Longest Serving Prisoners

Ireland's Longest Serving Prisoners

7 of Ireland's Longest Serving Prisoners

In 2015, there were around 350 people serving life sentences in Irish prisons and another 76 ‘lifers’ walking the streets.

As we’re all too familiar with, a life sentence in Ireland does not mean life behind bars, with the average life sentence lasting approximately 18 years. But there are a handful for whom the term has encapsulated most of their lives.

The Dock brings you seven of these longest serving prisoners.


Geoffrey Evans

Geoffrey Evans

Two of the country’s most notorious killers, John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans told gardaí that they planned on abducting and killing a woman in Ireland a week.

They murdered twice before they were caught.

In August 1976, they offered 23-year-old Elizabeth Plunkett a lift. They drove her to a nearby wood where she was repeatedly raped and choked to death.

The following September, they abducted 24-year-old Mary Duffy. She was beaten and raped in the back of her car then tied to a tree and murdered.

The two English serial killers were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978 for abducting, raping and murdering the young women.

Both men, who were in their early thirties, had been wanted for questioning by UK Police in connection with several rapes before coming to Ireland.

Evans died in 2012, aged 69, having spent 34 years in prison and the last three years of his life in a vegetative state.

Shaw, now aged 71, is still alive and still in prison almost 38 years later. It is understood that he is looking for day release.


Jimmy EnnisIreland’s longest serving prisoner is octogenarian Jimmy Ennis, who has been institutionalised for much of his life.

84-year-old Ennis was jailed for life over five decades ago for beating a Cork farmer to death in his bedroom with an iron bar during the course of a robbery.

The judge who sentenced Ennis in 1964 bemoaned that the death penalty had just been abolished apart from offences such as capital murder and treason.

Ennis knew his victim, having lived with and worked for the farmer as a labourer in the late 1950s.

Several Ministers for Justice have told Jimmy Ennis that he is free to go. He would have been given parole decades ago but as far back as 1977, he reportedly told journalists that he was ‘”not pushed” to leave prison and was “happy enough with the situation”.

Although in hospital since 2013 due to ill-health, he is still technically serving his life sentence for murdering the Co Cork farmer.

The 84-year-old has served 51 years in prison for the murder.

Having been placed in an industrial school when he was four-years-old and served time before the murder, Ennis has lived “in the care of the State” for approximately 65 years of his life.


Noel Callan

Noel Callan

“An act of cold-blooded murder” was how the Supreme Court described the shooting of Sgt Patrick Morrissey near Tallanstown, Co Louth on 27 June 1985.

An unarmed Sgt Morrissey was responding to the robbery of a local labour exchange when he gave chase to two raiders attempting to make off with IR£25,000.

Noel Callan, from Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, played “no direct part” in the shooting.

It was Michael McHugh, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, who fired the first shot hitting the garda in the leg and McHugh who, after a short period, “walked up to the injured Sgt Morrissey and shot him in the head”.

McHugh and Callan were the last two men to be sentenced to death in Ireland when their death by hanging was ordered by the Special Criminal Court in December 1985.

However, six months later their sentences were commuted by the then President Patrick Hillary to 40 years in prison without parole.

In July 2013, Callan won a Supreme Court case for the right to 25 per cent remission normally afforded to other prisoners. The ruling meant that he and other prisoners serving sentences for capital murder had their jail terms cut by one-quarter.

In the run up to Christmas 2015, a 52-year-old Callan and 53-year-old McHugh were released from prison having both spent 30 years behind bars.


Morley & Byrne Murders - Garda Síochána Patrol CarThe gunning down of two gardaí following a republican bank raid in July 1980 shocked the nation.

Corkman Colm O’Shea and Patrick McCann, from Waterford, held staff and customers of the Bank of Ireland, Ballaghedereen, Co Roscommon at gunpoint before attempting to make off with around IR£35,000.

They sped out of town in a Ford Cortina and collided with a squad car at Aghaderry.

In the ensuing shootout, Detective Garda John Morley and Garda Henry Byrne were shot dead.

The Special Criminal Court sentenced O’Shea and McCann to death by hanging in November 1980.

But the following year, they were granted a reprieve by the President Patrick Hillary, who commuted their executions to 40 years imprisonment on foot of advice from the Charlie Haughey Government.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in July 2013, that capital murderers were entitled to 25 per cent remission normally afforded to other prisoners, 64-year-old O’Shea and 68-year-old McCann were quietly released from prison having served 33 years.

A third man who always maintained his innocence, Peter Pringle, was convicted and sentenced along with the men but his conviction was overturned in 1995. His son is Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle.


  • Become a Courts News Ireland Subscriber

    Sign-up today for full reports on the proceedings of the Central Criminal Court Ireland, the Special Criminal Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal and High Court extradition.

    As a subscriber, you'll have priority access to the full stories as soon as they are filed.

    If you represent a company or institution interested in subscribing to Courts News Ireland, please contact enquiries@courtsnewsireland.ie for more information about Group Subscriptions.

    If you're a newspaper professional or broadcaster interested in acquiring a licence to publish our content, please click subscribe and select the "Publisher's Account" option to have a Courts News Ireland representative contact you.