Through a chance conversation with his father, David Kelly managed to unearth the amazing story of four murderous pirates who were apprehended and executed after they scuttled their ship off the coast of Wexford

One of the truly great pleasures in my life was to walk down the pier in Dun Laoghaire with my late father on a hot summer’s day. In the heat of a remembered childhood summer, he would be wearing a heavy three-piece tweed suit, a pressed shirt and a perfectly tied, silk bow-tie.

“It’s exactly a mile down and back…” he would say, with the pride of a man who smoked innumerable cigarettes every day. About half way down, the pier veers to the left as you pass a plaque erected to the memory of the writer Samuel Beckett, who was born and lived nearby.

The inscription from his play, Krapp’s Last Tape reads: “ … great granite rocks the foam flying up in the light of the lighthouse and the wind-gauge spinning like a propeller, clear to me at last…”
Having saluted the plaque, Dad would point out to the island that had now come into view from behind the headland. “Ah, that’s where they used to hang the pirates…” he would say, mimicking his own father, before moving on to continue his purposeful walk.

When my lovely Dad passed away in 2012, I decided for some unearthly reason to find out if they really did hang pirates out there. What a tale I uncovered…

It is an unseasonably cold March morning in 1766 and patches of wet snow are still evident on the ground as four men stand shivering in a field just south of St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Barefoot and shackled together, they stare up at the rough gallows and the ladder that they will soon be forced to ascend.

A preacher is mumbling prayers but his efforts are pointless, being totally drowned out by the noise and excited jeers of the swollen crowd.


The youngest, frozen in terror, has just lost control of his bladder. They will be executed today, one at a time, forced to watch the slow death of their former co-conspirators as they ‘dance the Devil’s jig’.

Their story, notorious at the time, has ensured that the crowd is huge today. This is a grand day out. Vendors are fast selling out of the newly-printed account of the crimes, detailing every salacious tidbit including the obligatory ‘true’ confessions of the condemned. There too, to watch the spectacle are school children, dutifully accompanied by their teachers, a protracted execution being considered a great way to demonstrate the ‘wages of sin’ to an impressionable young mind.

‘Souvenir hunters’ position themselves directly under the rudimentary platform, ready to take whatever ‘relics’ they can get their hands on when the grisly proceedings are over, ‘Green relics’ being considered the most powerful.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own