This is the text of The Irish Press coverage of the lead up to Tom Williams’ hanging on 2nd September 1942. Two years previously, on 6th September 1940, De Valera’s government had executed Thomas Harte from Lurgan and Patrick McGrath, a 1916 veteran. The difference in the coverage, publicity and reprieve campaigns are significant. The same could also be said for the coverage of the execution (again by the Fianna Fáil government) of George Plant on 5th March 1942. I’ll reproduce the coverage from 1940 next week on the anniversary. You can read some more on the backdrop to Williams’ execution here.
Reprieve Petition Refused
(IRISH PRESS Special Reporter), BELFAST, Tuesday [1st September]. The petition for the reprieve of Thomas J. Williams, to be executed in Belfast Prison tomorrow, has been refused. A statement issued to-night said that the Six-County Governor, having considered the further petition submitted in the case had decided “that the law must take its course“.
An armed guard was placed outside the jail, where.a notice of the decision of the Government had been nailed-up after the black-out. The Belfast Reprieve. Committee, at a final meeting, urged the people to maintain the same restraint they had shown through the campaign. They also requested all to attend Masses in the city churches in the morning and to show some manifestation of mourning by drawing blinds in their homes. They sent the following final telegram at 8.30 to the British Prime Minister: “Belfast Reprieve Committee make this final appeal to you at this eleventh hour for mercy to Thomas J. Williams“. The news that a .reprieve had been refused was broken to the condemned youth at 9.45 to-night by Mr. D. Marrinan, his solicitor, in the presence of his grandmother, Mrs. M. Fay, with whom he lived at 47 Bombay Street; his uncle, Mr. C. Fay, and his brother, Richard, who is a member of the Irish Air Corps. Just before Mr.. Marrinan arrived Williams received the following telegram from his father who is a Sergeant-Major in the Irish Army: “Tom, be brave to the end, son. Goodbye and God bless you.” To Mr. Marrinan the youth gave the following message: “Thank all for their efforts to save me. I am quite resigned if it is God’s holy Will and if it is done for Ireland“. It was at Mr. Marrinan’s request that the relatives of the youth were present when the news was broken to him.
He took the announcement unflinchingly. Mr. Marrinan said that three priests would remain with Williams until 11 o’clock – Rev. V. McAllister, Prison Chaplain; Rev. Rr. Alexis, C.P.;and Rev. K. McEneany, and that he would attend Mass and receive communion at 7.30 a.m. The relatives left the prison at 10 p.m. One of the last to see Williams was Mr. G. McGouran, printer, Bank St., Belfast, his former employer.
Mr. Marrinan had earlier gone to Stormont hoping to interview the Prime Minister, Mr. Andrews. He was accompanied by Mr. C. E. Reddin, Dublin Secretary Licensed Grocers and Vintners Association. Unable to see Mr. Andrews, Mr. Marrinan saw the Secretary to the Cabinet, Mr. Robert Gransden, before the Cabinet meeting began.
Mr. Marrinan said that Williams, out of loyalty to his comrades, accepted the guilt in his alleged voluntary statement and that position was not accepted at the trial. Why did tho Cabinet reverse that procedure and use Williams’ statement to decide his fate? Medical evidence disclosed that there were five wounds in the constable’s body, and the evidence showed that the bullet which passed through the heart causing instant death, was not caused by Williams. Prayers were said by groups of people in streets in the Falls Road area to-night. The Rosary was said outside the house in Bombay Street where Williams lived with his grandmother, Mrs. Fay.
The Reprieve Committee in Dublin stated last night that in the event of Williams’ execution every business was expected to close down to-day between 11 and 12 noon. The public are expected to attend places of worship and offer prayers for the repose of the.soul of Williams. Last evening Mr .Shane Leslie, who is staying in Dublin, had an interview with Messrs. Sean MacBride, L. J. Duffy and Roger McHugh, representing the Reprieve Committee. It was later announced that Mr. Leslie forwarded to the Duke of Abercorn the following telegram: “Recalling days of chivalrous rivalry at Derry and acknowledging your dignity and humanity under the present difficulties, I venture to believe that you can secure a common sympathy amongst all Irishmen. In days when Irishmen on both sides of the Boyne are meeting a common enemy. I believe a single stroke of your pen could secure peace and good feeling in Ireland for the rest of our time“.
Mr. Leslie, as a Nationalist candidate, contested Derry City against the Duke, then representing the unionist interest, at the first general election in 1910.
Before blackout a crowd of children assembled outside the prison and knelt in prayer. They were moved on by the police and they marched away towards the city centre singing, :
Mr. C. B, Reddin, Secretary of the Licensed Grocers’ and Vintners’ Association, announced in Belfast last night it was the request of his Association that all licensed premises in the Twenty-Six Counties should close their premises’to-day (Wednesday) from 11 to 12 noon. Before going to Stormont, Mr Reddin had a conference with Senator T. Lynch, Councillor J. Kilpatrick, Capt. Denis Ireland, President of the Ulster Union Club, and Mr. Eamonn Donnelly.