A St. Patrick’s Day observance in Northampton, Massachusetts honored the memories of two Irish immigrants wrongly convicted of a murder 200 years ago. Participants said their story echoes in the civil rights struggles of today.
About 50 people gathered in the cold for a wreath-laying at a stone monument on a hillside overlooking downtown Northampton. It marks the spot where Dominic Daley and James Halligan were hanged in 1806. Monday marked 30 years since Massachusetts officially exonerated them.
Retired Massachusetts state trial court judge Michael Ryan vowed to never let people forget the story of Daley and Halligan, which he called a jarring example of what hate can do.
" When you see prejudice speak up, stand up, take action. Let your neighbors know it is not ok."
Ryan, a member of the committee that organizes the annual remembrance, compared Daley and Halligan to Emmett Till, the African American teenager murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after allegedly flirting with a white woman, and to Matthew Shepard, the gay college student murdered in Wyoming in 1998.
Ryan said the Irish in America are secure now in positions of power in the criminal justice and political systems and so it is “safe” to shine a light on prejudice and hate.
" If we look at the story of Daley-Halligan we can translate it to the story of today and how immigrants are being treated, how gays and lesbians and transgenders are being treated. They were doing the same thing against people of our culture who had a common origin."
Daley, 34, and Halligan, 27, were arrested after the body of a young farmer was found in Wilbraham. They were tried based on circumstantial evidence and convicted by a jury that deliberated for a just a few minutes. Years later, another man on his deathbed confessed to the murder.
Then-Governor Michael Dukakis exonerated Daley and Halligan on March 17, 1984. In his proclamation Dukakis said, “The trial and execution of Dominic Daley and James Halligan are reminders that we must constantly guard against the intrusion of fear and prejudice in all judicial and governmental decisions, and to resolve to not allow the rights of any racial, ethnic, or religious group to be denied or infringed as a result of such prejudices.”
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan acknowledged it is difficult to rid the system of all bias.
"There is always hidden prejudices that people have. They have to recognize it in themselves and they can't be fair to a defendant they should not sit on a jury."
The story of Daley and Halligan was the subject of the novel The Garden of the Martyrs by Michael White, and an opera by the same name.