Maamtrasna murders: relatives call on Britain to dismiss case

Maolra Seoighe is pardoned 136 years after he was hanged for crimes he did not commit

President Michael D Higgins presents Myles Joyce’s great-granddaughters Carolyn (left) and Alice Conaboy, with parchment copies of the formal Presidential pardon granted earlier this year to Myles Joyce. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

President Michael D Higgins presents Myles Joyce’s great-granddaughters Carolyn (left) and Alice Conaboy, with parchment copies of the formal Presidential pardon granted earlier this year to Myles Joyce. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Two great-grandchildren of Maolra Seoighe, who was pardoned by President Michael D Higgins earlier this year for crimes he did not commit, have called on the British government to dismiss the case.

Carolyn Conaboy and Alice Hogan believe the Maamtrasna case against Seoighe, and all of his wrongfully-accused relatives and neighbours, should be dismissed by the British government, as “the government of the day”.

They were in Galway at the weekend to lay a wreath for their great-grandfather.

There had been no information on the whereabouts of any direct descendants of Seoighe when President Michael D Higgins issued him with a posthumous pardon four months ago.

Seoighe and several of his brothers were among ten men arrested after the savage deaths of five members of one family, also with the surname Seoighe, in Maamtrasna on the shores of Lough Mask in August, 1882.

The crime occurred just three months after the Phoenix Park murders, and so there was a false assumption the crime was politically motivated.

None of the eight men convicted in a Dublin court spoke a word of the English language they were tried through.

Seoighe was hanged on the basis of perjured evidence, along with two other men. Four of five others jailed for life were also innocent – two of them died in prison.

Conaboy, a retired attorney in New York, and her sister Alice, a retired US diplomat in San Francisco, made contact after a nephew, Peter Mills, read about it in The Irish Times.

Their grandmother, Máire, was the eldest of “five orphans...before long adrift in the world”, as described by her great grandmother Brighid in an unsuccessful appeal to the Lord Lieutenant in late 1882.

Brighid died just a few years later, and Maire reared her four siblings, most of whom began new lives in the US.

Her son and their father Sean Conaboy, a fluent Irish speaker, never talked about it.

Two of his daughters studied law and three of his sons became policemen, and he asked one of them – a homicide detective – to investigate the case.

“I danced around the kitchen”, Conaboy says, recounting her reaction to the pardon.

The sisters visited their home townland late last week with former Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin,author of Éagóir - one of two books on the issue,the other being by Jarlath Waldron.

They described how at one point some of the family purchased the plot with the ruin of the house where Seoighe was arrested, without knowing the full history.

“We thought our father would be pleased, but we now understand why he showed so little emotion,”they explain.

Both women received a copy of the pardon from President Michael D Higgins in Galway on Saturday when they attended a Mass for all those who suffered as a result of the Maamtrasna murders.

The service was celebrated through Irish by Bishop Brendan Kelly, in Galway Cathedral – formerly site of the gaol.

The women then laid a wreath in the cathedral carpark, near the spot where their great-grandfather is believed to have been buried.

The first investigation of the case by journalist and MP Tim Harrington had led to an unfulfilled promise by British authorities for a public inquiry, and contributed to the fall of William Gladstone’s government in 1885.

Latterly, British parliamentarian Lord David Alton, who has Maamtrasna family connections, has sought to have the miscarriage of justice addressed.

He has drawn parallels with the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, saying that the “true healing of British-Irish relations requires that, wherever possible, ghosts should be laid peacefully to rest and wrongs righted”.