THE horrific and infamous murder of many of the Joyce family in Maamtrasna on the Mayo/Galway border in Connemara in 1882 will feature in a RTE documentary next Monday, September 28.
The murder of five of the Joyce family in Maamtrasna shocked both Ireland and Britain and eventually helped bring down the Gladstone Government in Westmininster. The events surrounding the murders will be investigated in RTE’s new CSI programme called CSI Maamtrasna Massacre which will be broadcast on RTE One at 7.30pm on Monday evening.
John Joyce, his wife Brid, his mother Margaret, his son Michael and his daughter Peggy all perished. One child, nine-year-old Patsy, remained barely alive. Another son, Martin, was luckily not at home that night. The bodies lay in the house for many hours as locals were afraid to venture in.
Nearly 130 years later, there is still a wall of silence surrounding the killings and the programme follows Johnny Joyce from Dublin, a great-grandson of the murdered man, who has spent the last 20 years trying to find out what happened to his grand-uncle Patsy. The programme asks how and why the murders took place and should the names of those executed and imprisoned be finally cleared.
The events became the main news of the day on both sides of the Irish sea to such an extent that journalists from Fleet Street descended on the locality to try and get the inside story. The police arrested ten men based on evidence given by three witnesses. Many of those arrested were related to the murdered family and to the witnesses. The prisoners were transferred to Dublin to face trial in front of a jury of mainly middle class and unionist and the language used in court was English which none of the Irish-speaking prisoners understood.
By a combination of persuasion and intimidation the Crown Solicitor managed to get two of the men to turn state witnesses and three of the accused were sentenced to death. In Galway Jail on December 15, 1882, Myles Joyce, Pat Casey and Pat Joyce were hanged. The remaining prisoners pleaded guilty to save their lives and now faced long, harsh prison sentences. Two of the prisoners died in jail, while the other three were released over 20 years later, still guilty in the eyes of the law.
Calls for an official inquiry gained momentum in the British parliament as Parnell raised the issue again and again. When Prime Minister Gladstone refused an inquiry, Parnell withdrew his support for the Prime Minister which led to the downfall of Gladstone’s Government.