'The Walking Gallows' of 1798


One of the more gruesome episodes - and they were many - of the 1798 Rising will be outlined at a lecture in Athy town hall in south Kildare at 8 pm tomorrow.

An amateur historian, Vincent O'Reilly, will expound on the lurid career of Edward Hepenstall, who came to be known as 'The Walking Gallows'.

Lieut Hepenstall came to prominence as an officer of the Wicklow Militia regiment. The militias, formed in 1793, were used during 1798 to quell local disturbances.

Militias were known for their cruelty in house-burnings, floggings and the bizarre torment called pitch-capping. Hepenstall, however, used another method to elicit information from those rebels who fell into his hands.

He perfected the technique of 'half-hanging', suspending his victims by the neck over his shoulder. Being well over 6 ft tall and of immense stature, he was ideally built for this method, which dispensed with the need to construct a gallows.

The point of 'half-hanging' was to continue the process only to the point where the subject lost consciousness. He could then be revived and the process repeated if information was not forthcoming.

The Wicklow Militia was based in Westmeath during 1797 and was also involved in action around Carbury, Co Kildare. In 1798 Hepenstall was with the light company of his regiment in the Kildare-Wicklow border area.

Myth and legend abound about this infamous character, and the stories have been drawn together by O'Reilly, a Wicklow man.