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RE: Hangings in Castlebar

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Posted by Murrisk on October 29, 2003 at 05:40:39:

In Reply to: Re: Hangings posted by Eskimo Nell on October 23, 2003 at 14:20:35:

The Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, the penal laws were enacted in the period 1695-1709 and in 1720 the right of the Westminster parliament to legislate for Ireland was formally declared. The penal laws were laws of prevention and restriction – Catholics could not enter parliament etc. Nonetheless, certain Catholic families like Daniel O’Connell’s survived and prospered. Separate from the penal laws were the laws against property legislated by Westminster (and Dublin). These laws applied to all inhabitants of the “British Isles” and were very broad and included hanging for sheep stealing. One such law passed in 1723 prescribed hanging for over two hundred possible offenses.
The technique of hanging changed very little over the years, to begin with the victim and the executioner climbed a ladder placed against the gibbet, the noose was put round the condemned man's neck and he was pushed from the ladder. The skill of the hangman was in estimating his victim's weight and combining it with the right amount of slack rope. Too short a drop led to slow strangulation; too long a drop changed the hanging to decapitation. George Robert Fitzgerald (‘Fighting Fitzgerald’) of Turlough was hanged in Castlebar on 11 June 1786 on the orders of the County Sheriff, Denis Browne (“Soap the Rope”) on a charge of murdering his coachman. The rope broke twice and he was hanged on the third attempt. (His mother joined the Methodists, then a branch of the Anglicans, and her character was described as 'marked by great meekness and humility, joined with a quiet firmness which enabled her to abide faithfully by the principles she once embraced'. At the age of ninety, she was burned to death when her clothes caught fire accidentally).
A Scot writing in Inverness about 1725 described a hanging as follows:- “The murderer had been imprisoned for the statutory forty days. He was fitted with irons and marched with two ministers in attendance for about a mile through the town. At the gallows it was found that he could not climb the ladder with his hands pinioned behind his back. A smith had to be sent for to release him. The executioner was an eighty-year-old man whose agility on the ladder left much to be desired. There were so many delays that the victim eventually jumped unaided to his death.” In later times a scaffold with a trapdoor was built under the gibbet to make the process easier.
London’s famous hanging site was at Tyburn gallows, now the site of Marble Arch. The condemned were brought from Newgate prison where the parish church was appropriately called St. Sepulchre’s.
In most cases the body was recovered by relative and was decently buried but sometimes it was sentenced to hang in chains, as a public warning to terrify people away from crime. This is why most gallow’s hills are in prominent positions near crossroads.
The County Gaol in Hereford was equipped with a flat roof above the entrance which was used for public hangings, so that they were a public display of justice. This area was first used in August 1796 when a John Philips was executed after being convicted of stealing 21 sheep. After the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868 all hangings were carried out behind the closed prison doors.
In the 1700’s and early 1800’s, Castlebar had a market on Saturdays, and fairs were held on May 11th, July 9th, September 16th, and November 18th. The old fairground was on the hill behind the old St. Gerald’s secondary school, between Chapel Street, the Pound Road and Gallow’s Hill road. Hangings were carried out on this area of high land which overlooked the town, probably on fair or market day’s when this mass spectacle had its greatest deterrent value.
So beware, some night when the cold winds blow you might hear the creak of a weighted rope or the clank of hung chains, or maybe smell the odor of decomposition on the Gallow’s Hill. Samhain is coming and this could be as ghostly as it gets.

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