Lady Betty

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  • Roscommon People

Sir William Wilde

As is the case with many legendary figures, it is hard to separate fact from fiction in the story of Lady Betty. However, we can be sure that she existed. Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, wrote about her in his book Ireland: Her Wit, Peculiarities and Popular Superstitions.

Lady Betty was famous as a cruel hangwoman who worked in Roscommon Jail in the eighteenth century. According to Sir William Wilde, she drew a sketch of each of her victims on the walls of her dwelling with a burnt stick.

Lady Betty's story is very sad. It is likely she was born in Kerry. Her husband and children died except for one son. She and her son were evicted from their home and finally settled in Roscommon town. They were very poor. Lady Betty's son left home at a young age to escape his mother's harsh temper.

One night, a well-dressed man arrived at her cabin and asked for lodgings for the night. While he slept, she killed him for a sum of money he had on his person. Looking through his papers, Lady Betty discovered the young man she had killed was her son.

She was sentenced to be hanged in Roscommon Jail, along with various others, including sheep stealers and Whiteboys. On the planned day of execution, the hangman was ill. Lady Betty offered to take his place if her life was spared. This gained her instant notoriety.

Lady Betty lived in Roscommon Jail for many years and carried out countless executions there. She also carried out floggings in the street. The Lord Lieutenant officially lifted her death sentence in 1802 in recognition of the fact that she had executed many United Irishmen. She died in 1807.