70 years since Limerick man was hung in last ever State execution in Ireland

Katie (Catherine) Cooper, pictured in Kilkee.

THIS weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the last person to be executed by the State – Limerick man Michael Manning.

Manning was 25 when he was executed by hanging at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin on Tuesday April 20, 1954.

The Johnsgate native was the last male to receive the death penalty in Ireland, after his convicted of raping and murdering of Barrington’s Hospital nurse, Sister Katie (Catherine) Cooper, a native of Killimer, West Clare, on November 19, 1953.

Ms Cooper (64) was walking towards Limerick City from Castletroy around 9.30pm on the night when she was set upon by Manning.

The nurse’s body was discovered in a quarry on the Dublin Road.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

Manning, who worked at Limerick Docks, had stuffed tufts of grass into her mouth to prevent her screaming for help.

Ms Cooper also sustained crushed ribs, cuts, and bruises to her head and face and lost five teeth in the violent struggle.

Manning said he had been drinking heavily on the day and was making his way home to his pregnant wife when he set eye on Ms Cooper.

Sister Cooper with her nursing team at Kidderminster Hospital in London.

After his arrest he told Gardaí: “I suddenly lost my head and jumped on the woman and remember no more until the lights of a car shone on me.”

He fled the scene but was arrested a few hours later.

Gardaí tracked him after he left a distinctive cowboy hat he was well known for wearing at the scene.

Rather unusually, Ms Cooper’s family supported an impassioned plea by Manning for clemency and not to be executed in a letter he wrote to then Minister for Justice Gerald Boland.

English hangman Albert Pierrepoint, who passed away aged 87 in 1992, and who executed an estimated 600 people in a 25-year career, executed Manning.

On Sunday, April 18, 1954, two days before his execution, Manning reportedly went to Mass, received holy communion, and played a game of handball with friends who visited him from Limerick.

His body was buried in an unmarked grave in a yard in Mountjoy Prison.

Incidentally, the last woman hanged in Ireland was a County Limerick native, 31-year-old Annie Walshe who was tried for the murder of her husband, Edward “Ned” Walshe. Ned’s nephew, Michael Talbot, was also hanged for his alleged part in the killing.

Walshe and Talbot were both found guilty and hanged in Mountjoy Prison on August 5, 1925.

Talbot went to the gallows first, followed by Walshe 45 minutes later.

The death penalty was abolished in 1964 except for anyone convicted of the murder of Gardaí, diplomats, and prison officers. The tariff was later abolished altogether in 1990 and expunged from the Constitution by a referendum in 2001.

Catherine Cooper’s rape and murder and Michael Manning’s conviction and execution are reconstructed in the book ‘Beneath Cannock’s Clock’ which was penned by the late Limerick author and journalist Dermot Walsh and published by Mercier Press.