“I asked the little boy if he had any lumps in his throat and he raised up his head to let me feel more easily. While he was in that position I cut his throat and threw him from me. My desire was not to take away a life, but merely to blame someone else so that I could claim the reward.”

Thus did 20-year-old John Delahunt justify his brutal murder of nine-year-old Thomas Maguire in a lane off Pembroke Road, Dublin, on December 20th, 1841. He had planned the killing for two months, he said, and chose little Thomas as his victim, rather than an adult, “because he was small and weak.”

According to his story, the boy did not cry out. “When I had walked about three yards away from him I looked back and saw him on his feet again, going in the direction of a cottage in the field.” Seconds later the boy fell, dying in the lane.

Delahunt, who was known to be a spy in the pay of the British Government in Ireland, duly went to the police, reported that he had seen the murder, and described the killer – a woman. The description he gave exactly fitted the boy’s mother. Fortunately for her and unfortunately for Delahunt, she had a cast-iron alibi – she was in hospital.

The police knew Delahunt of old. In the previous July he gave perjured evidence against a man on trial for the murder of a little Italian boy, in the hope, he later said, that he would receive the reward offered for the boy’s killer. The man was acquitted. That wasn’t the first time, either, that Delahunt had given evidence for the Crown, which was so unreliable that it resulted in acquittals.

He was swiftly arrested for the murder of Thomas Maguire and just as swiftly disowned by his British paymasters in Dublin Castle. Tried and convicted by the Dublin city commission, he was hanged on Saturday, February 5th, 1842, outside Kilmainham Prison before a crowd estimated at 20,000.

In his confession Delahunt claimed that he was not responsible for the murder of the Italian boy, but added that the man who was acquitted in that case was wholly innocent.