Originally Published December 2014
The Murder of Honor Bright
“In 1925 Dublin was a hive
’cause change was a-coming down
Frank Duff wasted no time
with his ladies of the L.O.M
they set about to clear out
but across the City Quays
a woman from the Liberties
was doing all she could just to get by
Ah, the Green that was her beat
and the lads she loved to meet
all knew her by the name of Honor Bright”
I first heard of Honor Bright through the above song by Peter Yeates. A while ago I looked it up out of curiosity and discovered the song was inspired by an actual murder in Ireland in 1925. A laborer found the body of a beautiful girl lying in a ditch at 7:30 in the morning. Except for one shoe laying several feet away, her clothes were not ripped or disheveled. She reportedly looked as if she might be simply asleep. She had been killed with a single shot through the heart.
Lizzie O’Neil (aka Honor Bright) was reported to be a prostitute who plied her trade miles away in Dublin. It was rumored that she was forced to turn to prostitution after she was fired from her job for having a child out of wedlock. The investigation was handled by Ireland’s three year old Civic Guard or Garda Siochana. One of Lizzie’ friends told the Garda that one of her customers told her he had been robbed of 11 pounds and a silver cigarette case by another prostitute earlier in the evening. In an effort to get her help, he pointed to a man in a sports car and warned her that his friend was a superintendent in the Garda who would arrange a round-up of all of the area prostitutes if the money was not found. He also allegedly said he had a gun and would use it if he found the thief.
The description of the sports car in an era when cars were not too common led to a local doctor Patrick Purcell who admitted to being in the area along with Garda Superintendent Leo Dillonon on the night Lizzie O’Neil was killed. A couple of witnesses claimed to have seen Lizzie with two men in a sports car, and eventually the two men were brought to trial for the murder. The jury was not able to overcome certain doubts and acquitted the men. The doctor’s reputation was ruined and he was forced to start a new practice in England, and it seems the superintendent may have left for America.
Just in the past year a new book was published entitled Who Killed Honor Bright, How William Butler and George Yeats caused the fall of the Irish Free State. It is written by a woman who seems to be the granddaughter of Lizzie O’Neill. She apparently has reason to believe that her grandfather may actually be the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and that her grandmother’s murder was part of some sort of conspiracy. To quote the description of the book:
“Authorities in the new Irish Free State harassed and murdered Honor Bright before maligning her as a prostitute and acquitting her assassin. The newly founded Garda Siochana spread deceitful rumours and coerced witnesses to conceal Honor’s true identity and the real reason for he death. False evidence, perjury and the silencing of potential witnesses led to hug he public demonstrations, but newspapers were coerced into printing only authorized stories or else face the consequences from the Garda or Ministry of Justice.”