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“On the other hand the accused is a woman…”: Women and the Death Penalty in Post-Independence Ireland

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Hannah Flynn was sentenced to death on February 27, 1924. She had been convicted of the murder of Margaret O'Sullivan, her former employer. Hannah worked for Margaret and her husband Daniel as a domestic servant, an arrangement that ended with bad feeling on both sides when Hannah was dismissed. On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1923, while Daniel was at church, Hannah returned to her former place of work, and killed 50-year-old Margaret with a hatchet. At her trial, the jury strongly recommended her to mercy, and sentence of death was subsequently commuted to penal servitude for life. Hannah spent almost two decades in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, from where she was conditionally released on October 23, 1942 to the Good Shepherd Magdalen Laundry in Limerick. Although there is no precise date available for Hannah's eventual release from there, it is known that “a considerable time later,” and at a very advanced age, she was released from the laundry to a hospital, where she died. The case of Hannah Flynn, and the use of the Good Shepherd Laundry, represents an explicitly gendered example of the death penalty regime in Ireland following Independence in 1922, particularly the double-edged sword of mercy as it was experienced by condemned women.

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Corresponding author
lblack@tcd.ie
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She thanks Ivana Bacik, Donal Coffey, Ian O'Donnell, and Lizzie Seal for providing comment and feedback on earlier drafts of the article, as well as the anonymous reviewers for Law and History Review who gave generous and invaluable guidance on how to improve the article. She also thanks the Irish Legal History Society for a bursary received while conducting the research.

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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