United Kingdom

The last hanging man

April 7, 2016

Michael always put his heart and soul into everything he did. The tune of 'Champagne Charlie' still sends chills down my spine as they cheered and celebrated on the 26th May 1868, I stood alone, still and alone, in a crowd of thousands, who jeered and sang. They linked arms and skipped round as they chanted 'Champagne Charlie' and 'Rule Britannia'

'Fizz Fizz Fizz'
'Pop Pop Pop'

Ireland's 'Great Famine' in 1845 is what kicked off Michael's anger. A potato blight that came from America spread over Ireland. I was 4 years of age, playing in the sloppy wet mud with many of the local children. I don't remember much from that day, that is, apart from the disgusted yelling as our parents realised the crop this year was nothing more than a mushy inedible mess. From that moment on my life was changed, food was no longer readily available as it had been, and we hadn't any money to buy food as we had no crop to sell. Many of my friends died in this time, most of my family became ill, my own sister passed away laying in my arms, from starvation, exhaustion, we had no home, it was cold, her death could have been from any of these things.

My mother and I were in mud, when Michael came across us, I hardly recognised him. When he called out for me 'Katelyn?' My vision was blurring. My ears ringing. My head throbbing. 11 years old, Michael walked towards me. Then darkness.
When I awoke, I was in a warm bed, I was in a house, I looked down at my hands and they were clean. I jumped as I saw Michael's mother sitting at the end of my bed. She was a loving woman, strong and brave. She stroked my head as she knelt down and looked at me. 'Katty...' she said in a solemn tone. She held my little 9 year old hand in hers, I looked at her as a tear welled in the corner of her eye. She held my hand to her lips and kissed the top of it with a sniff. 'Katty your mother...she-'

I didn't even hear what she said after that. Almost as if I had gone temporarily deaf. All I knew is that my mother was dead, that meant my father, my sister and now my mother were gone. Michael had lost his father to this famine, but he still had his mother and was lucky enough to have rich family in the city. Though, I was lucky enough to be taken in by them. As I lay in bed Michael came in, 'Look Katty' he said holding up a small wooden toy. It was a baton with a small cup shape on top, attached, was a string and wooden ball, the aim of the game was to get the ball into the cup, of course not using your hands. We sat there for hours, the both of us trying to get the ball into the cup. It was surprisingly difficult and the ball ended up swinging underneath, bobbing side to side as we laughed each time we missed the cup. I looked up into Michael's eyes, he managed to make me feel happy when a few hours before I thought I would never feel happy again.

By the time we I was 16 its safe to say Michael and I were in love, despite growing up together for the past 7 years I never saw him as a brother figure. As soon as he turned 18 he began to attend these hate talks, blaming the English for the two million dead as a result of the famine. He would never shut up about the £100,000 worth of useless corn the English gave us, when we had lost over £3,500,000 in potatoes. He would say things like 'We need independence from the English, they won't help us when we need it most, so why should we be governed by them?' Well I suppose he had a point but the famine was over and he was very angry about the whole situation. I didn't want him to go about doing anything stupid. I would wait outside the halls and pubs until the talks he went to were finished. He would come out and run to me, scooping me up and spinning me round, my deep green dress swayed in the wind as he would kiss my cheek and neck. We would walk to the river and sit for hours, I would sit on a rope swing as we watched the sunset, swinging and bobbing side to side. Life was perfect in my eyes and this continued, our happy, little, simple life, for years. 

One day as we sat on the river bank, Michael told me he was going to join the Fenians. They planned to fight for Irish independence if England would not grant it. I was not happy to say the least. He was 27, young and I knew this meant he would have be away from home, but Michael was set on it, he was going to join the Fenians. I was upset, until he knelt down, held my hand in his and kissed the top of it. He pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it to reveal a ring, a beautiful silver ring and he asked me to marry him. I looked into his eyes as I said yes, he was still that boy who made me happy when I felt as though I could never be happy again.

It was early December when he left, he told me it was for a political discussion and that although he wouldn't be back for Christmas, he wouldn't be gone for long. Jokingly, he said 'I'm not off to war Katty, I'm not going to die' then kissed me.
On the 13th of December 1867 the Clarkenwell Explosion took place and Michael and his Fenians were behind it. I was angry at him, this wasn't going to get the English to give us independence. That anger soon turned to fear as he was sentenced to death. I went to England to see him, his mother trekked miles in the snow to appeal for his release but she was turned away. The days flew by too quickly.

Michael always put his heart and soul into everything he did and in this case his life. The tune of 'Champagne Charlie' still sends chills down my spine as they cheered and celebrated on the 26th May 1868, I stood alone, still and alone, in a crowd of thousands, who jeered and sang. They linked arms and skipped round as they chanted 'Champagne Charlie' and 'Rule Britannia'.

Before he dropped I looked up into his eyes, I saw the boy that made me happy when I thought I would never feel happy again. My deep green dress, swaying in the wind. His body swung and bobbed from side to side, like the ball on the string when we missed the cup. What makes my blood curdle more is that England decided soon after that capital punishment was barbaric and then abolished it. Michael was the last man to be publicly executed in England. 
The last hanging man.
Michael Barrett was  the last man to be executed in England at Newgate Prison. He was involved in the Clarkenwell Explosion of 1867 with the political group 'The Fenians' who wanted Irish independence from England rule. Although he was a real person and the dates are true, this is a fictional story and any relevance to true events are purely coincedental.


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