An Irish writer has written a book examining the history of Ireland’s justice system and its relationship with the death penalty.
Sentenced To Death Saved From the Gallows was written by Galway-born author Colm Wallace and explores the history of the death penalty in Ireland.
Here is the foreword for the book, written by the author:
Ireland has had a bitter history of capital punishment. Long before we became a nation, the British had used the death penalty to quell the dissent of the Irish population. Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and Robert Emmet are among those Irish heroes who were hanged, shot or beheaded by the British Government. It is not therefore surprising that the Irish had planned to abolish the hangman, the original draft of the constitution even prohibiting the death penalty. However the bloody and divisive Civil War soon changed minds. Many Irish citizens still viewed the punishment with distaste, nevertheless, and an Irish hangman was never used. A succession of English hangmen, most notably the Pierrepoints, were employed to perform the grim task, and were often met off the boat by large jeering crowds.
Between 1922 and 1990, a huge number of people convicted of murder had the death sentence imposed on them by the Irish State. The motivations for the murders varied from lust to greed, jealousy to hatred. The result of each case however, was the same. All of the protagonists were found guilty, given a date of execution and banished to a condemned cell in Mountjoy prison. A number of the unfortunate individuals met their fate at the end of the rope. The majority, however, had their sentences commuted, many just hours before they were due to be hanged. This book examines the stories behind thirty of these reprieved murderers.
In the book, Wallace examines the Irish mentality and conscience regarding capital punishment. As he points out, so many of the country’s leading figures had their lives ended early after being sentenced to death for their actions, many driven by the desire for Ireland to achieve independence.
Perhaps the executions of these nationalists throughout history gave Irish people a moral stance that made them unable to accept the death penalty in any circumstances.
However, on the other hand, the Civil War saw Free State officials sentence their former comrades to death following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths. As the newly formed Free State government tried to establish their control of Ireland, they had dozens of members of the anti-treaty IRA executed.
Those executed by the Free State included Rory O’Connor. His execution order was signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins wedding less than a year earlier.
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You can read a brief summary of some of the stories written by Colm Wallace here.