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5 May 2005 Edition

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Noose tales revisited

Book review

Hanging Crimes

Edited by Frank Sweeney

Mercier Press

€12.95 (paperback)

Despite a cover featuring a gibbet and noose, designed to rope in the more salacious reader, Hanging Crimes is not in the 'penny dreadful' tradition of crime and punishment reportage.

Ten capital cases are covered by individual authors in an attempt to examine "the social dynamics" in the Ireland of those times. All the cases pre-date the founding of the Free State and range from domestic murder to the killing of landlords.

In the cases that involve land disputes between tenant and landlord, it appears the authors are prepared to consider any "social dynamic" except the evil of landlordism. Consider this statement by one of the authors, Raymond Gillespie NUI Maynooth, in relation to the killing of a member of a landlord's family in Kilkenny: "Relations between Boyd and his tenants were poor, perhaps because he was a recent arrival in the area and determined to make his property pay rather than allow it to be merely a symbol of status."

In another case, the 1847 killing of landlord the Rev Lloyd, Pádraig Vessey outlines the circumstances and background to the killing but then introduces a red herring in the form of an argument between the reverend and the local parish priest over the subject of proselytising. This was the Famine; people were not roused to violence by matters of theology but by the fact that they were starving and being cleared from the land by unscrupulous landlords, who were in fact the scum of the earth.

Perhaps it is unfair to expect the authors to give us a comprehensive history of land agitation in relation to these cases but they do claim to use them as a window on the social processes at work, something that in relation to this subject they seem almost reluctant to do.

Despite the above criticisms, the book is well worth a read as a piece of social history. The case I found most interesting was that of Joseph Dorey of Naul, North County Dublin. Obviously mentally ill, he savagely killed his wife and daughter with an axe and for no apparent reason. He was confined to Dundrum Mental Hospital. I found this case interesting because my father is from Naul and to this day the name Joseph Dorey has bogeyman status there -- a status no doubt copperfastened by his escape from Dundrum 12 years later, and the fact that he was never recaptured.

BY SAM HALL

An Phoblacht Magazine

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