President signs pardon for man hanged for Maamtrasna murders

Myles Joyce was one of three Connemara men hanged for 1882 murder of Galway family

President Michael D Higgins with John Joyce, great-grandson of John Joyce, a victim of the Maamtrasna murders; Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan  and Mr Higgins’s wife, Sabina Coyne. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

President Michael D Higgins with John Joyce, great-grandson of John Joyce, a victim of the Maamtrasna murders; Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Mr Higgins’s wife, Sabina Coyne. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


President Michael D Higgins has signed a posthumous pardon for Myles Joyce, who was one of three Connemara men hanged for the Maamtrasna murders in Galway in December 1882.

Flanked by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Mr Higgins read the text in Irish for the “maithiúnais” or presidential pardon for Maolra Seoighe, as he was known, before signing the document under article 13.6 of the Constitution at Áras an Uachtaráin on Wednesday evening.

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

As Mr Higgins noted, it was from the same building, formerly the Vice-Regal Lodge in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, that a telegram had been sent more than 135 years ago from the lord lieutenant, Earl Spencer, to the governor of Galway Gaol, refusing a last-minute appeal for a pardon for Myles Joyce.

Perjured witness testimony

Earl Spencer, who decreed that “the law must take its course”, had “paid handsomely for perjured witness testimony to secure Maolra Seoighe’s conviction”, Mr Higgins said.

Joyce, a father of five in his early forties, was an innocent victim of “what has been described as one of the clearest cases of miscarriage of justice in British legal history”, Mr Higgins noted.

“Disturbing parallels with later cases in this jurisdiction and in the British courts have seen the desire for convictions, fuelled by a pressurised political context or the baying of a less than thoughtful popular press, hold sway over the rights of individuals to a fair trial,” he said.

“Subsequently, as we have seen time and time again, there has been a steadfast refusal by the justice and political systems to acknowledge obvious miscarriages, and individuals have paid an appalling price to prevent what the morally bankrupt might call an appalling vista.”

Speaking in both Irish and English, Mr Higgins welcomed relatives of Joyce and of the family of five, also called Joyce, who were murdered in their home in Maamtrasna on the Galway-Mayo border in August 1882.


He also welcomed relatives of Pádraig Seoighe, who was also hanged and who, along with Pádraig Ó Cathasaigh, had “admitted their part in the murders but who had testified that Maolra was innocent of any involvement”.

Joyce’s wrongful death arose from “a combination of a systemic contempt for the Irish-speaking accused and an extraordinary zeal to secure convictions regardless of testimony and evidence that should have raised serious misgivings”, Mr Higgins said, noting that the accused had no English.

“When this heinous crime was committed – five members of a family butchered where they slept – the forces of an unsympathetic and arrogant colonial regime were unleashed on an already traumatised community,” Mr Higgins said.

Mr Higgins paid tribute to Mr Flanagan, who had been central in securing a Government decision to recommend a pardon, and to former Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin, whose book, Éagóir, inspired the TG4 documentary on the case broadcast on Wednesday night.

‘Shameful episode’

Mr Higgins credited all those “involved in various ways in keeping the memory of this shameful episode in Ireland and Britain’s history to the fore”.

First questions were raised back in the 1880s by west Cork MP Tim Harrington. Mr Higgins noted how “simmering outrage” and “steely determination” had resulted in a review of the case, commissioned by former taoiseach Enda Kenny and carried out by Dr Niamh Howlin of University College Dublin’s school of law, which recommended a pardon.

Mr Higgins said that as President he would also like to acknowledge the efforts of British parliamentarians who had sought to have the miscarriage of justice addressed , most recently Lord David Alton and the late Lord Avebury.

Direct relative

Johnny Joyce, an All-Ireland football medal holder and direct relative of both Myles Joyce and of the family of five killed in Maamtrasna, was among those present to welcome the pardon.

Also present were Pádraig Ó hÉannacháin of Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, a great-grandson of one of the men hanged and related to one of the five men who spent 20 years in jail; and Fr Kieran Waldron, whose late brother Jarlath Waldron wrote a book about the case.