AN ENGLISH hangman gave the cash-strapped Irish government (the Irish Government was established in 1922 when the British withdrew from 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland) a dig out by slashing his fee for a rare double execution in 1925, according to a newly revealed document.
Thomas Pierrepoint regularly travelled to Ireland from his home in Yorkshire to hang murderers sentenced to death here because the newly established Irish Free State was unable or unwilling to hire a local hangman and continued to use the services of British executioners.
Pierrepoint’s standard fee for a hanging was £10. But, in August 1925, he travelled to Mountjoy Prison for a rare double execution – of Annie Walsh (31) and her nephew Michael Talbot (24).
However, instead of charging total fees of £20, he charged just £5 for the second victim in a case of “buy one hanging, get the second for half price”. The pair had been convicted of the murder with an axe of Walsh’s much older husband, Edward Walsh (61), a farm labourer in Carnane, Co Limerick.
Pierrepoint’s subsequent expenses claim is possibly the most macabre ever submitted to the Department of Finance. The letter, which will be auctioned by rare book auctioneers Mealy’s in March, is handwritten in spidery black ink.
Writing from his home near Bradford, he requested reimbursement of fees and travel expenses for himself and an unnamed “assistant” – understood to be his nephew Albert Pierrepoint, who was later appointed hangman.
Although both men were “family”, pre-war English class rules were followed to the letter and the uncle travelled first class “by rail and saloon” while Albert was bunged into third class.
Penny-pinching civil servants would doubtless have been relieved by the modest expenses claim. By tradition, the hangman and his assistant slept overnight in Mountjoy Jail – where they tested the gallows equipment to ensure it was functioning smoothly – and thereby avoided Dublin hotel bills. “Refreshments” for each man amounted to only “10 shillings” as hangmen were discouraged from drinking alcohol the night before a job.
Auctioneer George F Mealy said the letter might appeal to collectors and was “interesting as a curiosity and a historical manuscript”. He has estimated its value at €600 to €800.
Between November 1923 and April 1954, there were a total of 35 hangings in Dublin. Walsh was the only woman hanged; the British administration in Ireland had reprieved all six females sentenced to death in the 17 years prior to independence.
Most 20th-century executions in Ireland – and Britain – were carried out by one or other of three members of the well-known Pierrepoint family: Thomas, his brother Henry and nephew Albert whose names were known and dreaded throughout the two countries.
Thomas Pierrepoint, a rather secretive figure, died aged 83 in February 1954. Just two months later, Albert Pierrepoint carried out the last hanging in the State – of Michael Manning (25) from Co Limerick.
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