State papers: Father sentenced to death freed after three years

Only case since 1922 in which man was convicted of murder of an illegitimate child

A man who was sentenced to death after he drowned his baby boy in 1948 was approved for release from prison after serving three years, State papers show.

According to the files, this was the only case since 1922 in which a man was convicted of the murder of an illegitimate child. Two previous cases involved the murder of illegitimate children by an aunt, and a grandmother.

Grocer’s porter Edward O’Connor (31) had been “keeping company” with a woman who had an illegitimate child, the file stated. She “tried to persuade O’Connor to marry her, and failing this, she brought pressure to bear on him to take charge of the child and arrange to have it adopted”.

One week after the baby’s birth, he took him to Glasnevin bridge and drowned him. “His explanation for his actions was that he got panic-stricken when he found himself in charge of an illegitimate infant late at night,” wrote a department of justice official.

It noted that in the other two cases of murder, the death sentences were commuted and both women were released early. The government agreed to commute the death sentence and he was later released in 1951.

Another death sentence

In the same year, a man was sentenced to death for the murder of 16-year-old Rose Hand, at Boora, Co Offaly. She was cycling to her job as typist with Bord na Móna in May 1950 when she was shot dead by Patrick Heffernan (27). Her body was found hidden under a bush the following day. He carried a gun for shooting rabbits and told gardaí he had been overtaking her on his bicycle when his gun accidentally went off, causing fatal injuries.

The jury found him guilty of murder and he was to be hanged but the presiding judge, TC Kingsmill Moore, wrote to the minister for justice appealing for clemency. He said he believed the jury had erred and should have found him guilty of manslaughter. The government later agreed to commute the death sentence to penal servitude for life. After serving 12 years in jail, he was released. (Files: 2021/1/126 – 127 and 2021/1/145-146)

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times