Sixty years since Dublin’s last hanging
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‘In the aftermath of the execution Albert Pierrepoint (above) is reputed to have observed that: “I love hanging Irishmen. They always go quietly and without trouble. They’re Christian men and they believe they’re going to a better place”.’ Photograph: Ian Tyas/Getty Images
Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of a gruesome but important event in Irish history, namely the final occasion that an English hangman came to Dublin to work the gallows at Mountjoy prison.
The last man in Ireland to feel Albert Pierrepoint place a noose around his neck was Michael Manning, a 25-year-old carter from Limerick. Manning had ambushed and suffocated Catherine Cooper, a nurse 40 years his senior. This was a brutal crime involving a vulnerable victim who had been badly beaten and sexually assaulted.
By Manning’s own account he was making his way home after a day’s drinking when he saw a woman he did not recognise walking alone. As he put it afterwards, “I suddenly lost my head and jumped on the woman and remember no more until the lights of a car shone on me.” Manning took flight at this point but was arrested within hours.
He apologised for what he had done and blamed his appalling conduct on the effects of the large quantity of alcohol he had consumed. He also argued that while guilty, he was insane. The jury was not persuaded and convicted him of murder. In accordance with the law the judge imposed the death penalty.
Manning wrote to the minister for justice from his prison cell seeking mercy but his entreaties were to no avail. Similarly, a petition for clemency signed by members of the Cooper family failed to deflect justice from its dismal course.
Adding to the poignancy of the occasion, Manning’s 22-year-old wife was heavily pregnant with their first child. She wrote to the governor of the prison the week after her husband’s execution to thank him and his staff for their kindness, and to request a death certificate so she could claim her widow’s pension.
It appears that Manning bore his sentence well, passing his time smoking
cigarettes and reading the Irish Independent . On the morning of his execution he attended Mass. The prison’s Catholic chaplains reported that he faced death with “fortitude and resignation”.
Just before 8am on April 20th, 1954, Pierrepoint and his assistant entered the condemned man’s cell and pinioned his wrists. Together they made the short journey to the hang house. Upon arrival Manning was positioned on the heavy oak trap doors. His legs were strapped, a linen cap was pulled over his head and the rope, made of Italian hemp, was fixed in place.
The officials stood aside, the trap doors were thrown open, and Manning fell to his death. Pierrepoint prided himself on his skill calculating the drop required to break a prisoner’s neck swiftly. This calculation related the length of the rope to the prisoner’s weight and physical condition. Having carried out several hundred hangings Pierrepoint had unrivalled expertise in this area. For Manning, death was instantaneous.