The Stackpooles – a family affair.


Twenty year old James Stackpoole was due to receive an inheritance of £65 a year from the estate of a deceased uncle when he came of age (twenty one) in May of 1853, an amount that would have made him the wealthiest member of his family at the time.  Under the terms of the will his uncle, Thomas, would receive this inheritance in the event of James’ death.


A plot was hatched by James’ relatives, sister Honora and cousins Richard and Bridget, who were married to each other, together with uncle Thomas to kill James.  Accordingly the young man was invited to Thomas’ home in Blanealiga, near Miltown Malby in Southern Ireland on Saturday the 18th of September 1852.  James had retired to bed and was asleep when the four relatives entered the room and dragged him out of bed and began battering him with fire tongs and brass candlesticks. James pleaded for his life and offered his uncle the price of four cows to spare him.  However the murderous onslaught continued, all four beating him and finally dragging him downstairs to the kitchen where Richard killed him with two axe blows to the head.  Thomas made one of the servants, John Halpin, strike James with a candlestick to prevent him incriminating the family by making him part of the crime. Bridget and Honora disposed of the remains which were discovered the following day by eleven year old Michael Mulqueeny, at Belford Bridge (also referred to as Swallow Bridge). James’ hat and boots were left with the body. Michael reported the find to a Mrs. Morony who alerted the police in the form of Constable May.  On the Monday morning Bridget and Honora laundered the blood stained clothes that they had been wearing the previous night.  They made little attempt to remove all the blood spatters from the house though and these were later spotted by Constable May.


At the house the constable arrested Bridget, Honora and her husband Tom, John Halpin and a servant girl, named Flanagan. He and magistrate Mr. Morony, arrested Richard Stackpoole the next day. Mr. Morony cautioned Richard to say nothing to incriminate himself but Richard wanted to talk and said : “I will tell you, I may as well tell the truth; I hear they are (metaphorically) hanging each other; I will save my own neck.” Mr. Morony told him he could not offer him a plea bargain and that he could make any statement he wanted at the inquest but that anything he did say could be used in evidence against him.


The Coroner, Mr. Francis O’Donnell, held a formal inquest on James which returned a verdict of murder and placed the responsibility for the crime on the four family members, who were committed for trial.


Their cases were heard by the Crown Court on Wednesday the 23rd of February 1853 before the Honourable Justice Perrin at Ennis.  Richard Stackpoole was tried first before a twelve man jury with a Mr. Herrick leading the case for the prosecution. The jury heard evidence from Michael Mulqueeny who discovered James’ body, John Halpin, the servant and eleven year old Anne Stackpoole who also was able to give the court a detailed the murder, as she was present in the house at the time.

Constable May described the details of the arrest which were corroborated by Mr. Morony the magistrate who described the statement Richard gave to him.

Mr. O’Hea led Richard’s defence and cross examined the various witnesses. He made an eloquent closing speech to the jury before Mr. Justice Perrin summed up. The jury retired for about an hour returning to find Richard guilty of wilful murder.  He seemed completely unmoved by the verdict. Bridget and Honora were tried the following day on the same evidence and both convicted. Thomas was too ill to face trial with the others at this time and his trial was deferred to the next assizes.


All three were sentenced to death at the end of the Assizes on Saturday the 26th of February and transferred to Ennis Gaol to await execution.  Here they were attended by Roman Catholic clergymen and began to take interest in religion and acknowledge the gravity of their crime.


The executions were set for Friday the 29th of April 1853 and attracted a large crowd.  The gallows was erected early on Friday morning outside Ennis Gaol and a large number of local people had turned out to witness the spectacle. The gallows was only big enough for two prisoners so it was decided that Richard and Bridget would be hanged first as they had expressed a wish to die together.  This is quite unusual as often couples grew to hate each other whilst in prison, the one blaming the other for their situation.

At about 12.30 p.m. they were brought out from the Gaol accompanied by officials and clergymen and mounted the platform where they prayed together.  The usual preparations were made and the drop fell at around 12.40.  According to the report in the Clare Journal & Ennis Advertiser, Bridget died without a struggle while Richard “lingered” for a few minutes.  Their hooded bodies were left to hang for an hour. At 1.45 p.m. Honora was led to the gallows to undergo the ultimate punishment of the law.  She too died without a struggle, becoming the last woman to be publicly hanged in Ireland.

All three bodies were buried within the prison later in the day.


Thomas Stackpoole was initially reported to be recovering from the illness that had prevented his trial but relapsed and later died in prison before the start of the next assizes .


This seems to be a crime of pure greed typified by almost reckless stupidity.  The murder was committed in the presence of the servants and the children and little or no effort was made to destroy the evidence of a particularly brutal crime. 


Strangely the previous female execution at Ennis had many similarities.  Thirty two year old Bridget Keogh was hanged with one of her brothers, Patrick Howe, for the axe murder of Arthur O’Donnell on the 27th of July 1850.  Her other brother, John Howe was too ill to be tried.  Again the motive was robbery.