Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hanged for Murder

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There were 29 people hanged by the Irish State for (non-political) murders during the period when capital punishment was practiced (1923-1954). And Tim Carey, currently the Heritage Officer for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, has written a book about them, all of them.

My contact with Tim was through his involvement with Dublin's Martello Towers, and in particular No. 7 in Killiney Bay. What, I wondered, was he doing writing a book about murders. Has he not got enough on his plate.

Turned out he was no stranger to prison, having worked in Mountjoy and already written a book about it and another one about the State's hangings for political murders.

So I got an invite to the book launch in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Hall. Launches are always interesting, as much for the people you meet at them as for the launch itself.

This one, however, turned out to be quite spectacular, at least as far as I was concerned. It was clearly stated on the classy invite that came in my letter box a while back, but it didn't really register with me.

Tim had got the State Pathologist, Marie Cassidy, to launch his book. How appropriate and what a coup. Apparently he just wrote to her, enclosing a copy of the book; she was hooked and agreed to launch it.

State Pathologist, Marie Cassidy, launching the book

It was clear from what she said, that she found it a gripping read. I was thinking to myself that the role of pathologist was really redundant in the case of those hanged as the cause of death was quite clearly known. But then there were the victims. And always the mystery to be solved, and it was clearly this aspect that attracted her. She commented that a lot of people would find old mysteries boring or irrelevant and be more interested in the present, whereas solving the mystery is the pathologist's life blood (after a manner of speaking) and when you have that cast of mind, a mystery is a mystery irrespective of its age.

Marie is also Professor of Forensic Medicine at Surgeons and at TCD, and this adds huge variety to her professional life on top of that as State Pathologist. She is not only dealing with the dead, but sometimes the very dead like ancient bog bodies from the midlands. So the mystery to be solved has an appeal and a fascination for her.

Tim Carey's few words

Tim gave us a bit of his own background and told us how the book had come about. The guts of it were in work he did for a TG4 series on the subject a while back but there was still a lot of blood, sweat and tears to go into getting the book itself into shape.

The longest entry in the book is the Harry Gleeson case (Tipperary - 1941). Many believe that Harry was innocent and there is a current campaign to prove this. Many of the campaigners had come up specially from Tipperary to attend the book launch. And from reading the book it is clear that Tim's sympathies lie with them.

Marie Cassidy signing copies of Tim's book

I'm not sure why, but I was surprised to see Marie Cassidy acceding to requests to sign copies of the book. Needless to say I took advantage and now have a copy signed by the author and the State Pathologist.

I actually have another interest in the subject matter, but my murderer cheated the hangman. He had brutally murdered his bitch of a mother with a hatchet and disposed of her body in the sea off Shankill. His daddy, who was a medical consultant, organised some medical opinion for the trial stating that he was insane and that was how the verdict turned out, "Guilty but Insane". So he spent a, not too taxing, 14 years in Dundrum Criminal Asylum and, because he was not found simply guilty, he could still inherit the mother's estate, which helped to finance his European tour on his release. He was as sane as I am, though that may not be saying much. And my interest? He was born in the same house as I was but some 18 years earlier.

I also met an Irishman with a Polish name whose people, some of them, hail from Kiltimagh.

Small world.

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