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Kilmainham Gaol, like most major prisons of its time, was a place of execution as well as punishment. 

From the start, there was a gallows above the main entrance of the Gaol, and thousands of people would make the five mile trip from the city centre to see some unfortunate wretch 'turned off'.  

No image exists today of the gallows above Kilmainham Gaol's entrance. However, it was, apparently, so well designed that an almost copy was installed in Newgate Prison in the city centre two years later, in 1798.

This was later photographed after Newgate was abandoned and the above illustration is a composite of that gallows and Kilmainham Gaol entrance as it is today.

As Kilmainham was so far outside Dublin city centre, most onlookers would go to other prisons, e.g. Newgate, or execution sites, e.g. St. Stephen's Green - easier to reach and probably with better entertainment facilities (pubs, restaurants etc).

Gallows' Hill:
Kilmainham Gaol is built on Gallows Hill, an execution site in the 18th century on the main road to the west of Ireland from Dublin City.

This site was moved in the 18th century to st. Stephen's Green on the then southern outskirts of the city.

But, when Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1976, hangings returned to Gallows' Hill.

It is said that up to five thousand people would make the trip to Kilmainham Gaol for a particularly notorious or famous person's hanging until public executions were eventually banned in 1868.

Alcohol was sold, and toffee apples, and hot cakes by hawkers, pickpockets plied their trade and, frequently, the army and cavalry were present to control the crowds.

Small children mingled with adults, family members and friends tried to remain incognito in the crowd, and reporters would be on hand to record the event and, especially, any last words the condemned may utter and which could be later published.

Once the actual execution had taken place, these reporters would hasten back to their offices in the city, usually on horseback or by coach. There, the last words of the condemned would be added to a report of the crime and trial already prepared and a broadsheet quickly printed up for sale to the crowd as it made its way back to the city via the many pubs along the route.

Last Public Execution:
The last public execution in Kilmainham Gaol took place on July 22, 1865, when Patrick Kilkenny was hanged for the murder of Margaret Waugh.

Private Hangings:
All later executions took place within the walls of the Gaol - at first in a yard of the prison (now known as the Invincibles Yard, for that is where the Invincibles were hanged in 1883 - and later moved into the building itself in the 1890s into a a new, purpose-built execution chamber known as the 'Drop Cell' today.

Last Hanging:
The last ever hanging in Kilmainham Gaol was on January 4th, 1910, when Joseph Heffernan was executed for the brutal murder of Mary Walker, a post office clerk in Mullingar, the previous year.

Like many executions a question hangs over the justice of this one, with a strong circumstantial argument being made that Joseph was innocent of the crime, being nothing more than a useful scapegoat.

180 Hangings:
 In all, there were about 180 hangings in Kilmainham Gaol from the day it opened in 1796 until its closure in 1910.

Famous Executions:
There were several notable figures hanged there, among them Robert Emmet and the aforementioned Irish National Invincibles, but most were for petty crimes, people who are now long forgotten. 

Kilmainham opened during the period of what was known as the 'Bloody Code' when - in Britain and Ireland - there were over 200 hanging offences, mostly ridiculously petty crimes against property.

and beheaded because the hangman, Thomas Galvin, did not know how to carry out the full sentence, it being the only such sentence passed during his professional life. (In fact, it was the last such sentence passed in Ireland).

Firing Squads:
When the Gaol re-opened in 1914, it was no longer a civilian prison but an army barracks and prison.

Therefore, all executions that now took place there were military, and that, of course, meant firing squads. 

A further eighteen men were to be executed thus until the prison's final closure in 1924.

(Above) The most famous Kilmainham execution not to take place in the prison. Robert Emmet was hanged by Thomas Galvin in Thomas Street, Dublin, before a crowd some estimate at 40,000. 

Female Executions: 
Out of these 180, only three were of women, for there was a reluctance to execute the 'fair sex'. Edward Trevor, the evil medical inspector of Kilmainhmam Gaol, alluded to this rarity and the public horror at a female execution when he screamed at Anne Devlin "I've only ever seen one woman hanged, but if I see another, I hope it is you"!

On February 22, 1802, Rose Kelly was executed in the same place for the abduction and murder of Mary Anne Murphy, a five-year-old girl.

The 'two Bridgets' - Butterly and Ennis - were hanged in public above the entrance on May 4th, 1821, for robbery and murder.

Women were, of course, frequently sentenced to death but their sentences were usually commuted - frequently to transportation, usually to Australia.

Other Kilmainham Gaol Execution Sites: 
But, while all executions up to 1868 were in public - ostensibly as a warning to the public of the consequences of crime - not all took place  above the door of the Gaol - several hangings were carried out away from the prison, in places such as Palmerstown, Tallaght and Sandyford for example. Some even took place in other prisons - Joe Poole in the Richmond Marshalsea (now Griffith College) and the Joyces - convicted of the Maamtrasna murders - in Galway Prison to name but a couple.

Perhaps the most famous execution away from the Gaol was that of Robert Emmet in 1803, when he was hanged and beheaded in front of St. Catherine's Church in Thomas Street. Although officially sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for High Treason (he had, attempted to 'change the King's mind' by leading a rebellion against him - the highest crime imaginable), Robert was 'only' hanged 

The shooting of 14 men in the grim Stonebreakers' Yard of Kilmainham Gaol in the aftermath of the abortive Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 were to change world history, and ultimately granted the Gaol the honourable status of National Monument.

Final Executions: 
The last every executions to occur in Kilmainham were during the Irish Civil war when four men - Peter Cassidy, James Fisher, John Gaffney and Richard Twohig - were shot by a Free State firing squad during our Civil War.

Kilmainham Executions in Song and Poem: 
Like all prisons, the Gaol has gone entered popular lore, with songs and ballads recording some of the events which occurred there.

Among the most famous is "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched" writtenby Will (Hurlfoot) Maher, a shoemaker from Waterford. There is also "The Kilmainham Minuette", "Stoney Pocket's Auction" and "The lamentation of Patrick Kilkenny who is sentenced to die on the 20th of July 1865 for the murder of his sweetheart Margret Farquhar" many others.

The Executioners: 

At first, Kilmainham Gaol had its own hangman - Thomas Galvin - who was hangman for Dublin City and County from 1787 until 1831. He was followed by John Foy, and then, it appears, the English hangmen such as Berry, Marwood and Pierrepoint took over. 

(Above) According to the London Illustrated News, this is the gallows that was used in the yards of Kilmainham after the abolition of public executions in 1868. It was here that the Invincibles were allegedly hanged in 1883. However, physical remains and signs in the yard suggest that this is not what the gallows looked like.

 After the 1916 Easter Rising, 97 men and women were tried by Court Martial and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Between 3 and 12 May 1916, 14 men were shot to death, and it was these executions that helped turn a failed rebellion into an inspiration for those who followed, paving the way for the setting up of the Irish Republic.

Joe Connell tells the stories of these executions here.

Civil War Executions in Kilmainham Gaol
Joe Connell Tells the stories of these executions here

Executions in Kilmainham Tales:

Read about the last resting places of the 1916 Easter Rising executed in 
Arbour Hill Cemetery by Paul O'Brien.

Forthcoming titles will include at least two more books on executions - one on the hangmen and the other on a selection of those hanged. Watch for these titles:

"Paid to Kill"
by Kevin Murphy
and
"Kilmainham Hanged"
by Mícheál Ó Doibhilín

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