Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets Seán Ó Cuirreáin, whose research offers a fresh insight into Maamtrasna murder controversy
It’s not every day you’ll find a frugal public servant writing to an executioner in the hope of getting a cut-price deal for a forthcoming hanging.
But that’s exactly what Seán Ó Cuirreáin discovered while researching his book on the infamous 1882 Maamtrasna murders and subsequent trial, which represented one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Irish history.
The Maamtrasna murders on August 17, 1882, caused shock waves in Ireland, England and further afield. Five members of one family, from children to an elderly woman, were slaughtered in their cabin in this isolated area which was then in County Galway. One badly-injured child survived, as did a son who had been working in Clonbur on the night of the savage killing.
These murders took place against a backdrop of land agitation and secret societies and so “the government thought what happened in Maamtrasna was part of a reign of terror”, says former Raidio na Gaeltachta journalist Seán Ó Cuirreáin.
They were wrong, however, he adds, as it was a local squabble based on sheep-stealing – serious but without political undertones. However, that fact came to light much later, by which time innocent men had been jailed and one had been executed.
Seán’s book Éagóir (Injustice) contains much new information about the 1882 trial – a trial that later helped bring down the British Government, when it became apparent that the Crown had knowingly accepted perjured evidence from unreliable informants.
Among those convicted on this false evidence was Myles Joyce, who had an excruciating death on December 15, 1882, when his hanging went wrong.
It had been in relation to that hanging that Galway’s sub-sheriff, John Redington, wrote to executioner William Marwood of Lincolnshire in the UK, asking for a reduction in Marwood’s normal price as “it’s only one day’s job”.
The official public executioner received an annual retainer of £20 and an extra £10 for every person he hanged. But Galway’s sub-sheriff felt it was too much for this job.
Initially eight men were due to hang for the Maamtrasna murders – and as Redington explained in his bargain-seeking letter, “the law does not allow the sheriff anything for these executions and he has to pay the entire costs out of his pocket”. He added that “the charge will be the same as the last, viz. £20 for the day”.
Eight men were due to hang but five were given a last-minute reprieve by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Spencer, and had their sentences commuted to penal servitude for life. The three remaining convicts were hanged by Marwood.
The events that led to this began in August 1882 in Maamtrasna with the horrific killings of the Joyce family. Ten men were charged with the murder, all native Irish speakers, most of whom had little or no English. They were tried in Dublin, in front of a judge with no Irish, with a middle-class jury who spoke no Irish.
Their solicitor was a 24-year-old who had just graduated from Trinity and was working in his father’s law practice in Tuam. He was a Protestant with no Irish, representing this group of Catholic Irish-speakers who were up on a charge of capital murder – punishable by death.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Social media ban for revenge porn accused
A 26-year-old man has been barred from using all social media platforms since being charged with harassing his former girlfriend by allegedly posting sexually explicit photos of her online along with links to her Snapchat account.
It is the first prosecution of its type relating to image-based abuse, more commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’ to come before the courts in Galway.
Judge Mary Fahy imposed restrictions, prohibiting the publication of the man’s identity when he was first brought in custody before Galway District Court last October.
This week, she asked Sergeant Christy Burke, prosecuting, why had she imposed the restrictions at the time. He reminded her she had imposed the restrictions then as the case involved sexually explicit material.
Garda Paraic Moran gave evidence in October of having arrested and charged the man with harassing his former girlfriend on a date unknown between August 1, 2015 and July 10, 2019, contrary to Section 10 (1) and (6) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
The accused made no reply when the charge was put to him at the time.
The Director of Public Prosecutions directed the charge could only be dealt with at District Court level if the man entered a guilty plea.
Judge Fahy asked Garda Moran for an outline of the allegations made against the accused so she could decide on whether or not to deal with the case in her court should he plead guilty.
Garda Moran said the man had been in a relationship with the complainant and it was alleged that sometime after they broke up, she was contacted by a couple whom she didn’t know, inviting her to meet them for sex.
As a result of this encounter, the woman discovered intimate photographs of her were circulating on the internet.
She had sent the photos to the accused when they were together and it was alleged, Garda Moran said, that after the relationship ended the accused uploaded the photos to the internet on several occasions with links to the complainant’s Facebook Snapchat account.
Judge Fahy accepted jurisdiction in October to hear the case in her court and she made an order for prosecution statements to be sent to defence solicitor, Brian Gilmartin’s office and for the accused to come to court this week and elect to either plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.
Sgt Browne informed the court this week the statements had inadvertently not yet been sent to Mr Gilmartin but they would be now.
Judge Fahy remanded the accused on continuing bail to appear back before the court in March and elect then whether he wanted to plead guilty or not guilty.
Bail was granted in October subject to conditions sought by Gardai that he have no contact with the complainant or any witnesses, by any means to include social media; continue to reside at his rental address in the city and notify Gardai of any change of address within 48 hours; sign on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Garda HQ at Murrough, Renmore; observe a nightly curfew between 10p.m. and 6a.m.; be of good behaviour and remain of sober habits; and provide a mobile phone number to Gardai and answer his phone to them at all times.
Judge Fahy added a further condition at the time prohibiting the man from accessing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and all other social media platforms, pending completion of the case.
She awarded him free legal aid and also advised him that if he broke any of the bail conditions it was likely he would end up in custody, due to the seriousness of the charge he was facing.
Help at hand for smokers with resolve!
The HSE has launched their annual free programme to help smokers at the start of the new year to try to kick the habit as research shows that 70% of smokers want to give up for good.
With packets of cigarettes now retailing at €15 a pop, there has never been a better time to quit – even if health reasons are not a consideration.
But the impact on health should help make that decision even more urgent, according to the Irish Cancer Society.
The HSE has found that half of all smokers die from smoking-related diseases. In 2015 records show that 5,950 people died as a direct result of smoking, with an additional 100 deaths thought to be the result of exposure to second-hand smoke.
The benefits of become a non-smoker quickly become apparent. The US Surgeon General’s Office insists that after 72 hours of quitting, breathing becomes easier as the bronchial tubes relax and energy levels increase.
After a fortnight circulation improves, making walking and exercise easier. After three to nine months: coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing are reduced dramatically. After five years the risk of heart attack falls to that of a non-smoker while after a decade the risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
“The first thing is to realise that quitting smoking is a process, and it is important to understand where you fit in the process or ‘cycle’ of change,” said a spokesperson for the Irish Cancer Society.
“You need to plan when and how you’re going to quit. If you can get through the first 30 days without cigarettes, you’ll have gone a long way towards kicking the habit.”
The Quit Smoking West Service offers six free sessions with a HSE Stop Smoking Advisor. This therapist will explore habits and any concerns you have about stopping smoking. They will assess your level of smoking addiction, provide support to deal with challenges and discuss stop smoking medications.
“We know that quitting can be extremely difficult. But by working with us, we will support you to develop a plan to help you to cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and provide you with motivational tips to help keep you on track,” a spokesperson for the service explained.
Call Quit Smoking West on (091) 737262 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for the free, confidential support and advice.
Community volunteers out in force for planathons on banks of Lough Atalia
Student volunteers and community activists were out in force throughout the month of December to push back against the climate crisis – taking part in a series of ‘plantathons’ on the banks of Lough Atalia.
Planting bulbs and trees, the programme was led by Galway Community College which owns the lands involved – and aims to rewild another portion of the city, following in the footsteps of Terryland Forest Park.
While a much smaller area by size, those behind the initiative say it shows what’s possible when the community comes together.
Supported by the National Park City initiative, the creation of this woods and wildflower meadow on what were, until now pasture lands, also had the backing of several other voluntary organisation in the city as well as Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Dominican College Taylor’s Hill, Galway Education Centre and Galway Science and Technology Festival.
With the bulbs provided by the Newcastle-based multinational Aerogen, Convenor of the Galway National Park City Brendan Smith said the project epitomised how the initiative brings interested parties together to do good.
He said efforts such as those on Lough Atalia showed the determination of young people and locals to continue the great work of those who carried out the very first plantathon in Terryland almost 22 years ago.
Those efforts were required now more than ever as the impact of the climate emergency was being acutely felt.
“The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs.
“Storm Barra was the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. But one key way to tackle the climate emergency is to plant trees – and lots of them. The Irish Government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually.
“This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity loss,” says Brendan.
“One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970.
“A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, fungi and fauna.
“Planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.”