Harry Warren takes a stroll around some of the capital’s more grisly locations.


Walking along a poorly illuminated and deserted Hammond Lane in Dublin late at night, a shiver ran down my spine. One of those odd feelings as if being watched, I turned around to glance behind me to reassure myself that I was on my own. Then I remembered Hammond Lane was originally named ‘Hangman’s Lane’. Knowing its history is enough to give anyone the shivers!

It was a medieval route that the condemned walked along on their way to ‘Gibbet’s Mead’ and eternity. ‘Gibbet’ was a 13th century name for the gallows and ‘mead’ was a field, located in an area around Smithfield Square, then known as Oxmantown Green. Executions were frequent in those days and over the years hundreds walked or were carted to their doom along this route.

Over the centuries Dublin had many sites where public executions took place and here are just a few of them.
During the 18th century the majority of Dublin’s public executions were in the area of St. Stephen’s Green Park. Ever sit in the shade of a tree in the Green enjoying the summer sunshine? Be mindful of what tree you are under as you could be beneath a branch of a tree where an executed body dangled above you.

On the day of execution, the condemned would be paraded to the Gallows Tree on a horse and cart, accompanied by family and friends. While the condemned were still in the carriage, the rope from the Gallows Tree would be noosed tight around their neck. The cart would be moved on while the condemned would hang, dangling, suffering an excruciating and lengthy death from strangulation.

The last hanging in Stephen’s Green was of Patrick Dougherty in January 1782, for the robbery of Thomas Moran. Dougherty, assisted by his partner-in-crime George Coffey, had mugged Moran and stolen his watch, a seal, a key, a pen-knife, and a pair of silver shoe buckles. The stolen goods were worth £15 and Dougherty, found guilty, swung for the theft.

Not only did the condemned suffer capital punishment, their executed remains often ended up in the hands of the anatomists in the Royal College of Surgeons, or other Dublin medical schools, for public dissection.
Very often the corpse of a murderer was followed to the College gates by his weeping relatives or by a howling mob. A small portion of the anatomical theatre was set apart for persons who might desire to witness the dissections of malefactors bodies.

The good anatomy professors loudly bemoaned that they were restricted to only six corpses a year of convicted murderers who were hanged for their crimes. Needless to say, there was also a lucrative trade in body snatching – but that story is for another time.

The area around Stephen’s Green began to be developed for some of the grandest private residences in the city. As a result, public executions were relocated to the now demolished Newgate prison on Little Green now the present-day St. Michan’s Park near Smithfield.

Another concurrent location was Gallows Hill in what was then Kilmainham commons. Before Kilmainham Gaol was built on the site of Gallows Hill, the last hanging carried out there was on the double, two brothers named Connolly received the death sentence for the stealing of a cow and were duly hanged.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own