Spring book review: When The Hang Man Came To Galway, by Dean Ruxton and Big Tom, The King Of Irish Country, by Tom Gilmore
When The Hang Man Came To Galway
By Dean Ruxton
Imagine receiving this business card from someone: “James Berry, 8 Bilton Place, Bradford, Yorkshire. EXECUTIONER.”
It would be quite a conversation stopper, wouldn't it?
Well, the card was real as the Yorkshire man bearing it. Berry first arrived in Ireland in the winter of 1885 to dispatch the guilty parties in two separate murder cases.
Now, in the sensationally titled When The Hang Man Came To Galway, author Dean Ruxton tells meticulously researched true life stories of love, revenge, murder, retribution and hanging in Victorian-era Ireland.
First came the murder of farmer John Moylan, who was killed by an unseen person in a dark boreen - and then came the unrelated murder of Alice Burns, who was shot dead in the dining room of the Royal Hotel in the city center.
News of the attacks electrified the country.
The first case was quickly resolved. Moylan, the man killed, had worked abroad in America for many years, so long that his wife Mary started an affair with a 25-year-old laborer named Michael Downey.
But here the case gets even murkier. Mary Moylan initially requested that members of a secret society in Galway ambush and kill her husband, but in the end, it was her secret lover Downey who did the deed.
Meanwhile, poor Alice Burns was killed in cold blood by a 27-year-old man called Thomas Parry, who shot her in a public place in broad daylight.
On a morning in July 1884, Parry entered the Royal Hotel on Eyre Square (now a landmark Supermac’s fast food restaurant) and in the breakfast room, he turned a gun on the shrieking young waitress, who had just returned from a morning swim at Salthill.
There were multiple witnesses to the killing and Parry's motive was self-evident: Burns had refused his engagement ring, outraging his vanity.
So Berry the British executioner was shipped to Ireland to dispatch the killers, and Ruxton takes evident pleasure in the gory details of Berry's ghoulish trade, informing us that between 1884 and 1891 he killed 131 persons.
With a list that long you can be certain he botched some of them, and sure enough, the details are as chilling as we anticipate.
During his 1885 visit to Galway Berry had endless praise for the efficiency with which the city authorities had prepared to dispatch (to wit, kill) condemned prisoners.
“It is one of the largest and the best, if not the very best, structures, I have seen,” he told a reporter marveling at the city gallows. “Eight persons can be executed together on it.” Not many people would be excited by such a statistic, but Berry was clearly among their small number.
Ruxton has written a page-turner that brings a lost world vividly to life again, and this grisly tale will appeal to general readers interested in how life was lived in the post Famine and pre-revolutionary period when British executioners were free to ply their trade in Ireland.
Big Tom, The King Of Irish Country
By Tom Gilmore
There is a Harry Potter alternative universe of Country and Western fans hidden in the heart of every small Irish town, and for decades Big Tom was their once and future king.
With wholesome hits under his commodious silver belt like “Gentle Mother” and “Four Country Roads,” he was an avatar of simple decency in an era where that was considered uncool.
Tom also paved the way for a host of stars that followed him of course, meaning he was a trailblazer himself. Famous for his painfully sincere vocal stylings it turns out he was as disarmingly straightforward in his professional dealings as he was onstage and both his fans and fellow musicians loved him for it. He was our Elvis, minus the tempestuous personal life or drug dependency.
Tom Gilmore, the well known Irish broadcaster and journalist, has undertaken this labor of love and an attempt to celebrate and mark an era that has already passed and he is more than equal to the challenge he has set himself.
The era of ballroom and marquee dancing in Ireland is long over now but Gilmore pauses to reflect on just how successful Big Tom and The Mainliners were at filling all those long gone venues from Malin to Mizen. Big Tom's records too sold by the tens of thousands in his heyday and he had numerous top ten hits in the national charts.
There has always been a market for the simple, well sung, affecting ballad in Ireland and Big Tom filled that market from his first-ever appearance. Gilmore's book is a heartfelt tribute to the man who started it all.
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