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The following excerpt is from the Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Ireland, March 1934.


From 1780 to about 1810, the executioner at Roscommon Jail was a cold-blooded, brutal woman. She came from Kerry originally and lived in abject poverty on the west side of Roscommon with her young son. She was a silent, brooding person but was literate, an unusual accomplishment for those days, and taught her son to read and write.

She also taught him that only money brought happiness, so when he came of age he emigrated to America to seek his fortune.

Several years later, one dark, stormy night, a tall, well-dressed stranger with a dark beard knocked on Betty's door asking for food and shelter. She took him in, but while he slept she decided to kill him and take his money.

Her dreadful deed done, she sifted through his papers and discovered, to her horror, that she had murdered her own son.

Hysterical, she ran out into the cold dawn, shrieking her guilt. She was arrested, tried and condemned to death. She and several other criminals were taken to Roscommon jail for execution. On arrival, they were told that the executioner was ill, and the sheriff refused to execute them himself.

Betty called out from the cart 'Spare me, yer Honour. spare me and I'll hang them all.' The sheriff agreed. She performed the grisly task perfectly, and was appointed the jail's 'hangwoman'. with a yearly' salary and a room of her own.

Lady Betty, as she became known, acquired a fearsome reputation Her method of hanging was to stand the victim on a wooden lapboard. a horizontal door hinged to the wall, outside her third-floor window. The noose around the neck was attached to an iron beam above her window. She would then pull the bolt that held up the lapboard. the hinged platform would drop and the victim was left to swing until dead.

She also drew charcoal portraits of her victims on her walls and lived with this appalling record of destruction around her until she died, in the early 19th century.