Fifty years ago, Robert McGladdery became the last man to be executed by the Northern Irish state.
He was convicted of the murder of Pearl Gamble 19, after a dance in Newry in January 1961. McGladdery 25, was convicted and sentenced to death in October of that year and the sentence was carried out in Belfast’s Crumlin Road prison four days before Christmas.
Three years later the law was reformed, ensuring that McGladdery’s hanging was the last carried out by the authorities in Northern Ireland.
We know what a journalist meant when she wrote in a Belfast newspaper that McGladdery “would be the last man hanged in Northern Ireland”.
Her sentence is OK; it doesn’t really imply that McGladdery was the last man in the north. I don’t mean to split hairs. (Please, bear with me for a second.) It was just that it reminded me of a conversation overheard in a County Meath pub, several years ago.
It was one of those wonderfully desultory conversations that happen in Irish bars.
They usually take place during the daytime when there’s time for the customers to enjoy quiet reflection on the big issues.
A group of older men were debating when, “the last man in Ireland was hanged.” Yes, it was a strange question as a few men were obviously still around! “It was in… (such and such a year),” said one. “That’s not right,” said his companion, “because it was Dev that hanged him.” “Agh you can’t be right there; Dev wouldn’t have hanged him – he’d have feckin shot him!” countered the first man.
“That’s the power of Irish logic, for you!
Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday