“You’re always drunk when you’re working, and furthermore, you’ve been stealing from me. You’re fired!”

So it was that the elderly widow of an army officer, Mrs. Ann Anderson, dismissed her servant Mrs. Mary Cooney at the beginning of March 1837. But Mrs. Cooney was more than just a drunken thief – she was also vicious and vengeful. A couple of days later she went back to Mrs. Anderson’s house in Harstonge Street, Limerick, armed with a knife. After a brief struggle she stabbed her former employer in the neck, almost severing her head, and within seconds the widow was dead.

At the county assizes on July 12th that same year the prosecutor described Mrs. Cooney as “a depraved wretch.” When she was arrested she had some of Mrs. Anderson’s money and property in her possession, and a clump of hair found in the dead woman’s hand matched Mrs. Cooney’s hair.

She was found guilty of murder and hanged on Monday, August 7th, 1837, outside Limerick Prison, earning the dubious distinction of being the first woman to be executed in Queen Victoria’s reign.