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Monday 29 May 2017

An Honour Killing

The death of Honour Bright led to two allegedly innocent men being tried for murder, says Frank Hopkins

A SMALL PLAQUE ON A WALL at Ticknock Cross in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains is now the only reminder of a remarkable murder case that occurred in Dublin in 1925. "In memory of Honour Bright" it reads.

"RIP June 9th 1925". Honour Bright, born Lizzie O’Neill, lived in the Liberties and plied her trade as a prostitute in the vicinity of St Stephen’s Green. When her body was found in a ditch shortly after 7am on June 9th 1925, she was dressed in a grey two-piece suit and had been wearing a hat adorned with a red rosette. She had been shot through the heart.

Finding out why she died miles from the red light district of Dublin, proved to be a difficult task for the newly formed Civic Guard. One of their own superintendents and a medical doctor would eventually stand trial for the murder.

On the last evening of her life Lizzie, or Honour, had been working her usual beat on St Stephen's Green. In the days after her death, one of Lizzie's colleagues told of a man who had paid her ten shillings for her services and complained that another prostitute had robbed him of £11 and a silver cigarette case earlier in the evening. The man was angry and said he had a pistol and would use it if he found her again.

He asked for her help in finding the thief and said his friend, in a sports car parked nearby, was a superintendent in the Civic Guard and would round up all the prostitutes if the money was not found.

Another eyewitness gave an account of seeing Lizzie and another prostitute in the company of two men outside the Shelbourne Hotel. The men were in their late 20s or early 30s and driving a grey, two-seater sports car.

In an era when cars were somewhat scarce, the sports car was traced to Dr Patrick Purcell of Blessington, who admitted being in the city on the evening Honour was murdered with Garda Superintendent Leo Dillon.

Their statements tallied to a certain extent but both omitted to mention the robbery of £11. Dillon eventually admitted that he had been with Honour Bright that night, but said he had last seen her getting into a taxi at St Stephen's Green and driving off.

A taxi driver, Ernest Woodroffe, came forward and said that he had taken Lizzie to Leonard's Corner where he saw the grey, two-seater sports car. This put Purcell and Dillon in close proximity to the last live sighting of Honour and was enough for the Civic Guard to bring charges.

They were tried for murder on January 30 1926.

Superintendent Dillon and Dr Purcell contended that the police constable and taxi driver were lying. The jury accepted there were doubts and acquitted them both. However, the uperintendent's career was in ruins and Dr Purcell found life so difficult in Blessington among the local people that he moved to England.

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