Bid to prove hanged man was victim of an unfair trialDecember 14, 2012 - 8:00am
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.