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Bid to prove hanged man was victim of an unfair trial

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 13-Dec-2012

The telegram from the Viceroy’s office to the Governor of Galway Jail in the early hours of December 15, 1882 was terse and to the point. “Having considered statements, I am unable to alter my decision. The law must take its course.”

That brief message ended any hope Myles Joyce had that his life would be spared. The hanging of the Maamtrasna man on the basis of a faulty trial became renowned as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice ever to take place in Ireland and now, 130 years later, it’s in the news again.

This Saturday, which is exactly the 130th anniversary of Myles Joyce’s death, a commemoration will be held at Galway Cathedral and at the City Museum – part of an attempt to have the hanging declared a miscarriage of justice by the British Government.

The event, which will be attended by President Michael D Higgins, has been organised by An Coimisinéir Teanga Seán Ó Cuirreáin, Breandán Ó hEaghra of Galway City Museum and Peadar Mac Flannachadha of Conradh na Gaeilge. According to Seán, this renowned case is one of the greatest examples ever of what can happen if a person is denied the right to legal representation in their own language. And it was for this reason that his office – basically he’s the ombudsman for Irish language rights – got involved.

The chain of events that led to Myles Joyce being the victim of a miscarriage of justice began on August 17, 1882 in the mountainous Gaeltacht area of Maamtrasna on the shores of Lough Mask, on the Galway-Mayo border.

On that day, five members of the one family were slaughtered in their mountainside cottage: John Joyce, his wife Bridget, his daughter, Peigí and his mother Margaret were killed. John’s son, Michael was badly wounded and died the following day. The youngest of the family, Patsy, was also injured but lived. The only other member of the family to survive the tragedy was a son, Martin who was in service in Clonbur at the time.

The Maamtrasna murders caused huge shock and revulsion throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. While various theories have been given about why the Joyce family were murdered, there are no definitive answers.

Ten local men were arrested and charged. They included Myles Joyce, his brothers Martin and Páidín and his nephew, Tom. Also arrested were Pat, Michael and John Casey; Pat Joyce and Tom Casey.

Most of these men spoke only Irish. Despite this, they were tried in Dublin in front of a judge and jury who spoke no Irish at all.

Two of the men became informers – either because they were afraid of being executed, or in the hope of a reward. That meant they gave evidence against their neighbours and friends.

The first three who were tried, Pat Joyce, Pat (‘Pádraig Shéamuis’) Casey and Myles Joyce were found guilty and sentenced to death, although Myles Joyce protested his innocence. The other five accused were advised by Fr Micheál Mac Aoidh from Clonbur to plead guilty in order to avoid the hangman. They did this and although they were sentenced to death, the queen’s Viceroy in Ireland, Earl Spencer, commuted their sentences to penal servitude for life. It was reported that Queen Victoria wanted them all to hang.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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