The body of Danny Driscoll, a Catholic who was hanged 75 years ago for a murder which thousands believed he didn’t commit, is to be exhumed from the grounds of Cardiff prison and reburied in a public cemetery.
On a cold January in 1928, 10,000 people stood outside Cardiff Prison praying in vain for a miracle to save the lives of two convicted murderers who were spending their last night in the death cell.
Throughout the night the crowd recited The Rosary and sang hymns. As dawn broke on January 27, they sang Faith of Our Fathers and Danny Boy in the hope that their voices would carry through the tall thick walls of the prison to the condemned men. Billy O’Neill, a parishioner of St Peter’s who is now in his 90s witnessed the amazing scene.
At 8am the prison bell tolled to tell the weeping men, women and children that Danny Driscoll and Edward Titch Rowlands had been executed for the murder of Dai Lewis, a rugby player and professional boxer. Driscoll's four brothers were the first to read the notice of the hanging when it was placed on the prison door.
Lewis had died in a street fight near the entrance to the Wyndham Arcade, in St Mary Street, Cardiff, on September 29, 1927. His throat had been cut - not by Driscoll or Titch Rowlands, but by Rowlands' younger brother John who had been declared insane and sent to Broadmoor.
Titch Rowlands was thought to have been in on a plot to maim, but not murder Lewis,
who had made the mistake of trying to take over a protection racket run by the Rowlands
at Ely Racecourse. Driscoll was also believed to be involved in the race gangs, but no
evidence of this was produced at the trial. He was drinking in a nearby pub when the
fatal attack took place.
Canon Daniel Hannon, administrator of St David's Cathedral, and a future Bishop of
Menevia, heard Driscoll's last confession. He said at Mass at the Cathedral later that
morning: "They hanged an innocent man at Cardiff jail this morning...".
More than 500,000 people throughout Britain had signed petitions calling for Driscoll to
be saved from the gallows; Liverpool dockers called for a national strike and prayers
were offered in Catholic churches throughout Britain and Ireland.
When Driscoll's mother, who lived in Foundry Place, Pontypridd, saw her son for the last
time on the eve of the execution, he told her: Don't worry, I'm ready to meet my maker.
On the eve of his execution Driscoll drank a bottle of port and played cards with the
warder who was guarding him. As he walked to the gallows he joked: They've given us a
good day for it.
In the 1980s, the warder’s daughter, who lived at Bridgend, said her father had
told her that he was convinced of Driscoll’s innocence. The feeling at the time of
his execution was that the authorities wanted to make an example of Driscoll and Titch
Rowlands as a warning to race gangs who were operating throughout Britain.
Driscoll was a villain but he was not a killer. Cardiff solicitor Bernard de Maid, an Old
Illtydian, is seeking a posthumous pardon for the man who can now rest in peace in
consecrated ground, following a Requiem Mass, perhaps at the Cathedral l where his
confessor declared that an innocent man had been hanged.
Although there was little public sympathy for Rowlands, his broken-hearted wife begged
in vain for mercy for her husband whose brother was the killer. If one of his relatives can
be found his body will also be exhumed from the prison and reburied in a public
cemetery. So will the bodies of six other hanged men whose bodies are buried in the