A total of 46 people were executed in Mountjoy prison. The first was John O'Toole for murder and the last to hang was Michael Manning, a Limerick man, also for murder. He was hanged on 20 April 1954. Of the 46, only one woman was executed. Her name was Annie Walsh and she was sentenced to death for killing her husband in 1925.
The original ropes and tools of the hangman’s trade are on view at the museum. The executioners were from Britain - Henry Pierrepoint, his brother Thomas and his son Albert. Albert became the most well known of the three. There is a letter in the museum from Thomas to the Governor of Mountjoy replying to a request to carry out a hanging. In this he states that his traveling expenses were £3 and 3 shillings, and he also required expenses for his assistant who was also a qualified executioner. Thomas Pierrepoint himself was sentenced to death in 1944 by the IRA. He had hanged the IRA chief of staff, Charlie Kearns, for shooting dead a high ranking Garda.
In the hang house there are parallel beams that ran along the underside of the roof into the gable walls. The hanging rope would have been attached to chains that were fixed to the beams. Hanging is an art in itself. The weight of the condemned man would have to be calculated to get the correct distance of drop so the prisoner would die instantly. If it was to be calculated wrong there could be a decapitation or the prisoner could be left strangling. In the museum there is a chart showing the drop length needed for the weight of each possible person to be hung. There is also a ‘weighed dummy’ used to perfect the hanging setup.
The original door to the hang house has been blocked up. It used to lead from D1 landing. The condemned cell was on the end of this landing facing the hang house door. The condemned man would spend his final night there before execution with two officers, sharing the cell, watching his every move just in case he cheated the hang man by committing suicide. When his time came, he would have his hands bound and then escorted to the hang house by the officers, the Governor, the city sheriff, a priest and of course the executioner and his assistant.
There is now a railing surrounding the trapdoors for public safety. The trapdoors are big enough to carry out two executions at the same time although there is no record of such an event. When the prisoner stood on the trapdoors the hang mans assistant would strap the prisoner’s ankles together then place a hood over his head. The rope would then be placed over his head and around the neck. The hangman would then remove the key from the lever and within seconds the lever would be pushed forward to open the trapdoors. The doctor would then check for vital signs and as a rule, he would be left hanging for one hour.
There is a plaque on the outside wall of the hang house commemorating all those who died for their country during the War of Independence. Kevin Barry, aged 18, was one of ten men hung by the British authorities for their involvement with the Irish Volunteers at that time.