

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?)

“Kilkenny Jail
27 December 1902

Joseph Taylor

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 clarified.

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 Christian definition.

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 was crowing.

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,
John Morrisssey,
John Robinson,
James F. Hackett,
Thomas Cole,
John Flood,
Patrick Ryan,
Thomas Dwyer,
Wm. Brennan,
Henry Stone,
James Gregg,
John Gardiner,
R.G. Callinan,
Andrew Griffith,
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 were discharged.

Mary Daly Letter


The Carlow Sentinel

Supplement to The Kikenny Moderator & Leinster Advertiser

Extract from the Medical Officer's journal

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