Castlecoote still reeling from Fr Niall Molloy killing and the rumour mill

Death of a parish priest: ‘He was a very religious man who took his ministry to heart’

Fr Niall Molloy, who died at Clara, Co Offaly in July 1985

Fr Niall Molloy, who died at Clara, Co Offaly in July 1985

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Maimie Delaney remembers the moment in July 1985 when she heard that her friend Fr Niall Molloy was dead .

“I said ‘did he fall off a horse’?” she recalls of the phone call from Fr Bobby Jones, parish priest in Athleague, Co Roscommon. “He said ‘no’. He didn’t say much more.”

The 87-year-old still does not know exactly what happened to the 52-year-old priest who died after an apparently brutal assault at Kilcoursey House, in Clara, Co Offaly.

“Will we ever know?” she wonders after the first episode of an RTÉ two-part documentary about the priest’s death aired, adding , “somebody has to know”.

Fr Molloy, she stresses, was a “very, very gentle man, very retiring – he would never hurt anyone”.

It is a point made by many in Castlecoote, Co Roscommon, still clearly aggrieved at suggestions that their parish priest may have been involved in a physical altercation in Kilcoursey, the home of his friends for 30 years Richard and Teresa Flynn.

They are even more scathing of innuendo about an affair with Teresa with whom he had a business relationship built on a shared interest in horses.

Former postmistress Maimie says Fr Molloy used to drop into her village shop every morning to buy a newspaper. He had in fact popped into her home that Sunday morning in July 1985 on his way to Kilcoursey, where he was to attend a weekend wedding celebration. The previous day the Flynns’ daughter Maureen had married Limerick businessman Ralph Parkes in what was dubbed “a high society wedding” , with Fianna Fáil stalwart Brian Lenihan and his wife Ann among the guests.

Maimie has a black and white photograph of her own wedding in her sitting room . She also has a silver-framed photograph on top of a china cabinet of herself and her late husband Mark, taken with Fr Molloy on their 25th wedding anniversary. He had said a Mass in their home to mark the occasion .

Myths

Sharon Lawless who produced the two-part documentary The Killing of Fr Niall Molloy which concludes on RTÉ 1 on Monday night, noticed that many families in Castlecoote have a photo of their late curate on display in their homes 36 year after his death.

Lawless says as well as “dispelling some of the myths and perceptions” surrounding the story of Fr Molloy, she felt he should be remembered for who he was and not just for the manner in which he died.

When former Fianna Fáil senator and Castlecoote resident Terry Leydon provided the crew with an 8mm home movie from 1984, featuring Fr Molloy with local children, including his son Conor, on their their First Holy Communion day, she had no problem getting permission from everyone featured to use the footage.

“They were all about seven at the time and every single one of them had fond memories of Fr Molloy. One remembered getting a doll from Santa and bringing it to Mass on Christmas Day to show him,” says the producer.

Nonie Golden (86) was emotionally drained after watching last week’s documentary which featured herself, Maimie Delaney and Johnny Gallagher, three of Fr Molloy’s closest friends in the parish.

She is still shattered not just by the killing but by the rumours which swirled around afterwards.

“He was a very religious man who took his ministry to heart. He was too scrupulous to have an affair ,” she says of the man she knew for 28 years, having first been a pal of one of Fr Molloy’s sisters.

The grave of Fr Niall Molloy at the Church of the Assumption, Castlecoote, Co Roscommon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The grave of Fr Niall Molloy at the Church of the Assumption, Castlecoote, Co Roscommon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Locals recall that when Fr Molloy was transferred to Castlecoote, the former Army chaplain seemed unfazed by the condition of the crumbling presbytery. He lived in a caravan for a while after the bishop decreed that a replacement house be built beside the church. His grave, seemingly always adorned with plants and flowers, and currently ablaze with pots of red and yellow begonia, is a stone’s throw from that house.

Memories

Retired priest Fr Francis Glennon lives there now as there is no full-time curate in the Fuerty (Castlecoote) half-parish. Asked for his view on the documentary, he remarks that “we knew it all already” .

“I did know Fr Molloy. I thought the world of him. If he could not do you a good turn he would not do you any turn. He was very easy to get along with.”

As he made his way into Castlecoote Stores on the edge of the pretty village, where Fr Molloy used to buy his daily paper decades earlier , Fr Glennon chats to Anne Corcoran, from nearby Donamon, about the memories stirred by the documentary.

“Fr Molloy was a lovely man to talk to. He was a very kind man,” says Anne, who is still angry the case has never been resolved. “I think anyone who messes with a priest won’t have any luck,” she added grimly.

Many troubling aspects to the case were highlighted by the documentary, the “pat” confession by Richard Flynn to Sergeant Kevin Forde on the night in question, the suggestion the priest was left to die without getting medical attention, the swift transfer of Teresa Flynn, one of the key witnesses, to hospital before she could be interviewed by gardaí and the shock acquittal after Judge Frank Roe instructed a jury to find Richard Flynn not guilty of all charges.

There have been several other factors compounding the turmoil for Fr Molloy’s family – the life insurance policy and the claim by Teresa Flynn, who was listed as his sister, the lost will made by Fr Molloy and also lost forensic evidence.

The second part of the documentary to be screened on Monday night (September 13th ) on RTÉ 1 will be watched closely in many homes in Castlecoote.

It will feature a replica of the “master bedroom” in Kilcoursey where Fr Molloy’s body was found, constructed in line with the Garda drawings from the crime scene .“We did it so we could test the evidence which was given,” says Sharon Lawless .

Experts witnesses

She enlisted the help of three experts witnesses: former Northern Ireland state pathologist Prof Jack Crane; forensic psychologist Dr Ciara Staunton of UCC; and former Merseyside Police crime scene investigator Angela Doyle, to do just that. The three meet in “the bedroom” to walk and talk through the evidence given by Richard Flynn and others to see if events could have happened as described.

And the verdict?

“Let’s just say we find a lot of holes in the testimony. There are a lot of question marks there,” says Lawless.