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Seán shines new light on an infamous murder trial

Judy Murphy

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Sean Ó Cuirreáin at the site where Myles Joyce was hanged. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

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.

Connacht Tribune

Exploring the merits of moving into the west

Dave O'Connell

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Mary Kennedy with Carol Ho, one of the Galway interviewees for her new TG4 series, Moving West. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.

“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.

These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.

But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.

Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.

One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.

The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing

Dave O'Connell

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Well saved...members of St Brendan's GAA Club honour their departed stalwart, John Geraghty, after a record-breaking evening saving his turf.

A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.

They lifted and footed his turf.

John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.

He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.

“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.

Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!

“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.

Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.

They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.

Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat

Denise McNamara

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Daddy’s girl…Sadhbh Browne with her very special message on organ donations. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.

After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.

“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”

But it could have all been so different.

Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.

She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.

Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.

Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.

Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.

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