“I’m going to kill that corporal,” Private Robert O’Neill, 19, told his fellow-squaddies at Victoria Barracks, Belfast. The corporal, Robert Brown, an Englishman also aged 19, had ordered O’Neill to do extra fatigues and drilling, and the young soldier, who had been in the army for less than four months, was seething.

O’Neill was as good as his word. As a group of soldiers sat around a table in the barracks, talking and writing letters, he raised his service rifle and shot Brown dead.

When he was brought to trial in March 1854, he claimed it was an accident, but the jury rejected that plea. Then, just when he was about to be sentenced to death, he fainted.

O’Neill avoided three dates with the hangman through appeals against his sentence. He challenged the jury selection, and claimed that because he fainted he had not been afforded the ancient right of speaking after being found guilty. When these ruses were finally rejected, he was hanged on Wednesday, June 21st, 1854, outside Belfast Prison, before a crowd of 15,000 who braved the pouring rain. They watched in silence as he died hard, his body twitching and writhing for two and a half minutes.