18 March 2006

Two hanged Irish remembered

The Republican

Saturday, March 18, 2006

NORTHAMPTON - It was a great day for the Irish in Northampton. A lot better than the day two Irishmen had 200 years ago.

The laughter that usually marks St. Patrick's Day festivities was tempered somewhat yesterday as the community took the occasion to commemorate the deaths of James Halligan and Dominic Daley, a couple of Irish immigrants who were hanged in 1806 for a murder they didn't commit. Gathering around a monument to the two Irishmen on Hospital Hill, where the men were put to death, leaders of the city's Irish community joined other opponents of prejudice in emphasizing the lesson that the story holds for society today.

"We want to remember these men, because they were subject to prejudice and intolerance in their day," said Judge W. Michael Ryan. "Prejudice is poison. We have to accept all as our neighbors and treat all equally and with justice."

Daley and Halligan were traveling through the area on their way to New York City when Marcus Lyon, of Wilbraham, was murdered. A 13-year-old boy who lived near Lyon told authorities he had seen two men acting suspiciously on the nearby toll road and picked Daley and Halligan out of a lineup.

The prejudice shown against Irish Catholics at the time was hardly disguised as court-appointed defense lawyers were given a mere 48 hours to prepare their case after Daley and Halligan had been held in jail for four months. Some 15,000 people turned out to watch the two Irishmen be hanged. Some years later, another man confessed to the murder on his deathbed.

Michael White, a professor at Fairfield University and author of "The Garden of Martyrs," a newly released historical novel about the incident, said he visited the memorial during his research and thought about what must have been going through the minds of the two men. Hampshire County Sheriff Robert J. Garvey read from the final statement of the condemned men, in which they reasserted their innocence but forgave their executors.

"'We blame no one,'" Garvey read. "'We forgive everyone.'"

The ceremony was one of a yearlong series of events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the deaths of Daley and Halligan.

The day started off on a more cheerful note as some 300 Irish and Irish-for-a-day gathered at the Clarion Hotel for the 26th Annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast. As usual, the breakfast was an occasion for levity. With her recent mayoral opponent Richard J. Feldman sitting nearby at the head table, Mayor Mary Clare Higgins suggested that her Irish heritage helped her carry the day last November.

"I think a lot of people looked at the ballot and said, 'Didn't I go to St. Michael's with her?'" Higgins said.

Feldman, who followed Higgins to the podium, told the crowd, "The last time I spoke for a few minutes following the mayor last November, I didn't do so well, either."

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