When the hangman came to Galway

In 1883, Thomas Parry, a 26-year-old assistant shepherd, was working for Major Thomas Braddell in Wexford. Also working there was Alice Burns, a 19-year-old Galway girl. The two had a whirlwind romance, Parry was deeply in love and bought her a beautiful ring and they became engaged.

Alice eventually came back to Galway where she worked as a barmaid in the Royal Hotel on Eyre Square. It was owned by her stepfather George Mack. Parry wrote regularly to his fiancée and eventually got to Galway for a brief holiday during Race Week in 1884. He stayed at the Royal Hotel and he spent whatever time he could with Alice. They often took the tram from outside the door out to Salthill.

George Mack did not approve of Parry. Even though he was very presentable, he had no money, having spent it on an engagement ring and gifts for Alice. How could he hope to provide for a family under these circumstances? Mack, on the other hand, provided Alice with security, shelter, and a living. As Parry returned to his work after his short holiday, he must have worried about the negative influence Mack was having on his beloved. He was right. On July 28, 1884, he received a parcel from her containing all of his love letters to her and also the engagement ring he had bought.

Parry got on the next available train to Galway arriving after midnight on July 29, and stayed in the Imperial Hotel, just beside the Royal. The following morning he had breakfast, paid his bill, and went next door where he found Alice breakfasting with her sister Bessie Burns and their niece, Fanny Rickaby. After a brief ‘why did you leave me?’ conversation, he produced a loaded revolver and shot Alice. She got up bleeding and screeching and moved towards the door out into the passage. Parry followed and shot her again. She fell on the floor and he shot her twice more in the back. He then turned the gun on himself and fired, but he remained standing and then casually left the building. He emerged dazed and covered in gunpowder and two men pounced on him and pinned him down. When someone shouted at him saying “You shot her” he replied, “I am damned glad of it, that is what I came to do.”

He was arrested and “expressed his willingness to suffer for the deed”; he wanted to be hanged forthwith. He was tried and sentenced to hang in Galway Gaol on January 13, 1885. Our somewhat fanciful illustration today is of the murder. It first appeared in The Illustrated Police News published in London, August 9, 1884, and shows Parry shooting Alice Burns.

This gruesome story is lifted from a recently published book entitled When the Hangman came to Galway written by Dean Ruxton and published by Gill Books. Another awful story in the book is that of Michael Downey who murdered John Moylan in Clonboo. He expressed remorse but he also was sentenced to hang in Galway Gaol.

The appointed hangman was an Englishman, James Berry, who had ended the lives of more than 100 criminals in Victorian Britain and Ireland. He came to Galway to hang Parry and Downey. Much of the book is about Berry, his life, his techniques, how meticulous he was in his approach to his work. The subject may be morbid, but the book is a page-turner. Recommended.

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