I was very lucky to grow up in such a scenic area surrounded by a beautiful lake, mountains that rise taller than the skies and fields that you can’t see the other end of.
But in this beautiful place lies a dark murder mystery that still remains unspeakable to this day in the area.
The Maamtrasna Murders took place on the 17 August 1882. Maamtrasna – located on the shores of Lough Mask – is a wonderful area that is nestled in between the Mayo and Galway border. The type of place that if you were standing in a certain spot, your left foot would be in Mayo but your right one wouldn’t.
However, its landscape can’t even hide the murder that took place there many years ago.
A family of five were slaughtered as they rested in their mountainside cottage: John Joyce, his wife Bridget, his daughter, Peigí and his mother Margaret were murdered.
His son Michael witnessed the whole event alongside his sister Patsy. Both were badly injured but only Patsy survived to tell the tale, or to try and remember the event as best she could.
While there is no real facts surrounding the reasons why the slaughter took place, if you dare to ask in that neck of the woods, most will give you the same answer. It was believed that John Joyce had habitually stole his neighbours’ sheep from the hills and that this was the main reason for the attack.
As brutal as the murders themselves are, the aftermath is just as bad if not worse. Ten men from the surrounding area were arrested and charged almost immediately: Myles Joyce, his brothers Martin and Páidín and his nephew Tom; Pat, Michael and John Casey; Pat Joyce; Tom Casey and Anthony Philbin.
Almost all of these men hadn’t a word of English. (The Irish spoken in this neck of the woods by the locals is something that you could listen to all day. It’s rough, it’s fast, they amalgamate Irish words together to the point where a paragraph feels like one sentence. But, It has a real blás about it that is hard to find anywhere else).
They were put up on trial in Dublin and tried without a word of Irish being spoken to them. Guilty or not, they weren’t going to get a fair trial. Of the ten men, two – out of sheer fear – decided that they would become informers in order to escape punishment.
The other eight were left defenseless.
Three of those tried were immediately found guilty and sentenced to death.
Out of the other five, two convicted of the crime died while serving their sentence while the other three spent 20 years in custody for a crime they did not commit.
They were eventually released in September 1902 and although they were sent on a train from Dublin to Ballinrobe, they completed the last long few miles of the journey on foot, returning to the scene of horror.
To the three who were to be hanged, they were brought back to Galway to be killed but shortly before it was about to go ahead, two of the three separately admitted that Myles Joyce was innocent. Joyce was the third person but despite their pleas, was hanged along with the other two men.
It is said that on his way to his death that morning, Myles Joyce said in Irish that he would “see Jesus Christ in a short while. He too was unjustly hanged,” before wishing God to have pity on and take care of his wife and five children.
Some say that Joyce’s death was more strangulation than hanging and that his death was more torturous, slow and painful than the others.
Since the untimely death of Joyce, more unproved evidence and facts, if you will, came to light. One of the informers admitted to lying under oath and said that Myles Joyce was not involved in the murders at all.
It was also noted years later that there was substantial evidence that could have proved the innocence of some of the men, but it was hidden away from court. As well as this, evidence given in Irish had not been translated correctly.
However, a full inquiry was still refused despite evidence showing that justice had been carried out incorrectly.
The Maamtrasna Murders is a story that is passed down from generation to generation in this area. It’s not a story that you gather all in one go. It’s normally told by an old man in a corner of a pub who you’ve never seen before or you’ll never see again but he gives you the first piece of the jigsaw and you spend the rest of your younger life trying to find the next one from another local.
Although it hasn’t been proven – as of yet – it is widely acknowledged that there was a lot more than Myles Joyce innocent. It was believed that four of the prisoners were also not guilty of the crimes but sadly, it doesn’t even stop there.
Some say, that there was others who took part in the murder that never got even looked at, never mind questioned. One of those people is even believed to be the person who orchestrated the whole attack.
Some say, that if you figure out who owned the sheep that were stolen, your answer lies right there. Others will tell you that the sheep story is bollocks and will explain another theory to you that will leave you scratching your head again. You see, it’s a small village where many distant relatives of these people still live and who you hear are the murderers, depends on who you are talking to.
Michael Higgins said in 2017 that he would be re-opening this case as according to The Sunday Times, confirming that the Government had launched an investigation into it.
Speaking in the docu-dram, the President said that the eight accused were denied a fair trial:
“The government has appointed an expert to examine the case. I look forward to receiving the expert’s opinion and the government’s advice on the matter.”
“If it were up to me, the formalities aside, I would be happy to accept that the injustice which occurred should be recognised,” he concluded.
Maybe, we will finally find out who was really innocent.