The History of Executions in Ireland.

In the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland the common means of execution of a condemned prisoner was by hanging. Hanging originated from Persia some 2500 years ago when the son of a noble man was hanged for piracy. Before this, hanging had only been used as a means of inflicting indignity on a person and this was known as gibbeting. While travelling through the countryside it was common to see a rotting corpse hanging in a gibbet at a cossroads. Gibbeting continued in the United Kingdom to as late as 1834.In 1500 there were only a few capital crimes such as murder, larcency, rape, treason and arson. Hoever by 1810 the number of capital crimes had risen to a stagger 225. It was a bloody period of history in the United Kingdom when children as young as 7 were being executed.

Ireland was by no means any different and in addition to common capital crimes, our history of political conflict ensured that the hangman was kept busy. One of the bloodiest periods in Ireland was during the reign of Henry VIII when over 2000 people were executed. Minor transgressions of the law were dealt with harshly and many unfortunate souls ended up on the gallows in local towns in Northern Ireland and the existence of the gallows is remembered in street names.
At Gallows Green in Carrickfergus three stone pillars erected in a triangular shape supported wooden beams. From each of these beams, three prisoners could be executed at the one time. In Downpatrick at Gallows Hill a similar apparatus was erected. These were both copies of the famous 'Triple Tree' of Tyburn. Over 5000 people died on the gallows at Tyburn and the last was in 1783.
In later times executions took place on scaffolds erected outside the county gaols at Downpatrick, Belfast, Enniskillen, Armagh, Omagh and Londonderry. When public executions were terminated in the mid 1800s all executions were carried out inside the prison walls.The last executions in the United Kingdom, by hanging took place in 1964. Capital punishment was abolished for murder in 1969, however in Northern Ireland the death penalty remained on the statute books until 1973.

In Downpatrick executions at one time were carried out at the front gates to the local gaol. A scaffold was erected above the gate and the outline of the doorway can still be seen.