When the railway builders brought in John Green as ganger (foreman) to hurry things up on the construction of the Crosshill section of the Glasgow-Edinburgh line, the Irish navvies groaned. For Cheshire-born Green, a tall, broad-shouldered fellow with a ruthless reputation, was known to have an intense dislike of Irishmen.
One aspect of that reputation was that he always sacked at least one man on his first day at a new site to establish his reign of fear and intimidation. Within hours of his arrival his steely gaze alighted on Dennis Doolan.
Youre a slacker, Doolan, Green said. The Irishman replied: I was here before you came and Ill be here after youve gone! At that Green informed him that he was fired, effective from the following Saturday.
That night, at their lodgings, Doolan and two of his Irish friends, Patrick Redding and James Hickie, planned their revenge. At daybreak they set out for work and lingered on the way on a bridge that they knew Green would have to cross to get to the construction site. Doolan was armed with a poker, Redding with a three-foot iron bar hooked at one end. Hickie was unarmed.
When Green arrived at the bridge they set about him unmercifully. The poker blows forced him to his knees and the iron bar caught him between the forehead and the bridge of his nose, almost tearing his right eye out of its socket. As the ganger lay dying, Redding and Hickie decided to walk on to the workplace, while Doolan fled to Greenock and the home of an old friend, Michael Smoker Burns, in Glasgow.
For six weeks Doolan hid in Burns home, but their relationship began to deteriorate when Burns discovered there was a reward of £100 for the capture of Doolan. He tricked the fugitive into going to Liverpool with him, then delivered him to the police, making a formal claim on the reward at the same time.
Redding, meanwhile, had also decided to flee. The police caught up with him on a building site in Yorkshire, and his statement, and Doolans, implicated Hickie, who was also arrested.
The three men, charged with murder, were brought to the high court in Glasgow in April 1841. Their trial lasted 11 hours, and at the end of it all three were sentenced to death. Hickies sentence was later commuted to transportation for life. On Friday, May 14th, 1841, Doolan and Redding were brought to the scaffold, symbolically erected at the murder scene at Crosshill, face to face with an audience of 50,000.
Redding died without any apparent suffering, but Doolan endured the agonies of hell, taking 20 minutes to succumb. During that time he contorted and choked at the end of the rope, lifting his knees as high as his chest at times. Effectively, it was no more than a slow and painful strangulation.
A remarkably similar murder had occurred only two months earlier on another stretch of the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, when John McCabe, an Irish labourer, assaulted his English ganger, who died of the injuries he sustained. McCabe bolted from the site and was at large for two months before being captured in England. At his trial in Glasgow in March 1841, he was convicted of murder and transported for life.