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Location: Dublin, Ireland

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Stop 8: "Murderer's Gallery:" 1921


At exactly 9 a.m. on the morning of November 21st 1920, 12 british secret service agents, mostly comprising of what was known as the ‘Cairo Gang’ were killed by the
IRA’s Dublin Brigade and Michael Collins’ intelligence unit known as ‘The Squad’.

Also killed were 2 auxiliary policemen who happened upon one of these assassinations.
These tactical killings crippled the British Secret Service network.

That afternoon, Auxiliaries from Beggar’s Bush Barracks, the same barracks that the two dead auxiliaries had come from, fired into the crowd of a Gaelic football match in Dublin’s Croke Park, shooting 7 people dead. A further 7 were crushed to death in the panic that ensued.

This day became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
The corridor that we are standing on is where the suspects for the killings of the British agents and auxiliaries were held, and it was known as ‘Murderers’ Gallery’.

Also in this area were held the 5 volunteers who were arrested after an unsuccessful ambush of the British Military in Drumcondra.

There were no casualties as a result of this failed ambush and They were charged with "high treason by conspiring with others to levy war against the King" which was a crime punishible by death on the statute books since the 14th century.


In the days coming up to Valentine's Day, 1921, plans were underway to facilitate an internal jail-break to allow a number of the prisoners of the so-called "murderer's gallery" to escape.

The ringleader of this escape was a man imprisoned under the assumed name "Bernard Stewart". He was in fact a high-ranking member and wanted member of the IRA whose real name was Ernie O'Malley. The man who occuppied this cell.

There are a number of accounts of what was ultimately a successful escape, over 80 years later, it will be impossible to establish a complete story with any satisfaction, but what we can say with some certainty is that ‘Plan A’ involving a rope ladder failed, and ‘Plan B’ involved breaking through the padlock on an external gate with bolt-cutters that were smuggled in with the assistance of at least two soldiers who were supposed to be guarding them. They were lieutenants Holland and Roper and were from a Welsh regiment in the British Army.

In the first attempt, O'Malley, Moran and Teeling successfully made it to the external gate, but the bolt-cutters failed to break the lock.

According to Ernie O'Malley's account in his book "On another man's Wound," it was Frank Teeling, a man who was already found guilty of participation in the Bloody Sunday Assissinations and was facing the death sentence, who successfully broke the lock at a second attempt. He then came back to others.

When O'Malley and Teeling came to round up the others for the escape, they found Patrick Moran in this cell, due to go on trial for the murder of Lieutenant Aimes. They told him the escape was on, and Patrick Moran, in a relaxed and self-assured tone, told them that he would not be going.

He explained that an escape would be tantamount to an admission of guilt and that out of gratitude to the witnesses who agreed to testify on his behalf, a very brave gesture given the political climate of the time, he would stand trial. Moran was convinced that the evidence presented in court would vindicate him.

As Teeling remained counselling Moran to escape with the other men, O'Malley went to release 19-year-old Frank Flood and the other members of the First Battalion who were imprisoned for the failed Drumcondra Ambush.

O'Malley quickly learned that they had been sent to the punishment cells for insulting one of the soldiers and he took Simon Donnelly instead, the vice-commandant of the 3rd Battalion, he had been in Murderer's Gallery just a few days, and the 3 of them escaped to freedom.

Moran quickly organised a sing-song to distract the guards, so that they would not notice for some time that the men had escaped.

At his trial the next day, despite the fact that the prosecutions case was deeply flawed and rejecting the evidence from 14 witnesses, including a police officer, which alibis for Moran’s movements the morning the murder took place, he was found guilty by a jury of 6 army officers and hanged in Mountjoy jail a month later.

That day 6 hangings took place:
• Patrick Moran
• Thomas Whelan
• Frank Flood
• Patrick Doyle
• Bernard Ryan
• Thomas Bryan

All 6 were hanged by Ellis.
John Ellis was a native of Lancashire in England, born in 1874, and was the son of a hairdresser. Originally working in a textile factory, he had to give up this job due to an accident which precluded him from lifting heavy weights. He then became a hairdresser like his father and also began working as a hangman as a sideline in 1901 at the age of 26. After 7 years acting as an assistant executioner, he then became England's chief executioner for 16 years, during which time he hanged 203 people.

John Ellis, did not speak of his Irish political executions in his memoir Diary of a Hangman, but was recorded as saying that Roger Casement was, the bravest man it fell to my unhappy lot execute" (Quoted in Famous Trials by H Montgomery, Hyde (Hodder & Stoughton, 1973) & A Hangman's Record by Steve Fielding.)

Charles Duff in "A Handbook of Hanging, first published in 1928 and expanded and revised a number of times of the last being about 30 years after its first publication wrote the following in his typically offensive, egoistic, and poorly researched, poorly edited style :

"Towards the end of his career, our own Mr.Ellis had the humiliating task of hanging persons involved in the Irish Political troubles. Now the Irish are a pernicious, troublesome, resentful and long-memoried race, and Mr.Ellis is not the only person whose life they have made a burden. He was often threatened and sometimes had to have police protection, and even to carry a revolver for his own safety. Note that Ireland pays England the delicate compliment of employing English hangmen; they cannot find one of thier own in the Green Isle. The reason, I am told is that in Ireland a hangman, even at the present moment, runs considerable risk and...ha[s] to travel incognito. Apropos Ireland, this is a country which in its long, turbulent history provided vast scope for England's Hangmen, and one is hardly surprised to find that the Irish used to be 'susecptible to hanging,' as the Greeks are, to use their word for it, prakskoppomatik, which means 'susceptible to political coups d'etat. It is not uncommon to hear the proud Irishboast of the ever-reminiscent patriotic Irishman that so many members of his family were hanged as rebels...
...Mr. Hangman Berry used to disguise himself as a woman every time he thought he ran a risk of being lynched by an inconsiderate mob, as, for example, when he was commissioned to break Mrs Meybrick's neck..

Also hanged by Ellis.
Sir Roger David Casement was born into an Ulster Protestant family in 1864 and was knighted in 1911 for his work exposing human rights abuses in the rubber trade the Congo and in South America.
He was arrested trying to smuggle weapons from Germany into Ireland for the 1916 uprising, was charged with High Treason and hanged in Pentonville prison on August 3rd, 1916 and his body was buried in quicklime in the exercise yards of that prison.
The British Government agreed after many years of requests to this effect to return the body of Roger Casement to Ireland in February 1965.

[Draw attention to the graffitti and mention Pearse's Poem]


Anonymous Christine said...

Hi Buckley
Just fell upon you writing about the Kilmainham escape way back in 2006.
The information you have on John Ellis is very interesting.
My Grandfather supplied the bolt cutters. He made extension handles to give more leverage to it. They were made from the carting shaft of an old Lagonda car. Unfortunely the handles were put on the wrong way on the first attempt, but did the trick in the end.

Anyhow delighted to see the story being retold.

7:15 AM  

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