Hanging around the Tholsel

This week in the Drogheda Leader we examined the role the Tholsel has played in our town from being a great spot for hanging criminals to the focal point of the popular wino movement that begun in the 1960s.

The Tholsel. A strange word to say out loud. Tholsel. Now say it in a Drawda accent. De Toesil. That’s better isn’t it?


For most of us the Toesil is that place where the winos used to congregate and skull cans from a bag. (Shouldn’t they then have been called canos? Or Flagonistas?)


They’d sit there in groups of two or three, rarely more, dispensing advice to passersby and smoking fags. They seen everything. They were the precursors to CCTV, though not as reliable it must be said.


Indeed the ashlar ledges on the Shop Street side have been well worn from generations of winos watching the world go by. But you don’t see them anymore, the winos. They’re a dying breed; victims to new public drinking laws and liver failure. They were characters, men dedicated to their craft in a time before craft beers.


But times have changed. Back in the day, apprentice winos and wanna-be footballers would be putting in the 10,000 hours needed to be a professional down the Ramparts. Today’s youth are too busy in the gyms, sexting each other pics of their orange protein shaken sunbed abs or doing their hair.


No, the wino is yesterday’s news. Part of pre-Celtic Tiger Drogheda. And that’s a good thing. Health and all that.


During the Celtic Tiger, pugnacious young men would lurk at the Toesil waiting to prey on the weak at closing time. But those youths can’t be blemt for being attracted to that place. It’s not entirely their fault. You see, there has always been a history of violence at the Toesil. It was where Drawda executed her criminals. Hanged them. Or put them in the stocks.


Back in those days there was no cinema to go on dates to. So young couples would arrange to meet at public events. A hanging at the Toesil was the perfect foil for lovers to meet. It has provided generations of Droghedians with amusing how I met your mother anecdotes.


Your typical Toesil hanging would have a warm up act to get the crowd going. Usually it was some poor Meathman snatched that day from Duleek, who would test the strength of the rope and confirm to the hangman that he’d gotten his calculations right.


Hawkers would sell snacks and cokes to the crowd while the town’s JobBridge pickpockets got some valuable unpaid experience.


One of the most popular public hangings were those of Drogheda-based burgling duo Peter McBride and James Flynn. Caught doing a job on Lord Claremont’s house in Dundalk, they were found guilty at 7pm on December 9th 1809. By 9pm McBride was swinging at the Toesil. Flynn dangled the next day in one of the first early morning hangings, brought forward to avoid clashing with Sunday mass.


Justice was swift. There weren’t as many burglaries in Brookville and College Rise back then.


Today the Toesil is a tourist office. The next time you walk by it and don’t bother going in, stop. Look around and try to imagine what it was like getting down early to get a good spot for the hanging. Oh, and raise a can to the winos while you’re at it.