Countdown: Political Endeavours to Save John Twiss

The right honourable Gentleman's reply
will not be received with satisfaction

– William Hoey Kearney Redmond, MP, 
to John Morley, Chief Secretary for Ireland


As the application for the Presidential Pardon of John Twiss of Castleisland awaits outcome, the O’Donohoe Archive here gives space, in January 2020, to the political efforts made to save John Twiss from the gallows 125 years ago, notably the day before his execution.


Those who spoke in his defence in the House of Commons before and after his execution included Joseph Edward Kenny, Timothy Harrington, William Hoey Kearney Redmond, and Edmund Francis Vesey Knox.


It will be seen that in the wake of the execution of Twiss, Mr Redmond requested an inquiry to put ‘the public mind at rest’ to which John Morley, Chief Secretary, replied, ‘No ground whatever exists for ordering an inquiry … the public mind will very soon set itself at rest on the question.’


Politicians pleaded for Twiss in 1895; their pleas failed to convince John Morley


House of Commons, 8 February 1895


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whether in the case of John Twiss, now under sentence of death in Cork County Gaol, he will advise His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to grant a respite of sentence till further and more searching inquiry can be made as to the truth of the evidence alleged to be forthcoming since the trial?[1]


John Morley: I cannot advise in the sense suggested in the question. There was a considerable interval of time between the arrest of this convict and his committal for trial; there was a considerable interval between the committal and the conviction; there has been a further considerable interval between the conviction and the date fixed for carrying out the sentence; and I cannot suppose that a respite will produce any fresh evidence that would be material.[2]


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: Is the right hon Gentleman aware that there is a widespread feeling of disbelief in this man’s guilt, and that petitions in favour of a respite—I do not now ask for a reprieve—have been signed by all classes of persons in Ireland?


John Morley: I am indeed quite well aware of what the hon Member says—that there is such a feeling among various classes in Ireland. The existence of a strong feeling of that kind is, of course, no reason why the Government should interfere with the carrying out of the sentence of the law.


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: May I ask whether it is not a reason—not for a reprieve—I do not ask for that—but for a respite, so that the matter may be searched to the bottom, and the public mind satisfied one way or the other?


John Morley: If there were the slightest reason for supposing that further delay would produce fresh evidence, that would be a reason for the course suggested by the hon Member, but for the reasons I have stated, there have been abundant means of obtaining fresh evidence, if it were to be found, and as there cannot be a reasonable expectation of obtaining such evidence, I cannot advise an extension of time.


Timothy Harrington: May I ask the right hon Gentleman whether he is aware that from day to day statements are appearing in the newspapers, in addition to the fresh evidence that has been already obtained? Is he satisfied that all these statements have been brought to his notice?[3]


John Morley: I have examined carefully the statements made from time to time, and I find no such strength in them as to justify any other course than that which is now to be taken.


House of Commons, 14 February 1895


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether he has seen the statement given in evidence by Governor Andrews, of Cork Gaol, at the inquest on John Twiss, executed on last Saturday, 9th instant, that magisterial investigations, at which a Resident Magistrate, the Crown Solicitor, and Inspector Irwin were present, were held in Cork Gaol, and evidence taken in reference to the crime of which Twiss was subsequently convicted, and that at those investigations the prisoner was not professionally represented; and whether such investigations are according to custom; and, if so, whether he will take measures to put an end to such proceedings?[4]


John Morley: In answer to my hon friend, when further evidence against a prisoner is obtained after he has been committed for trial, it is, I am informed, the usual and proper course, and a course taken in favour of the prisoner, to take that evidence in his presence, lest he should be taken by surprise by its production at the trial.  The evidence in this case was that of a man named Reidy, but was not used at the trial.  The prisoner was not professionally represented when the witness’s evidence was given in the prison.  Copies of the evidence taken were, on the same day, forwarded to the solicitor acting for Twiss, and that is the answer to the question on the Paper.  As, however, the hon Member mentioned the name of District Inspector Irwin in the question, perhaps I may be allowed to take this opportunity of referring to certain allegations that have been made affecting him.  It has been alleged that he paid money to Twiss to swear against a certain person or persons; that he told him that he had “a rope round his neck;” and that he had shown Twiss photographs of certain persons.  I have received to-day from Inspector Irwin a Report, in which he stated explicitly that he never at any time, either in court or in prison, offered any money to Twiss to swear against any person or persons, or for any other purpose whatever, during the time that he was employed in the investigation of the case, or at any other time.  He never mentioned to Twiss that he had a rope round his neck, or at any time showed him photographs of persons.


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: Reminded the Chief Secretary that he had made no insinuations against Irwin. Did the right hon Gentleman approve of the practice in criminal cases—where a man’s life might be in jeopardy—of additional evidence being taken in a prison, away from all publicity, against a prisoner who had no professional aid, whether in his presence or not?  Why was it not given in open Court or reserved for the trial?  Under what Statute was evidence taken in this way?


John Morley: Replied, that he could not say under what Act of Parliament the procedure was based.  But he had informed himself about the practice, which was in favour of the prisoner. When new evidence was found against a prisoner after he had been committed for trial, two courses might be taken before the trial took place—the depositions might be taken outside the prison and communicated afterwards to the prisoner, or the evidence of witnesses might be taken by a Magistrate in prison in the presence of the accused. This was to prevent new evidence being sprung upon the prisoner at the trial.


Timothy Harrington: Asked whether the right hon Gentleman thought it was in favour of a prisoner, when he had a solicitor to defend him, that additional evidence should be taken against him in a prison and behind that solicitor’s back?


Mr Speaker said, this question was not in Order, as it discussed what was in favour of the prisoner or not, which hardly arose here.


Timothy Harrington: Then asked whether notice was given to Twiss’s solicitor that the additional evidence would be taken, and whether he had an opportunity of using it for prisoner’s defence if it was not in favour of the prosecution?


Edmund Francis Vesey Knox: Asked whether the right hon Gentleman had considered the effect of witnesses being examined in the walls of a prison?[5]


John Morley: Said, it did not matter what the effect on witnesses was, he was right in assuming that the practice of taking the evidence in prison and in the prisoner’s presence was in favour of the prisoner.  Notice that the evidence would be taken was given to the prisoner’s solicitor; but the witness was not produced at the trial, and the evidence was not used for any purpose.


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: Pointed out that perfectly inadmissible evidence might be given against a prisoner who had not the protection of a legal adviser.


John Morley: Said, he had discussed the matter thoroughly with those who were competent to advise him, and he was convinced that the course taken was not injurious to the prisoner.


William Hoey Kearney Redmond: Asked if representatives of the Press were at liberty to attend the taking of evidence in prisons?[6]


John Morley: I am afraid not; but I cannot say.


Dr Joseph Edward Kenny: Was proceeding to put another question, when—


Mr Speaker:  Order, order!


House of Commons, 18 February 1895


Timothy Harrington: I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether, on the occasion of a man named Reidy being brought into Cork Gaol to identify the prisoner John Twiss and make a deposition in his presence and hearing, any intimation was conveyed to Twiss’ solicitor that such a deposition would be taken, inasmuch as it was subsequently shown at the trial that on this occasion Reidy swore that on a particular day he had been at a fair in Castleisland and heard the prisoner Twiss asking another man for a revolver in order to shoot Donovan; and, in view of the fact that the Crown subsequently discovered that Reidy was not at this fair, and was ill at the Tralee Infirmary at the time, it is intended to proceed against Reidy for perjury?[7]


John Morley: A man named Reidy was brought to the Cork Prison and his deposition taken there, in presence of the prisoner. The deposition so taken was immediately forwarded to the solicitor for Twiss. The solicitor was not present when the depositions were taken, which is regrettable, but Reidy was not examined at the trial of Twiss, nor was any evidence given or offered in respect to Reidy’s allegation against Twiss, which the Attorney General rejected, not upon the ground that he had been in an infirmary during the time to which the evidence applied (of which he was unaware), but because of its being, in his opinion, unworthy of belief. There is no intention of prosecuting Reidy for perjury, nor do the law officers think such a prosecution could be successful.  It was to be remembered that Reidy was not called as a witness at the trial.


House of Commons, 21 February 1895


William Hoey Kearney Redmond: I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland if he will order an inquiry into the charges made against certain officials in Ireland by John Twiss, who was recently executed in Cork Prison.[8]


John Morley: The charges made by the convict Twiss were confined to imputations made against District Inspector Irwin.  They were made at the trial in the hearing of the Chief Baron, who subsequently said, in sentencing Twiss, that he agreed in the conclusion at which the jury had arrived.  The officials, including the Governor and Deputy Governor of the prison, wholly repudiate charges which rest solely on the uncorroborated imputations of the convict.  No ground whatever exists for ordering an inquiry.


William Hoey Kearney Redmond: Might I ask whether, in view of the very widespread feeling in regard to this matter, it would not be satisfactory to have an inquiry into these charges, so that they could be officially proved or disproved once for all, and so set the public mind at rest over this matter?


John Morley: My own very deliberate opinion is, that the public mind will very soon set itself at rest on the question: but, however that may be, I do not consider the existence of an unjust and ungrounded feeling in the public mind as any reason why I should make an inquiry.


William Hoey Kearney Redmond: Said, the right hon Gentleman’s reply would not be received with satisfaction.



[1] HC Deb 08 February 1895 vol 30 cc298-9.

Dr Joseph Edward Kenny (1845-1900), MP Dublin College Green.  See p758 O’Donohoe Collection Catalogue for genealogical note on Dr Kenny.

[2] Ibid. John Morley (1838-1923) Chief Secretary for Ireland 1892-1895.  Further reference, ‘John Twiss and the Campaign to reprieve him’

[3] Ibid.  Timothy Harrington, MP, Dublin Harbour.  Further reference, see O’Donohoe Collection pages and

[4] HC Deb 14 February 1895 vol 30 cc717-9.

[5] Edmund Francis Vesey Knox (1865-1921) MP Cavan West.

[6] William Hoey Kearney Redmond (1861-1917) MP Clare East.

[7] HC Deb 18 February 1895 vol 30 cc960-1.

[8] HC Deb 21 February 1895 vol 30 c1241.