LUCINDA Sly is fast becoming the most famous woman ever to be from County Carlow. At least two books have been written about her, a play has just had its world première, there are regular walking tours based on her life, and now, there’s a plaque in her honour in Carlow Shopping Centre.
But Lucinda’s fame comes at a very high price because she’s gone down in the annals of history as being the last woman ever to be hanged in Carlow County Gaol.
At precisely 2.30pm on 30 March 1835, the trap door on the scaffolding in the gaol was released and the poor woman swung from her neck.
She perished alongside her alleged lover, John Dempsey, after the pair had been convicted her murdering her husband, Walter, at The Ridge, Old Leighlin. Lucinda was a landowner but lost her property when she married Walter, who sold it from under her. Legend has it that she suffered terribly at the hands of her husband and, pushed to the limit, killed him with the help of Dempsey. She and Dempsey were found guilty of murder by a jury in nearby Deighton Hall, made up exclusively of male landowners.
“Hanging in the 1830s wasn’t pleasant,” John McDarby from Carlow County Museum understated. “It was a horrible, long, drawn-out experience – more like death from strangulation. The hanging would have drawn thousands of people to see it.”
On Monday 30 March last, a small group of people gathered in the local shopping centre, which was the site of the former county gaol. They said a few prayers in memory of the famous Old Leighlin resident and observed a minute’s silence at precisely 2.30pm. A plaque, in memory of her, was unveiled by Reverend Olivia Williams, who was assisted by Mgr Brendan Byrne. It will now be installed just inside the main doorway in the shopping centre on Kennedy Avenue, the very doorway where Lucinda took her last breath.
“There are so many aspects to this story – women’s rights, property rights, domestic violence, crime and punishment,” John pointed out. “It spans three centuries and, hopefully, we’ve come some distance since then. It’s also said that Lucinda’s still about in spirit and that her benign ghost still haunts the place. But does she or doesn’t she?”