The Murder of Lily O'Neill, known as Honor Bright, in 1925

The murder had made a big stir from the start, despite the  mayhem in Dublin a few years earlier. The police photo in situ shows a large crowd gathering to stare, and according to reporters they flocked to see the body in the back shed of Lamb Doyle’s public house outside Dundrum, where the body was stored before the inquest took place the following day. Because of enormous public demand every newspaper carried a daily article about it on the front page, usually as the main headline for weeks, and when the trial of the alleged murderers finally took place seven months later, lawyers could not get into the court on time on account of the hordes of people, so anxious were they to get into the courtroom, blocking the courtroom doors, and the noisy demonstrations and protests outside. The public did not view the case as the dismal murder of a back-street nobody, but as a major political event.

The first headline was typically “Murder at Ticknock” and reported that a labourer, fetching the horses for work at 7.30 in the morning, had discovered a beautiful girl lying in the lane beside the ditch, as if asleep. Reporters described her as about 25 or 26, five foot four, with chestnut brown hair held back by a black velvet headband. She was wearing a beehive hat, a grey tweed suit with a mauve silk blouse, black patent leather shoes with T-straps and silk stockings. Her left shoe was at some distance from her foot. In her pockets were a packet of Woodbine cigarettes, some matches, a powder compact and puff, a few coins and a rosary. She carried no identification. There was an old scar over the left side of her nose.

She looked as if she would wake at any moment. She had not struggled or been assaulted; her clothes had not been ripped or interfered with; there was hardly any blood apart from a tiny trickle at the side of her mouth and the neat bullet-hole in her chest.

The labourer had run to the public house, where the owner had telephoned Superintendent Reynolds, who had called his sergeant and asked him to bring a camera. At first, when they arrived, the police assumed that the shooting had happened elsewhere and the body had just been dumped here, because it was such a lonely spot. After the sergeant had taken photographs, the body was carried to the outhouse of the pub to await the Coroner, Dr J.P.Brennan, the following day.

His first act on opening the inquest was to lambaste the jurors who had not materialised to hear the case. He assumed they were merely lacking in community spirit and too lazy to assist in the inquest on this woman, a decent, innocent victim of a heinous crime. He was determined to find the unspeakable reprobate who had committed the crime.

Dr Brennan called witnesses to identify the corpse, all fellow lodgers at her address, 48 Newmarket Street in the Liberties. According to most the dead girl had called herself Honor Bright, but Madge Hopkins, who had known her for five years, identified her as Lizzy O’Neill, although she had noticed that Lizzy received letters addressed to Lily O’Neill. Madge said that Lizzy had been born in County Carlow and had lived in Dublin for five years. Charles Lynch, who managed the ladies' lodging house for his mother, said she had lived at that address for three years. He had last seen her at eleven o’clock the night before, whereas Madge had seen her later, at three-thirty that morning.

At the end of the first day Dr Brennan suddenly announced that he was adjourning the inquest for two weeks “at the request of the police authorities”. Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy, the highest-ranking policeman in the Free State, had taken over the case and brought all public activity to a halt. Nevertheless Dr Brennan hoped the next meeting would find the “perpetrator or perpetrators of this atrocity brought to justice”. He expostulated that “It is inconceivable that a monster of that nature, who is certainly responsible for the death of this unfortunate girl, should be at large …”

Excerpt From: Patricia Hughes. “W. B. Yeats and the Murder of Honor Bright.” 

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Tags: Dublin, Free, History of Ireland, Honor Bright, Irish, Murder, Mystery, Sligo, State, Studies, More…Women's, Yeats

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