Maamtrasna murders: relatives welcome pardon recommended for Myles Joyce

‘I had hoped to see this in my lifetime’ -great grandson of one of family of five killed

Descendents of Connemara victims of the Maamtrasna murder case have welcomed the Government’s decision to recommend a posthumous presidential pardon for Myles Joyce, who was one of three men hanged in Galway in December, 1882.

"I had hoped to see this during my lifetime, and I am so glad," Johnny Joyce, direct relative of the family of five killed in Maamtrasna, said.

Mr Joyce, a former All-Ireland football medal holder living in Dublin, said he was confident that President Michael D Higgins would act very soon on the Government's recommendation.

His relief was echoed by Tomás Ó hÉannacháin, who lives in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, and is great grandson of Padraig Seoighe (Joyce), who was also hanged.


Mr Ó hÉannacháín is also related to one of the men who spent 20 years in jail for the crime.

The complex Maamtrasna murder case has long been accepted by historians as a serious miscarriage of justice.

Eight men were convicted on perjured evidence, and several eye witnesses were paid 1,250 pounds sterling - equivalent to about €160,000 today in “compensation”.

That payment was among new information unearthed by former Irish Language Commissioner and journalist Seán Ó Cuirreáin for his book on the subject,entitled Éagóir, which is the subject of a TG4 drama documentary to be broadcast next Wednesday.

John Joyce, his mother, his second wife Bridget and two children were brutally killed in their home near Lough Mask on the Galway-Mayo border on the night of August 17th, 1882. The occurrence just three months after the Phoenix Park murders led to mistaken fears it was part of a wider land agitation, when it is believed to have been a local dispute.

The man suspected of having been the ring leader of the killings - moneylender John Casey – was never arrested.

Several of the five men imprisoned are also believed to have been innocent, but were put under pressure to plead guilty and spent 20 years behind bars.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin welcomed the pardon recommendation and paid tribute to President Higgins and to former taoiseach Enda Kenny for taking an interest in the case.

In 2015, Mr Kenny commissioned an expert, Dr Niamh Howlin of University College, Dublin's school of law, to review the case, arising from legal advice from the Attorney-General.

Dr Howlin's report published this week by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan states that the trial, conviction and execution of Myles Joyce were "unfair by the standards of criminal justice at the time".

The report, which was confined to examination of the trial of Myles Joyce, is critical of a number of aspects, including problems with witness evidence, lack of adequate translation for the Irish-speaking defendants, the decision to hold the trial before a Dublin-based English-speaking jury, and lack of opportunity for the sole survivor, Patsy Joyce, to give evidence.

Both Patsy and his older brother, Martin, who was away in Clonbur on the night of the murders, had given statements to the investigating police.

"Martin was my grandfather, and both he and his younger brother Patsy were kept in the police station in Ballybough for the duration of the trial,"Jimmy Joyce says.

" Afterwards, both were sent to Artane, and both were playing on the Dublin team during Blood Sunday in 1920, and survived. "

“Martin then went to the US, and came back and set up as a butcher in Artane,”he says. “Patsy took a ship from Malin Head to the US, and I have spent the last 40 years trying to track down what became of him.”

Mr Ó hÉannacháin's great grandfather Pádraig Seoighe and Pat Casey had both tried to save the life of Myles Joyce before all three men were hanged at Galway gaol, by confessing that Joyce was innocent. However, lord lieutenant Earl John Spencer sent a telegram to the governor of Galway prison stating that "the law must take its course".

“People did not talk about it around here,” Mr Ó hÉannacháin, who still lives in the area, said. “ Everybody knew Myles Joyce didn’t do it, so it is good to get some closure now.”

Mr Ó Cuirreáín credits the investigative journalism back in the 1880s by west Cork MP Tim Harrington, who had met some of those convicted when he was jailed for participating in anti-eviction protests.

Mr Harrington was the first to lobby the British government to hold a public inquiry into the case, which has also been championed most recently by British peer Lord David Alton.

Only four presidential pardons have been awarded since 1937, and this is the first to have been recommended for a case which occurred before the State’s foundation.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times