A broken engagement and murderous revenge on Eyre Square
When Alice Burns returned her engagement ring to Thomas Parry in the post in 1884, he boarded a train to Galway
The Royal Hotel in Eyre Square, Galway, circa 1936. Photograph: Kennys Bookshop Galway
On a Monday evening in late July, Thomas Parry boarded a train to Galway. Arriving shortly before midnight, he checked into the Imperial Hotel on Eyre Square, ordering supper alongside two and a half glasses of whiskey.
He tipped the waiter and bought more drinks - two bottles of porter. At some point in the night, he penned a letter to his father before going to bed.
At 6am, he called for another whiskey, and another two hours later. He left the hotel shortly after without taking breakfast and with a loaded revolver concealed in his pocket.
For about eight months leading up to July 29th, 1884, Parry had been engaged to a young woman named Alice Burns. Ms Burns’s stepfather, Mr Mack, ran Mack’s Royal Hotel at the time; a popular Eyre Square accommodation which stood on the site that is now Supermac’s flagship store.
She had recently been visiting family in Galway city while Parry continued to work in his native Edenderry.
In the days before he boarded the train, Parry unexpectedly received his fiancée’s engagement ring in the post, along with a letter which Ms Burns intended to be their final correspondence.
According to a report in The Irish Times, while she was in Galway, “she accepted the offer of another respectable young man, and forthwith communicated with Parry, who was then residing at Edenderry, returning him the engagement ring which he had purchased for her, and informing him that that letter was to end all communication between them”.
Parry did not respond to the letter, instead promptly travelling west. He selected the Imperial for a reason - it was next-door to the Royal.
Having visited the family hotel earlier that month himself, he was familiar with Alice’s routine. He knew she would go to Salthill for a swim with her sister and niece each morning, returning at about 8am for breakfast.
Mr Mack would then typically set out for a swim at about 9am. We know from a report in The Irish Times on December 12th, 1884, that Mr Mack didn’t care for Parry: “Whether it was that Mr Mack considered that Parry had not had sufficient means to marry, or that he anticipated a better marriage for Miss Burns, he disapproved of her marriage with Parry.”
‘Sorry to intrude’
With the knowledge that Alice would be back at the Royal, Parry left his hotel and walked next-door. After speaking to a servant, he made his way to the dining area, where - as planned - he found Ms Burns.
“When he entered the room he said he was sorry to intrude,” reads the report. “He shook hands with Miss Burns and with her sister and niece. He asked Alice why she had thrown him over.
“The witnesses who would be examined could not say what was her reply. He said ‘We will see,’ and as soon as he had said that he drew back about a yard, drew a revolver out of his pocket and fired at the back of Alice, who was sitting at the table.”
Alice screamed and ran to the door. Parry followed and shot her again in the back. After she fell, he discharged twice more, and “one of those four pellets passed through her heart and killed her on the moment.”
Alice was carried into another room, but was already dead. In the aftermath, Parry turned the revolver on himself, but the bullet only grazed his left flank.
He walked out of the hotel and down the steps to the street, where a man named O’Halloran, employed at the saddlery next door, snatched the revolver from his hand. He and another passerby named Donnellan held Parry down until the police arrived.
I will be sure no other fellow will have the chance of having her when she does not want me
Thomas F Brady - then the Irish inspector of fisheries - was at the scene, too. “You ruffian, you have killed this woman, she is dead,” he said to Parry.
“I am damned glad of it: I came to do it,” was his reply.
His trial the following December, as reported on the 12th in The Irish Times, heard Parry remained unrepentant in the police barrack a short time after the shooting, saying: “I have come 112 miles to do it. I have shot her. I would not let any girl play on me. She was engaged to me for some months. She returned my letters and my engagement ring.”
In court, Parry pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, supposed evidence of which included a “hereditary madness” in his family; the defence pointed to a cousin of his in an asylum and an “imbecile” uncle on his mother’s side.
His father, too, was used to illustrate familial mental illness. Though his father had never been convicted of anything, the defence said he would have been if any of the cases went to court. In one example, a witness said: “. . . twenty years ago the prisoner’s father took of his coat and waistcoat when going along a road, and jumped up on a wall, and that on the same day the police arrested him in consequence of his extraordinary behaviour.”
Other evidence was rolled out to paint Parry as being insane. Once, he apparently threatened to shoot his mother after an argument. Another time, he was said to have been caught “violently thrashing a shepherd’s dog”. The defence intended to detail cases to do with his uncle, but that was disallowed.
Dr Kincaid, lecturer of Medical Jurisprudence in Galway College and Medical officer to the jail in Galway, said Parry was cool and collected on the day he killed Alice. He answered questions rationally, he thought. However, the doctor “came to the conclusion that the prisoner did not know what he was doing was wrong, though he knew what the legal consequences of the act would be.”
Dr Kincaid was cross-examined by the prosecution; it emerged that nowhere in his patient notes up until the trial date did he mention he thought the man was insane.
Three other doctors - Dr Browne, Dr Rice and Dr Bradshaw - contradicted Dr Kincaid and said Parry was of sound mind.
Of vital importance was the handwritten letter discovered on Parry when he was arrested - the one addressed to his father, written after he arrived in Galway. Crucially, it contained an insight into his motive, clear of any confusion. It included the line: “I will be sure no other fellow will have the chance of having her when she does not want me.”
The jury found Parry guilty of murder, recommending mercy due to his exasperation on July 29th “by reason of the letters he had received from Alice Burns”.
The judge didn’t have the same sympathy. Instead, he said the “law had given him time to prepare his defence. He should now have time to prepare to meet his God”.
Parry was asked if he had anything else to say as to why he shouldn’t be put to death.
“I have nothing to say only that I am sorry for it, but my mind was not in a sound state when I did it,” he offered.
“I am very glad to hear you express that,” replied the judge, “and I trust that the short period that will be allowed to you in this world, you will make your peace and endeavour to obtain forgiveness from your Maker.”
At Galway jail some time before 8am on Tuesday, January 20th 1885, Parry was handed over to executioner James Berry and his assistant, named as Chester in an Irish Times report on the 24th.
He refrained from eating that morning, drinking only a glass of wine given to him by Dr Kincaid. He was escorted to the scaffold and “walked firmly, looking at times vaguely and wistfully around him.”
Once the prisoner was in position, “Berry stood aside, cast a hurried glance at the preparations, drew the lever, and the body of Thomas Parry disappeared into the pit below.”
“A cold thud followed, the rope oscillated gently, and all was silent.”
This story is part of the Lost Leads series - a revisiting of lesser-known stories that have made the pages of The Irish Times since 1859. What can you find? Let us know on Twitter: @irishtimes or @deanruxton. For more information on subscribing to the archive, see here: www.irishtimes.com/archive