Is It Me? - an Irish murder mystery

The Book

Is It Me? The Joseph Heffernan Story is the true account of a brutal murder that ended up taking two lives - that of the victim, Mary Walker and that of the person who was executed, having been tried and convicted of the crime, Joseph Heffernan. These events took place in Ireland, beginning one summer's day in 1909, in the busy market town of Mullingar. It ended in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin in on 4 January, 1910 where Joseph Heffernan would be the last man to hang, in an institution which has loomed large in Irish history.

Read about that fateful day in Mullingar, in 1909: the witness statements, the police investigation, the media reports from the time and other public records which Kiernan has gone through in exhaustive detail, in order to present these, his own conclusions, about a murder which shocked a nation.

Kiernan believes that, not only was Joseph Heffernan the victim of a miscarriage of justice, but that this was likely to have been orchestrated at a fairly high level, in order to conceal from the public the identity of the real killer, which remains unknown to this day.

In re-opening a case that has remained dormant for over a century, Jack Kiernan has given us a glimpse into what life was like, in a small but bustling Irish town at the turn of the twentieth century. This is a picture of an Ireland that is still under British rule, where the relationship between the authorities and the general populace was uneasy at the best of times.

As this book makes clear, there were two victims in this case. Justice cannot and will not be served, either to the memory Mary Walker, or to her accused assailant, Joseph Heffernan, until such time as truth is established and innocent people are exonerated. Jack Kiernan's book represents the first step in re-opening that investigation. In writing this book, Jack Kiernan invites you to "take a journey with me, to read on and to come to whatever conclusions the facts of the case lead you to."

Is it Me? The Joseph Heffernan Story by Jack Kiernan is available to buy online, from this website, as well as in all good bookshops. RRP €14.99 plus P&P. It is also available to buy in e-book editions

A summary of the case, the charges that were brought and how the evidence changed is also available and free to download.

Is It Me? The Joseph Heffernan Story by Jack Kiernan

The Crime

Mary Walker, a native of Co. Carlow, worked as a telegraphist and sorter at the local post office in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. She was popular among the townspeople, who regarded her as a friendly and obliging person. On a fateful day in July, 1909, she left her home to go for a stroll, taking advantage of the warm sunny weather. She was last seen alive at around mid-afternoon, taking a walk along the canal, where she exchanged greetings with those whom she passed along the way. Alarm was raised when she did not return to her lodgings that evening. Nor did she turn up at her place of work, where she was due to begin a late shift at 7.30pm. A search party was arranged and her dead body was discovered along the canal at 8.35pm. Her throat had been cut and it was clear that a desperate struggle had taken place. She was just 32 years of age.

The Evidence

Joseph Heffernan was not the original suspect in the murder of Mary Walker. He was not even the first person to be arrested. He would ultimately be convicted of the crime, on the basis of evidence which the judge himself admitted, in his closing remarks, was largely circumstantial. A confession which he was alleged to have made while in custody and the witness testimony of those who, either wittingly or unwittingly, perjured themselves, sealed Joseph Heffernan's fate. The judge also referred, in his closing remarks, to Heffernan's defence lawyer's strategy of 'not asking too many questions.'

My experience is that the man who asks few questions is able to conduct his case skilfully, as he avoids letting in a lot of evidence.

The question that the reader will be asking however, having read Jack Kiernan's account, is whether such evidence was not let in precisely because it would have acquitted Joseph Heffernan?


Kiernan presents his findings by taking us on a journey, back to that awful day in July, 1909 through the events that followed, culminating in the execution by hanging of Joseph Heffernan for the crime of murder of Mary Walker. He first takes us through the evidence that was presented at the time, in the newspapers, in the courts, in some instances, information that has been locked up for over a hundred years.

Having gone through the court proceedings, the witness statements, other material and evidence, a number of strange inconsistencies and anomalies started to emerge. Witness statements appear to be tampered with, or in any case, are at variance with other facts that are known. The evidence changes as the trial progresses from the Magistrates court to the Assizes. Some of the younger witnesses admit to having been coached by their police interviewers, while among the older witnesses, some are revealed to be police informants and paid perjurers. Even the details of the murder are changed, to suit the prosecution's case, with the murder scene itself moved a some distance from where it actually took place.

In the words of broadcaster and author, Joe Duffy:

“Every now and then a book comes along, on a topic you have never heard of, but turns out to be a riveting page-turner. This week, I read a marvellous new work of Irish social and criminal history, as Jack Kiernan investigates a forgotten miscarriage of justice. Just over a century ago, Mullingar man Joseph Heffernan was hanged for the murder of Mary Walker. Kiernan has meticulously gone through the police investigation, witness statements and the court case and has found major flaws in the investigation. By the end, the reader is left in no doubt that beautiful young Mary Walker was the victim of a heinous crime, but that crime claimed another life the day Joe Heffernan fell to the hangman's rope.”

The Author

Growing up in Mullingar, Jack Kiernan often heard local people talking about the murder of Mary Walker. Most people believed that the right person had been arrested and paid for the crime by the sentence that was handed down. However, a grandfather on his mother's side, a Sheffield man and a former British soldier, always maintained, right up to his death that the wrong man had been executed. He claimed that he knew of this long before he ever set foot in Mullingar. 

When the story re-surfaced in the local media, around about the 100th anniversary of the murder, Jack Kiernan took it upon himself to investigate - even just to shed light on the episode and see if there was anything to his grandfather's claims. Little did he know what he would end up resurrecting and the ghosts that would need to be laid to rest!