President Michael D Higgins has signed a posthumous pardon for a Co Tipperary man Harry Gleeson who was wrongly hanged in 1941 for the murder of New Inn woman Mary “Moll” McCarthy.
Mr Gleeson’s family said they were thrilled with the pardon as it had been his last wish that his innocence would be recognised.
Speaking following the signing of the pardon order by the President, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, said that the effect of the pardon was to completely clear Mr Gleeson’s name and she hoped that it would serve as a tribute to his memory.
The Minister expressed her sympathy and that of the Government to Mr Gleeson’s family and indicated her intention to hold a commemorative event for family members early in the new year, at which point she would also speak in more detail about the pardon and the grounds for the Government’s decision.
Seán MacBride who defended Mr Gleeson in his murder trial and subsequent appeal described the case in a 1976 memoir as “one of the most traumatic criminal cases I was ever involved in”.
Mr McBride described how Ms McCarthy’s murder was widely thought to have been associated in some way with the fact that she had six children by separate fathers. The suggestion was that she was about to have another child and that Harry Gleeson was the father, or alleged father, of the expected child.
According to Mr MacBride, “the village of New Inn had closed like a tight oyster shell; practically everybody there was related in one way or another to one of Mary McCarthy’s children.”
He described a poignant scene when the night before he was hanged Mr Gleeson summoned Mr MacBride to his prison cell to thank him for his hard work and declared, when he had no reason left to lie, that he had not killed Ms MCarthy.
According to Mr MacBride, Mr Gleeson told him: “I’m glad to die this way, because I can never be better prepared to meet God than I am now, particularly because I am innocent. I wanted to tell you this at the last possible moment when I am alive, because that is the time you would know that I had nothing to gain.
“I never murdered Moll McCarthy or had anything to do with it. I felt that telling you was the best way I could reward you for all the work you have put in for me.”
However, author and journalist Kieron Fagan who wrote the recent book The framing of Harry Gleeson said the murder of Ms McCarthy was not connected with her role as an unmarried mother, but was to do with the fact that she was dating a local policeman.
Mr Fagan said the real authority in the area at the time was the local IRA. A number of men in the IRA, at least one of who had fathered one of Ms McCarthy’s children, feared she was passing on information about the IRA to the police.
Mr Fagan said “there was never any real question of Harry Gleeson’s guilt” and the people of New Inn probably knew he was innocent but were afraid of speaking out because of possible consequences for themselves. Mr Fagan names those he says were responsible for the murder in his book.
A committee known as Justice for Harry Gleeson was set up in 2012 to campaign for the pardon and this was supported by the Griffith College Irish Innocence Project.
Kevin Gleeson a nephew of the executed man said the pardon was “wonderful news”. He said the family was thrilled and he thanked all who campaigned for justice for his uncle.
Mr Fagan's book The Framing of Harry Gleeson, published by The Collins Press, is available from Dubray books.