Mary Daly


40 year old Mary Daly was the last woman to be hanged in Ireland under British rule and the last person to be executed at Tullamore prison in Co. Offaly.  She was to die for her part in the murder of her husband, John, at Clonbrock, Co Laois.


Mary was having an affair with 25 year old Joseph Taylor and on the afternoon of the 16th of June 1902, he was in the Daly’s house.  He was observed by her two children, 11 year old John and his 10 year old sister, Lizzie, sitting by the fire and talking in hushed tones to their mother.  Around 9.30 p.m. the children were put to bed, only to be woken by the sounds of a commotion outside the house later that night.

Their father, also John, was a coal carter and had arrived home and put his horse away when he was attacked by Taylor.  The children saw their father on the ground with Taylor standing over him stabbing him with a pitchfork and their mother looking on.  Young John heard his father beg Taylor to “Leave me my life.”  Once Taylor had finished John off he dragged the body out into the field behind the house.

The murder was reported the following day by young John and Sergeant Conlan was the first officer to arrive.  According to the Irish Times report of the 13th of December, 1902, “He went to the place and found the body lying on its left side in a field at the rear of Daly’s house.”  “There were three wounds on the back of the head and several on the left side of the head.”

John Taylor, who lived close by, was the principal suspect.  When interviewed he denied any knowledge of the crime and claimed to have been asleep at the time.  However five weeks earlier he had told police that Mary had asked him to kill her husband but that he had refused to do so.

Given the children’s evidence both Mary and Taylor were arrested.  He was charged with murder and she was charged with being an accessory after the fact.  It was decided to try them separately.

The principal witnesses for the Crown were John and Lizzie Daly, whom the judge described as “unusually intelligent” children.

It could be established that Taylor was in the area on fateful afternoon and that both he and Mary had been drinking.

The judge also told the jury that “The immoral relations between the prisoner and Daly’s wife were certain. There had for some time been murder in the air.”

Taylor's defence tried to shift the blame for the murder onto Mary.  They contended that she hated her husband and wanted him dead.  As Taylor had already refused to kill him she did the deed herself.  They further asserted that their client was too drunk to form an intent to kill.

The jury believed the children’s testimony and it took them just 50 minutes to reach a verdict of guilty.  Joseph Taylor was sentenced to death and told the judge “Thank you, my lord; I am an innocent man all the same.”  He was transferred to Kilkenny Gaol to await execution.

Mary’s trial was now begun in the same courtroom.  She was charged with being an accessory after the fact in the murder.  Once again her children were the principal prosecution witnesses.  The defence argument was that even if her children’s testimony was truthful, their father was killed as a result of a drunken quarrel between him and Taylor, in which Mary would have been powerless to intervene.

Sergeant Conlan testified to the finding of the blood stained pitchfork behind the door in Daly's house.  Mary told him "He had that himself on Sunday morning" and that he had been beating her. Conlan asked her why there was blood on it. She claimed he had cut her hands with it. Examining her hands he could only see scratches, perhaps inflicted by her own fingernails, but no signs of cuts.

The jury took 55 minutes to convict Mary, but added a recommendation to mercy.  She was led from the dock “in a dazed condition”.  The judge told the jurors that another jury had already found Joseph Taylor guilty and that he concurred with both verdicts.
The Doctrine of Common Purpose, that was part of British common law in 1902, states that if two (or more) people commit a crime, they can be held equally responsible where there was common purpose, i.e. they both intended or could have reasonably foreseen the outcome.  This would seem to apply in these two cases.

Taylor was hanged by William Billington on Wednesday the 7th of January 1903.  Some 50 miles north at Tullamore Gaol in Co. Offaly, preparations were under way for the execution of Mary Daly two days later.  On Friday the 9th of January 1903, Mary was also hanged by William Billington.

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