Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Commemoration of Mamtrasna 1882 miscarriage!

“I will soon see Jesus Christ - he too was hanged unjustly”

Myles Joyce who was unjustly executed for his alleged part in the ‘Maamtrasna murders’ 130 years ago will be recalled at a commemorative event in Galway next month. He was convicted in connection with the slaughter of a family in a remote valley on the Galway-Mayo border in 1882 and was hanged and buried at the then Galway Gaol on the site where Galway Cathedral now stands.

Myles Joyce - from book
"Maamtrasna, the murders and the mystery.")
A native Irish speaker from the Gaeltacht Myles Joyce, who had no English, was defended in court in Dublin by a solicitor and barristers who spoke no Irish. The evidence he gave in Irish was ignored in court while evidence which might have helped his defence was withheld and informers gave false evidence against him. The judge and jury who convicted him had no Irish and the jury deliberated for less than six minutes to decide on his guilt before sentence of death was passed.

The commemorative event, details of which were announced to mark the 130th anniversary today of the ending of his trial and his sentencing to death in Dublin’s Green Street Court, is jointly organised by the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga, Galway City Museum and Conradh na Gaeilge.

The Galway event is prompted by a campaign in the British Houses of Parliament led by Lord Alton and Lord Avebury to persuade the authorities to review the case of Myles Joyce, to declare him the victim of a miscarriage of justice and to concede than he was falsely convicted and executed.

The commemoration on Saturday, 15th December next, the 130th anniversary of his hanging will include a mass in Irish in his memory in Galway Cathedral followed by the laying of wreaths on the spot where the gallows on which he was hanged stood and where his body lies buried under the tarmac in the cathedral car park. A symposium in Galway City Museum will hear contributions from historian Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Lord Alton from the British House of Lords - whose mother was a native Irish speaker from the Tuar Mhic Éadaigh Gaeltacht bordering Maamtrasna. There will also be a contribution from Johnny Joyce from Dublin, a descendant of the Joyce family whose murder in Maamtrasna led to the conviction of Myles Joyce. An exhibition, readings from historical material and an RTÉ film about the Maamtrasna murders will also feature. Further elements of the event are to be announced later.

Details of the programme for the day are available here as a pdf.

Burial place of Myles Joyce
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, said that Myles Joyce’s case was one of most significant and distressing cases ever concerning the denial of language rights. “At a time when the public’s language rights are confirmed in law, we shouldn’t forget cases such as that of Myles Joyce which remind us of the difficulty of getting justice under the law in the past if you didn’t have English.” He recalled that Myles Joyce was quoted as saying as he was led to the gallows: “Feicfidh mé Íosa Críost ar ball – crochadh eisean san éagóir freisin” [“I will soon see Jesus Christ - he too was hanged unjustly”].

Breandán Ó hEaghra from Galway City Museum said that the museum was pleased to be involved in the commemorative event: “What happened to Myles Joyce is part of the history of the city, the county and the country. Like any museum, we have an important role to play in presenting that history to the current generation and conserving these memories for future generations.”

Peadar Mac Fhlannchadha from Conradh na Gaeilge said that it was difficult now to imagine the injustice suffered by Myles Joyce and others who spent years in prison as a result of the Maamtrasna murders. “This Gaeltacht case led to a furious debate which raged for many years in the Westminster Parliament and it was one of the reasons that William Gladstone’s Liberal Government fell in 1885 when the Irish MPs under Charles Stewart Parnell withdrew its support and sided with the opposition Tories under the leadership of Randolph Churchill” he said.

Of the eight who were convicted for the Maamtrasna murders, three were hanged but it is generally accepted that one of those, Myles Joyce, was innocent. Five others were sentenced to penal servitude for life and two of those died in prison. Four of those prisoners were also believed to be totally innocent. In 1902 the three surviving prisoners - two brothers and a nephew of Myles Joyce - were freed having spent 20 years in jail.

However, official state records portray them all as convicted murderers.

Further details of the commemoration will be announced in the coming weeks.
Mamtrasna District (Pic S Ó Mainín)

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