'A most diabolical deed'

Infanticide and Irish society, 1850–1900

By Elaine Farrell

'A most diabolical deed'


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8820-9
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £70.00
  • Published Date: July 2013
  • BIC Category: Ireland, History, European history, HISTORY / Europe / Ireland, Humanities / British & Irish history


This book examines the phenomenon of infanticide in Ireland from 1850 to 1900, examining a sample of 4,645 individual cases of infant murder, attempted infanticide and concealment of birth. Evidence for this study has been gleaned from a variety of sources, including court documents, coroners' records, prison files, parliamentary papers, and newspapers. Through these sources, many of which are rarely used by scholars, attitudes towards the crime, the women accused of the offence, and the victim, are revealed. Although infant murder was a capital offence during this period, none of the women found guilty of the crime were executed, suggesting a degree of sympathy and understanding towards the accused. Infanticide cases also allude to complex dynamics and tensions between employers and servants, parents and pregnant daughters, judges and defendants, and prison authorities and inmates. This book highlights much about the lived realities of nineteenth-century Ireland.


Elaine Farrell's richly detailed and compelling analysis of these cases provides readers with a vivid insight into Irish society and culture in this period, paying particular attention to the nuances of gender and class as factors in shaping individual lives.

Farrell has produced a meticulous and well-written study that deserves a wide audience, and will undoubtedly be of immense benefit to all those interested in the histories of gender, crime and childhood. Accessible, nuanced and engaging, 'A most diabolical deed' will prove an essential addition to reading lists for both undergraduate and postgraduate modules dealing with gender and criminal justice, as well as to broader surveys of nineteenth century Britain and Ireland.
, Daniel J.R. Grey, Plymouth University, SOLON: 2013 (3), 2013|Elaine Farrell's book is a very important addition to the growing literature on Irish women's history in the modern period., Brian Griffin, Bath Spa University, Irish Studies Review 22.4 November 2014, 1 November 2014


Elaine Farrell is Lecturer in Modern Irish Economic and Social History at Queen's University Belfast


1. 'A melancholy thing': an overview
2. 'Dead children, like drowned sailors, tell no tales': coroners' courts
3. 'That species of crime': criminal courts
4. 'Rumor, with its hundred tongues': the community
5. 'News of the ghastly spectacle': the press
6. 'A very great escape': prisons

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