Irish Legal Heritage: The execution of Dorcas Kelly



On Wednesday 7 January 1761, Dorcas Kelly (also known as Darkey Kelly) was executed near St Stephens Green in Dublin.

Darkey was a sex worker and “brothel keeper” who had been found guilty of the murder of a shoemaker called John Dowling the previous year, and her sentence was “to be burned” at the stake.

It is reported that she was partially hanged before she was burned “almost alive”. It was later reported that “five bodies of murdered gentlemen were found” in the vaults of Darkey’s brothel.

After Darkey’s death, women who worked for Darkey brought her body to Copper Alley to be waked. The Chief Magistrate ordered the arrest of the women, 13 of whom were charged with riotous behaviour.

Fleming writes that at the trial, “King George III’s Royal Proclamation For the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality” was read to the jury “to encourage them to fulfil their duty”.

In the aftermath, “notices in the newspapers announced a concerted effort to prosecute prostitutes” in Dublin. (D Fleming, ‘Public Attitudes to Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Ireland’ (2005) Irish Economic and Social History).



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