The Clonbrock Murder – Part 2 of the story of Mary Daly, by Margaret Mulligan

In the second and final instalment of the story of Mary Daly, the last woman to be hanged at Tullamore in 1903, read about her trial and execution which was a sensation at the time. She was buried three times and said to haunt the gaol building, later the Salt’s factory, for many years afterwards. A full version of this article with extensive bibliography and sources (‘The Clonbrock Murder’) can be found in our journal,  Offaly Heritage, Vol 2. (Esker Press, 2009).

The Trial

Joseph Taylor and Mary Daly were indicted for the murder of John Daly at the Leinster Winter Assizes in Maryborough on the week of Friday 12th December 1902. There was a considerable amount of interest in the case and the court was crowded to excess, a large number of ladies being present. Mr. Wakely K. C. conducted the case on behalf of the Crown, Mr. D. J. O Brien for Taylor and Mr. De Renzy for Mrs Daly. Both Joseph Taylor and Mary Daly pleaded ‘not guilty’ after which a separate trial was granted for Mrs. Daly. Evidence against Joseph Taylor was supplied by his own words when, on being arrested for the charge of murder, he told the police that it was not he, but Mary Daly, whom they should be arresting, as she had been urging him to kill her husband, and had even gone so far as to buy carbolic acid and give it to him for the purpose of poisoning her husband. Young John Daly appeared in the witness box and gave his  version of events of the evening of the murder of his father. The fact that the boy had made conflicting statements was used by Taylor’s defence to suggest that Mary Daly killed her husband and the children changed their story to protect their mother. Several witnesses were also examined. The jury, after fifty minutes deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty. Joseph Taylor was sentenced to be executed by hanging at Kilkenny on the 7th January 1903. The prisoner received the sentence calmly, and he left the dock saying he was innocent.

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The Governor’s Residence, Tullamore Gaol

The duration of the trial of Mary Daly was for two days. The trial began on Thursday, 18th December 1902. Mr. Justice Kenny, presided at the trial. Mr. Wakely K.C. and Dr. Falconer KC, appeared for the crown. Mr. De Renzy, B.L. appeared for the accused. The first witness examined was John Daly junior and his sister Lizzie Daly corroborated his evidence. Sergeant Conlan repeated the evidence, which he had also given in the case against Joseph Taylor. In the course of Mary Daly’s statement, she said there was no person in her house during the 16th June 1902 or that night, and she did not leave the house. She was questioned about the statement made by Joseph Taylor on the 9th May 1902, that she wanted to kill her husband and made no reply. Constables Maher, Daly, Hayes and Jones were also examined and Head constable Murphy, Professor Lapper, Dr. Lune, Thomas Byrne, brother of the prisoner, Mrs. Dormer, Constable Moses Roche and Sergent Donovan all repeated the evidence they had already given at Joseph Taylor’s case. On Friday, 19th December 1902, at 11 o’clock, Mr. De. Renzy pleaded before the jury for the life and liberty of the woman who stood charged before them. Mr. Wakely asked them to

‘Banish from your minds all things that had been said about John Daly, Mrs Daly and the Taylors’.

He reminded the jury

‘It is not your duty to deal with the moral aspect of the case, but the murder charge, and that she is guilty of an offence against the laws of God and man, shameless and brazen adultery.’

Charged with a similar crime – Mrs Ellen Byrne at her arraignmnent for the murder of her husband in 1842. Courtesy National Library of Ireland, EP BYRNE-EL (1) II. 

It was asked did Mary Daly aid and abet anyone in the murder of her husband?  Could anyone prove she had given Taylor money to murder her husband as there were no facts produced to show proof of 6d having passed between them? On the night leading up to the murder, John Daly was thought to have had a lot of drink taken, but was not drunk. Taylor also had a considerable amount of drink taken.  A fight was reported to have broken out between the two men upon Daly meeting Taylor going or coming from his house. Perhaps tempers were excited to a dangerous passion. Did Daly commence the quarrel, it is improbable he did. Yet it was not unlikely between two powerful men with drink taken that the fight would be a deadly one. Upon hearing the fight young Johnny Daly and Mrs. Daly went out into the yard.  Mrs. Daly did not take an active part in the attack on her husband, or lay a hand on him. Mrs. Daly was questioned as to why she or her children did not call out for help. James Taylor, brother of Joseph Taylor, was also in the yard but did not interfere in the fight. There was no proof that Mary Daly helped Joseph Taylor kill her husband, however it was certain that the death did not occur in the yard. Whoever killed Joseph Daly, killed him in the field with a sprong, which had been left by young John Daly after he had been working with it in the yard the day before. James Taylor had run away and denied he knew anything of the night’s events.

The Crown stated:

‘No stronger evidence is given in this case than the conduct of the woman herself on the morning of the murder, when she got up and got the breakfast and then sent the children to the barracks with a lie on their lips’.

The essence of the charge against her was that of malice aforethought, otherwise the indictment would be only of manslaughter. There may be two actors in such a crime – the one who actually strikes the blow and the one who aids and abets the crime.  If they believe the children that she was concurring in the crime, there was ample evidence that she aided and abetted in the murder.  

Mary Daly returned that:

‘I was an agonised spectator of the occurrence’.

Evidence was given that young Johnny had seen his father strike his mother on an occasion with a sprong. Evidence was also given that Mrs. Daly was not true to her wedding vows and it was idle to say that relations with Joseph Taylor were innocent. The last seen of John Daly was at a quarter to eleven and nothing was known of him until the children came on the scene. Mrs. Daly did not ask the Sergeant whether her husband was dead or not. Also the incriminatory statement of 9th May 1902, made by Taylor

‘She was trying to get me to kill her husband’ was not denied by her.

The children also stated:

‘After she brought us back to bed she again went out’

It was presumed she assisted in the murder. The jury retired to deliberate at a quarter past three and returned to court at ten minutes past four with the verdict ‘guilty’. Mary Daly clutched the bars of the dock convulsively and looked forward in a dazed fashion as if she wished to speak, but  was absolutely unable to do so. The judge concluded that she incited the crime and stated:

‘She is to be sentenced  to death on 10th January 1903, and her body be buried within the precincts of the prison’.

The prisoner was removed from the court and the judge declared the assizes closed.

Joseph Taylor was executed on Wednesday 7th January 1903 at Kilkenny jail, for the murder of John Daly, at Clonbrock, on 16th June of 1902. On Tuesday morning of the 6th January 1903 the Protestant Bishop, Dr. Crosier, visited Taylor and administered Holy Communion to the prisoner. The younger Billington was the Executioner. Taylor walked firmly to the scaffold attended by the Protestant chaplain, Dean Lyons and his curate Rev. Mr. Dowman. The other officials present were – The Governor of the Jail, the Sub-Sheriff of the Queens County, Mr. Bull, Dr. James and the warders. The condemned man submitted calmly to the pinioning process and the lever being pulled, death was instantaneous.  Press representatives were not allowed to witness the execution. Taylor made no statement, but Dean Lyons did state that he made a communication to him, which he did not feel at liberty to disclose.  

OH 52917 (1) KCC Entrance to the Gaol, Tullamore (1)

Execution of Mary Daly

On Friday morning 10th January 1903, showers of sleet and snow fell and the wind howled around the prison walls.  At half past seven the only individuals on the street were a couple of pressmen making their way towards the gate of the prison to be told they would not be allowed to witness the final act by Mr. Richard Bull, sub-sheriff of the King’s and Queen’s Counties. Inside the prison Mary Daly received the ministrations of the Revs. Messrs Gilsenan and Fitzsimmons, R.C. curates, and the warrant authorising the execution was issued by Mr. Bull to the governor Mr. Morton. The executioner was William Billington Junior, who pinioned her arms, while the clergymen recited the Litany for the dying. Mrs. Daly answered the responses in a firm voice and walked the few yards to the scaffold, while a hush fell on the onlookers. Billington pulled the lever. Death was instantaneous. At eight o’clock the prison bell announced to those outside the jail that the sentence had been carried out. In accordance with the law the remains were left hanging for an hour, and at nine o’clock the body was then cut down and prepared for burial. It was then laid in a common-looking deal coffin and  viewed by the jury. On her breast lay a crucifix and  a rosary beads lay across her hands. On Mary Daly’s civil death certificate it is stated that she was aged  thirty-six, a widow and that her death was caused by the dislocation of her neck by hanging.

An inquest was held by Mr. T. G. Mc Sherry, acting coroner, in the absence of Mr. Henry J. Egan, for the process of ascertaining the cause of death. The remains of Mrs. Daly lay in a cell convenient to the execution chamber.  She looked calm and peaceful and her lips were parted in a smile. There was little to show her death had taken place by violent means.   Dr. Prior Kennedy stated:

‘Death was due to dislocation of the spinal cord, caused by hanging’.

Mary Daly’s remains were interred in a corner of the prison yard.

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Castellated entrance of Tullamore Gaol


End of Tullamore Gaol

Tullamore Gaol was demolished in 1937. Nothing survives now but its castellated entrance front, erected in 1830. By November 1921, all the prisoners had been removed to Mountjoy. On Thursday morning of 19th July 1922 the gaol was set on fire by the republican forces and subsequently destroyed.

When the gaol was sold in 1937 to Salt’s textile manufacturers, it is reputed that all the prisoners’ bodies were exhumed and re-buried in the paupers’ cemetery at Arden Road, Tullamore. An audio tape of the late Pa Martin, a Tullamore local historian recounts the exhumation of Mary Daly, and tells the story that in the 1930s two of Mary Daly’s brothers came over from County Laois to Tullamore and removed her body from the cemetery at Arden Road and brought it back to her home in County Laois.