Seamus Breathnach’s examines Irish society through its norm-creating as well as its norm-breaking agencies. These include the Church controls of Ireland’s State -- its Schools, Law, Police, Courts, Prisons, Media and much more...


5.) Crime and punishment in 19th century Ireland.

5a.) The Riddle of the Caswell Mutiny (1875)

5b.) The Maam Trasna Murders (1882)


5. Crime And Punishment
In Nineteenth Century Ireland

Studies In Irish Criminology:Book 29

5.b. The Maam Trasna Murders—REVISITED

Sile, Sean and Seamus

Sile:  What is it about the Maamtrasna murders that warrants the attention of criminologists?

Seamus: I suspect it is because it is one of the most extraordinary criminal events in the nineteenth century. It is an awkward, contrary, case. And if it is nowhere disinteresting, it is everywhere  ungraspable.
Sile: Maybe we should begin by giving something of its details for those who are interested ?  I have read two accounts of it and I have to say I felt there was much padding in each.
Seamus: Go ahead!
Sile: I read (Fr.) Jarlath Waldron’s account and then I read the contemporary account by a chap called Tim Harrington. I looked at the papers and the archival file and  found the second account somewhat repetitive of the first (or was it vice versa?)  – not completely, of course, but substantially so. I felt that while Waldron’s account claims to differ from Harrington’s, it was very similar to it but for the padding.
Seamus: That's probably because as far as the facts of Maamtrasna are concerned, they are not in dispute: they never were. Ever since the facts of the case, as they  were reported and  published in the Freeman’s Journal, there were never in dispute. Much is said about what was included in the trials, what was left out, what was emphasized, and what was not, etc. ; but the facts from this point of view were never in issue. So, in a way, the account in the Freeman's Journal lays the foundation of  what went on in court and it forms  an Appendix  to Harrington’s political Impeachment Of The Trials. These trial facts, if I May call them that,  have been more or less accepted and repeated.  So, when you say the accounts are similar, are you referring to this basic account of the  murder trials?
Sile:  Yes. I suppose I am. And  I agree these court facts, save for the most minor observations, are nowhere in contention.  But if the court facts are not disputed , the truth of evidence presented is everywhere in dispute. In this respect, there never has been a case so much in dispute. Jarlath Waldron, for example,  is of the opinion that the real cause of the murders is the dead granny; in this regard,  he falls back on  the same tack that  as Harrington. But then… Harrington….  Look, without having read these accounts in detail the nuances are apt to get lost.
Sean: Well, apart from the analysis,  can you say why the case fascinates you?
Sile: Well, that’s my point. I didn’t find the case that fascinating – and , if the truth be told, I still don’t find the case that interesting at all. I was hoping that your enthusiasm for Maamtrasna might rub off on me.
Seamus: Do you know who committed the crime?
Sile: I think I do, but it isn’t easy. I suppose, in this superficial sense, it is a whacking great ‘whodunit?’ But I’m not sure that that aspect should be its main attraction?
Seamus: So, who do you think did the crime? The Approver? Which of them?
Sile: I’d rather not say who I think did it. It has a touch of the fascination of the who-dun-nit about it. I wouldn’t want to spoil that Agatha Christie fascination.
Seamus: I’m sure you’re right not to. But it is hardly the reason for recommending the book?
Sile: Maybe not.  I’m just saying that one shouldn’t write off that kind of interest either.
Sean: When one talks about ‘whodunits’ one can’t help reflecting upon Agatha Christie’s famous Mousetrap . It ran for ages in the West End on this very ‘whodunit’ point. And what was every bit as interesting as the plot, was the scheme by which the stage manager engaged the audience not to tell the public who the culprit was. After the drama was over, the manager was careful to address the audience and invited them to enter a conspiracy of silence concerning the guilty party, thereby making it possible to resell  the play to another unsuspecting audience. As a whodunit-drama, it was great -- but imagine having to rely upon such a device to keep up the interest in the plot! And, of course, it worked, which, as I said, was every bit as amazing to me as the play itself. Before I ever went to see it, several people spoke to me about it. Each conspirator was careful to inform me that they would not ‘ruin it for me by telling me who did the murder.’ Isn’t that remarkable!
Sile: I can’t see how you are so amazed by that little story. Dubliners have for years been conspiratorial about such things.
Seamus: How do you mean?
Sile: I mean , if you were ever in Leason Street late at night , say, about twenty years ago, you would have found that most of the after-hour wineries had no license to sell  wine. This, however, did not stop them from charging exorbitant prices on their plonk. Patrons were enlisted in a game of self-deception -- a  ridiculous conspiracy that made for a true description of the social neurosis paralyzing adult Irish life at the time in Dublin city.
Seamus: How was  that?
Sile: Well, you know that Leason Street was Ireland’s answer to Soho. No; I’m wrong. Leason Street at that time was Ireland’s answer to Benediction. Ever since the Riordans -- the TV program -- I think we all knew that the Holy Family was so engrafted onto the Irish psyche, that there was literally no place -- nowhere at all , outside the Church and the Pub-- in which adult Irish people not soaked in the Holy Family could  meet. The inner psyche was reflected in the outer social space. Leason Street presented a place -- the only place in urban Dublin (and Ireland) -- where adults , after pub-hours, could meet. And it had all the markings of its own guilt-ridden ensemble. It was invariably under-ground, the bouncers looked you over as if they gave a cabaiste about your moral bearing, only cheap plonk on sale, and the prices were enormous. The exploitation of the Irish male had reached a high point -- the high point being that we -- the Irish -- could not invent a social space in which to express our  sexual preferences within the wider environment colonized by Holy celibate Church. Anyway, they would sell you the plonk, and they no sooner sold it to you, than the busies would appear, and everyone had to go through the motions of handing back the plonk before the busies were allowed in the door. When the Gardai , after a suitable delay, entered, everyone assured them that there was no drink, that every one was drinking water and orange juice. And when they left? Well, you were lucky if you got anything back at all. Or worse, you forfeited an expensive bottle of plonk champagne and you got  back the dregs of  someone else’s wine. It was utterly dreadful -- but it was so Irish! It was harder on the men than the women. The women  were encouraged to enter these denizens to decorate the place  as well as to act as an attraction for the men.
Sean: What’s your point?
Sile: My point is that we entered a conspiracy of silence against our short term interests in order to serve our longer term interests, upon a matter concerning sexual and social space which monkeys had organized better than we had .
Sean: You're beginning to show your age. That  wasn't twenty years ago. It was more like forty years ago. And what’s the point about Agatha Christie’s Whodunit?
Seamus: The first point demonstrates the attraction that the whodunit has in plots.
Sile: I know what you mean. It’s a bit like music that wanders from tonic to dominant and then after the dominant it  never seems to  return to the tonic until the piece is over.
Seamus:  As a genre, the whodunit keeps the question uppermost in the mind of the audience just as the Mousetrap did. The second point is that this aspect of quizzicality has entered drama as a most desirable thing: its anticipatory aspect being uppermost in its success – especially where the Hollywood Film of late is concerned. But here it is pronounced to such an extent that it has replaced the plot totally. And this Hollywood conspiracy to replace plot with quizzical gimmickry, has destroyed story telling as an art form. You will see it very particularly in the Da Vinci Code, a story so contrived (by Hollywood) that it becomes incredible as well as ridiculous. The overemphasis on quizzicality gives way to endless and repetitive contrivances that spoil any vestige of the narrative’s connection with verisimilitude.
Sile: Maybe it's about one's age. Maybe the young don't mind the endless contrivances that go to make up a Hollywood plot. Someone should write the history of gullibility -- or is that the same as the history of civilization?
Sean: You’re right. I saw the same thing in Fatal Attraction.
Sile: So what if Hollywood now casts films in the same way as Gilbert and Sullivan staged musicals. What you call the death of drama is, in my opinion, the beginning of a new form thereof.
Sean: How do you mean?
Sile: The argument runs something like this.
As we all know, there has to be Heaven and Hell, Good and Bad, Crime and Punishment. Above all, there has to be punishment. All these films – like Christianity, whose paradigm they echo on the screen -- are essentially about a penal punishment. And since the punishment must square with Biblical or Christian notions, the repentance part is totally excised. The reason for this is because when the opportunity to  repent and make recompense is removed, the film director can go straight to where the Inquisitors went – to the naked coup de gras. Justice masquerades as revenge and revenge masquerades as Justice. So ,to prolong the so-called work of art (film),  delaying stratagems are introduced. This allows the director to act out more masochistic episodes  and , thus, more rewarding 'works of art'.  The execution of punishment is the inner essential, but it has to be couched in terms of comeuppance, of condign revenge  – and this, methinks,  is the sole theme and raison d’etre of the film. In order, therefore, to deliver the coup de gras and, at the same time,  retain one’s Christian’s balance of propriety, the culprit must really get up the nose of the audience.
By making  the bad guy (or gal) so obnoxious, by visibly making him such a hate-figure, the punishment , however horrific, is packaged as ‘justice’. And no matter how wicked the end punishment, it is meant morally as a just thing to do, a good ending to the film. The moral is inquisitorial : the wicked shall be punished but in  this film  look  how punished the wicked are!.
So, for example, in Fatal Attraction, there’s going to be a final reckoning. Someone therefore has to perform the bitch and elicit the sympathies of the audience in preparation of the savage end. The story is ever the same. In Fatal Attraction the bitch of control, played by Glenda Close, has to be killed, because she wont take ‘no’ for an answer. She wants to destroy Michael Douglas’s happy if no holy family (not to mention his pet rabbit), that is, ‘happy’ in an acceptably unhappy modern way. Anyway, they kill Glenda with knives and water. But the feeling is renewed like an old cadence from The Pirates of Penzance. They want to execute Glenda more than once. One killing does not exhaust the sense of hatred hitherto  created throughout the film. The usual thing is to delay the anxiety of the final blow as well as the agony of the end itself.  But they can’t delay her death. So, they do the next best thing. They get her to revive herself after her death by water and then she is re-executed  -- but this time by the wife, the protectress of the paterfamilias  (even if  pater has been doing a Bill bit-on-the-side Clinton ) and by way of firing several bullets into her body. Hollywood has always had such respect for Guns and Bullets – not to mention the modern woman and her six-pack! So , when someone has to be really executed, the only proper way in the American mind, is to kill the by bullet female. Hollywood knows how final guns and bullets can be, as can the female of the species. But, even still, there is nothing like a repeat performance, a re-staged  comeback, for which the public is ever ready.
Sean: So, where does that leave us?
Sile: It leaves us with two things. One is that there is a lot to be said for jigsaw puzzles, after the fashion of either Da Vinci, The Mousetrap or, indeed, Harry Potter. Audiences love a puzzle,  a riddle, whether of cross words or of words that cross. And the second point is that the engrossment of puzzles into contrived plots has worked its way to great effect into the art of story telling. If the Plot has been taken over by the cinematography of gimmickry and cinematography itself, then so be it. We can’t always expect to have a Hamlet-like plot. Maybe it is sufficient just to stay on,  to look at the pictures. But you don’t agree with that?
Seamus: Did you ever consider the possibility that each year the cinema-going public’s taste gets more juvenile, more and more simple,  approximating sometimes,  a bad version of Jungle Book or a bad repeat of South Pacific, where we all feel that  no one can compare with Ezio Pinza? Is that an age thing disguising itself as a better standards thing? Or , is it just the assertion that my times are more something-or-other than your times! Everything appears to be not only consumable downwards but is aimed at titillating the un-titillatable -- the teenager who is both infant and infantile! In any event,  how does this apply to Maamtrasna?
Sile: Well, if you take the points that you have made, you will find that  they are all present in Maamtrasna. In a way, Maamtrasna is itself a contrivance. The contrivances are not simply those of a one-dimensional agent like Hollywood – an agent that controls the narrative. The contrivances in Maamtrasna are the real people in the story.  You see Maamtrasna is radically different from ay other murder-account in that we presume most murderers want to remain silent. So the difficulty is to find someone to sing, someone on the inside. Maamtrasna it the perfect opposite to that. Everyone claims to have been there, everyone has his own version of who is to blame, and practically everyone who relates their story to the world exonerates himself in the process.  The contrivances, therefore,  from the revelations of the ‘independent witnesses’ to the‘ Crown Approvers’ to the Politicians (Irish and British), as well as the role of the clergy, to the story-tellers  – they are all part of some great contrivance that is quite difficult to unravel. But my point is that this great whodunit, and its contrivances, is part of the murder, not part of its outside narrative.
Maam Trasna as Narrative
Seamus: There is another important point I would like  to make and it is this. In studying murder, as either a narrative, or as a criminological event, the object, surely, is to learn from it. Whether art teaches or entertains – or whether these categories are mutually exclusive – is an argument that we are not going into here but one which nevertheless resonates (aphoristically at any rate) in the writings of Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde,  George Bernard Shaw,  James Joyce and indeed, every bit as seriously in the works of the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce.  Is art meant to edify or entertain?
Croce (in his 1893 Essay) much depended upon whether history should be conceived as a science, as it had lately been conceived by the Germans, or as an art form. Although Croce was inclined to reject most of the theories then prevalent and opt for art as an individually intuitive matter -- a vision of anarchic proportions --, he contrasted the nominalism of art with science as a construction of general concepts and their interrelationships.
Sile: But we are hardly interested here in the philosophic arguments. Are we not more concerned with Maam Trasna as a social phenomenon?
Seamus: Of course, but how do we relate such social phenomena, as narrative,  if not as science, or as art?
Sean: I see what you mean.
Sile: Maybe, like the Aes Dana or the Blessed Trinity of art, science and history -- all three leafs of the same Trinitarian shamrock! And even if we can’t resolve the matter here, let it be known that  our purpose in dealing with accounts of murder is to be edified by the analysis of the history of our experiential past, and by our examination and assessment of it. To pour it into a biblical or a common-law lawyer’s phial,  and thereby freeze it forever,  is positively the last thing we want to do. Why? Because it is the least beneficial way to learn from it.  The Bible has all the answers for the religious faithful, who are happy to live vicariously off the experiences of the Jewish tribes long ago and  far away. The common law has all the answers for those who are happy to live vicariously off the experiences of the English people long ago and far away and continuing. But only Irish history according to the non-Roman and non-English historians (possibly an eccentric residue of historians) can answer what happened in Ireland.  And yet this is what we do all the time. In this sense, there is an atrocious incapacity to learn – to learn from our experience. So, with the Irish, the novel idea that they should learn from their own experience antedates any argument as to whether art imitates experience or whether in general it entertains or edifies. These distinctions and arguments come after the establishment of a discourse that is not overwhelmed by either the pulpit or the judicial bench. This non-discourse is an index of the disconnection between experience and any art forms it pretends to engender.
Sean: Methinks we are, in this respect, too attentive to Hollywood. Maybe they overcame us too early with the camera and the cinema,  and we have never analyzed either the arts or ourselves properly.
Seamus: I don’t follow.
Sean: Sile thinks that the narrative should edify. To do so, a commitment to the social phenomena – in this case, the social phenomena of Maamtrasna – is imperative. But Hollywood has no such ambition. As social phenomena, Hollywood- narratives are not necessarily connected or inspired by social experience in the ordinary way. Their main appeal at present is to stimulate the dominion of the imagination in children. Its purpose and its end is to‘ play with’, rather than to teach or entertain – which need not be bad in any moral sense – but which may be somewhat tedious in the long term. It also, in some ways, spells out the worrying disjuncture between social experience and social concern.
Sile: Surely you don’t need reminding that that biblical narrative is not based on social phenomena, or, if it is, it is certainly never analyzed or conveyed as social phenomena. Like Hollywood, it presumes the roots and then plays upon the abstractions that those roots  develop. It is a way to become rich.
Sean: How rich?
Sile: Elsewhere, hasn’t it already been explained that all you need to do is to re:travel the imperialised trails of the great Christian conquest. Write a book or a tune evocative of Jesus and his Blessed Mother, and they will play in every conquered hick hut from here to Uganda. The priesthood through the pulpits will feed it through the schools to ‘leetle cheeldren’, the ‘leetle cheeldren’ to the Holy Families, the Holy Families to the parishes, the parishes will feed it to the communities, the communities will feed it back to the schools, and so on, and so on. By the time it reaches the the mothers, they will even go without flowers on the table or contraceptives in the bedroom -- just to give their darlings  the message of the Lord and at least an equal if not a better chance in life. Every mother knows that being on the Church’s team is being on the State’s team and, as against those anarchists who are on neither the Church's nor the State’s team,  theirs stands a more  than average chance of extreme privilege. For this they don’t even mind being exploited by some ‘Father figure’, a ‘Father This’ or a ‘Father That’.
Sean:  You are awful, sometimes! And yes. I remember the account. But what I meant was, it should be connected and understood in terms of each community’s own history, each community’s own experiences.
Sile: But that is the point of imperialism. We both through the Christian spectacle as well as through the Hollywood spectacle know all their experiences – as all our experiences –. Or, put another way, their experience has become our experience and our perceived reality.
Sean: Jesus! The way you talk about it, one would think that we are all dummies, moronic pieces of consumable Christian and Hollywood propaganda.
Sile:             Jesus! Precisely!
Seamus:    Jesus! Precisely!
Sean: O, my God! Are you saying that Maamtrasna has been fed to us in the same way?
Sile: Well, if we are informed of everything else in the same fashion as we have been informed of our 'history' and of Jesus and the Christian conquest -- which runs in parallel reinforcement with how murder, war, and justice are portrayed in Hollywood, then the answer must be’ yes.’
We are, I am sure,  all aware of the great increase in the incidence of murder in Ireland in recent times. It is unfortunate that accounts of these events never seem to be related either to any historical or to any social event. (For a further airing of this criticism See 10.e.  Bk. 13: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: Vol. 4: Infanticide Or The Mercy Miracle. ) Most Irish murder-talk seems to go no further than the event itself or by reference to a rather bankrupt Christian morality, or some idea of police or criminal ‘science’ that is invariably couched in the same or similar terms, and little else besides.
Sean: But we cannot blame Hollywood for such shallowness, no more than we can blame Rome for the shallowness that proceeds from the practice and content of religion and its homogeneous references to Bible and Scripture.
Sile: I don't know who you blame -- if blame , indeed, is relevant. For the churches to control social matters is like stifling both the social sciences as well as the propensity to speculate. In truth , religion  and the religious way of looking at things,  is so inferior to the work of the social sciences that its pre-eminence is a tribute to the totalitarianism of Christianity.  It is as if,  at the highest levels of clerical comprehension, religion has lost all credibility. It just governs from RTE in the most fickle manner while, in exquisite Irish relief , the late Dermot Morgen's Father Ted is replayed a quarter of a century later. Even in its obsolescence,  real analysis has to take second place to the Church’s hoary old make-believe.
Seamus: But surely you overlook the real issue of murder today?
Sile: Which is?
Seamus: These days I feel that murder, its management and its portrayal, is actually part of Christian morality. In comparison with what’s on television as news, the Seventh Commandment is just ridiculous. It’s like preaching from Castel Gondolpho about the virtue of being born in a stable — and without the slightest hint of irony! Who’s kidding whom? I suppose to bridge this gap they made the oft-quoted if ridiculous phrase , from  cabin to White House , meaning, of course, from stable in Bethlehem to Pharaoh in Vatican!
Sile: And we know who Superman is , don’t we?
Sean: And what about the Incredible Hulk?
Sile: And I bet, you did not even intend that as a funny!
Sean:  Yes: I’m even funny when I don’t even know it! By overlooking the real issue, you mean the reports by RTE on the  daily murders in Ireland?
Seamus: That’s part of it, of course.  But I mean the way we and our children,  as with families all over the world, are called upon to attest to US forces murdering people on our television. It’s done with the same enthusiasm as a soccer game. We are even expected to cheer when the US or its allies kill people. It’s like "Israel deux point, Palestine nil; America a direct hit, ten people dead, and a few more unintended ones – and the terrorists NIL." Even if you give a gander at the equally tired old GAA, you'll find the same ugly mix of moneyed mountains, violence before ,during and after play, the family silver retained by the most pious relatives, and a growing incurable alienation between play and public. The GAA is no different to the Benedict/Ahern/Blair/ Bush government of the New Order. Violence is the name of the New World Order!
Sean: But was Maamtrasna that brutal in the scheme of things?
Seamus: What scheme of things?
Sile: In terms of nineteenth century murder?
Seamus: Maamtrasna was a gruesome crime by whatever standards you care to mention. But when compared with others – like The Phoenix Park Murders or, worse still, The Burning of the Sheas, or some of the other nineteenth century murders, Gaslight or Agrarian, it loses its notoriety. It is also true that when compared to the war-zones of France/Austria, the Boer War, the Fenian effort, etc. It is as nothing. What is the life of a peasant family in the  greater scheme of things?  No; the worth of the Maamtrasna murders does not ly in the horror of the act itself as much as in its resistance to all explanations except a cultural one. In this , Maamtrasna, the murders and the circumstances of the murders, have the principle purpose of educating those who would be educated about their country, its true history and its culture. Understanding Maamtrasna has parallels with the Kyteler trial and the case of Mary Daly. Where Kyteler calls attention  to the first building blocks in the body politic of the Christian conquest, Mary Daly,  in the same  way,  affirms the fact of that conquest and exposes the role of the  Holy Family in perpetuating that politic, and Maamtrasna confirms the fact of the conquest yet again and informs us of the cultural price of the Christian conquest. Maamtrasna cannot be explained outside of an understanding of Irish history and culture. That’s its importance; that is its significance.
Sean: What price? What, in other words -- and in your opinion -- makes Maamtrasna so irresistible as an Irish murder?
Seamus:  Ireland's history is the reason.  I say that the real history of the Christian conquest in Ireland remains to be unpacked, but in the meantime,  and for our immediate purposes here,  can be seen as obtaining between  two simple events.
I shall say it again.
In 1327/8, three years after the trial of Alice Kyteler for Church heresy, the native Druid, Adam Dubh O' Tuathaill was burned at the stake by the Christian conquistadors. His crime was the defense of his people in tribal and pagan Ireland from the Mediterranean Myth,  the truths of  which he flatly denied. He was defending Ireland no less that Brian Boru was defending it from the pagan Northmen. The only difference is that the Romans did not want anybody to know of Adam Dubh O' Tuathaill,  because he identified  the foreign Roman Christian as the real  enemy of Ireland (pagan Ireland) whereas Boru was presented as fighting pagan heretic on their behalf.
Further, the execution was unconstitutional and contrary to international law at the time. Even if one accepted the substance of the Donation of Constantine , giving the Pope authority over Ireland, and if one further accepted that it was not  a forgery (which it was), it never grounded the Papacy’s right over Gaelic Ireland -- not least because Gaelic Ireland had never come under Roman rule, upon which the Donation relied for its justification. Secondly, even if one accepted these constitutional, jurisdictional and legal deficiencies , the further alienation of Ireland under the Bull  Laudabiliter suffered from even greater flaws. In giving away Gaelic land without consulting the Gaelic secular Chieftains (and Druids),the Papacy behaved illegally; for even Gaels could not alienate tribal land without recourse to their successors and he tribes they represented.
These days , of course,  millions of people are beginning to say the same  things as Adam Dubh O' Tuathaill  said centuries ago. O'Tuathaill was the first true patriot in Ireland. And what he said was no different than  what the nineteenth century German scholars had discovered, or what modern scholars are currently saying about the actual  history of the Christian church. Ever since 1947 and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, much that is said in scholarship coincides amazingly with the scepticism of the first heretics, men like Adam Dubh O’Tuathaill.
 One can hardly pick up a book but there are new  revelations concerning the true rebellion between the tribes of Judah and the Roman imperial yoke. The parallels between the tribes of Israel and the Gaelic tribes, vis-a-vis the greed of  Rome , is  yet another fertile area to be studied in the light of the new sense of history. But if their is a new secular  enthusiasm for the truth of history, the Church has used its old exorbitant wealth and power, international and financial ,to suppress some of the  findings in the middle east, or to gain an advantage or to do down some worthy or other who opposes them.
 After Jeffrey Archer’s latest release -- the Gospels according to Judas -- one is not quite sure that anyone in the Vatican actually believes the Jesus-story as  they give it to the people. One doesn’t hear the clergy preaching about the miraculous `Jesus any more. Indeed, they don’t know what to make of modern historical scholarship and Jesus. All, it seems, is contrivance. In the meantime they perpetuate the myth to retain power, they suppress truth to remain rich and powerful, and they interfere incessantly and without warrant,openly and secretly, with the secular powers, promoting  the mediocrity of the religious bodies in every sphere of secular government, thereby subverting our liberties and the politics of the people. These days , Churchmen assemble more behind Opus Dei lawyers and Judges and behind Opus Dei accountants than anyone else.
Sean: But Adam Dubh O’ Tuathaill was a once off, don’t you think? And the fact about Mammoths is that they have been rather than they are.
Sile : How bloody enlightening!
Seamus : Equally enlightening is the fact that humans are not mammoths.
Sean: Of course, but you know what I mean. The Gaels and the Mammoths were; they are now gone.
Sile: This is too much enlightenment in one day! Mammoths don’t have history! We do!
Sean: Very well, but you are not Gaelic. And you never were! Let’s face it we’re all Norman stock. Martin MacGuinness might be different. All the Os and the Macs may have a Gaelic stump… but the rest of us are of the very conquistadors-stock that we are decrying.
Sile: So, I am not responsible for who my mother slept with. She could have slept with a Fine Gaeler or a ratlined Nazi for all I know. And her grannies could have slept with Cromwellian roundheads, Scottish gallowglasses or sheep-stealers, what does it matter? We’re talking culture , not genetics.
Sean: Ah, but these days, the Genome says the one is the other. What do you say to that?
Seamus: I say Padraigh Pearse to that.  A thousand years after Adam Dubh O’Tuathaill , Padraigh Pearse appears. He is neither of the Os nor the Macs. And yet he sees in the significance of the Gaelic language the utter treachery of the participants in Irish history.
Sean: Yes but Pearse doesn’t blame the church.
Sile: That’s because  he is not a sociologist.
Sean: And how do you explain the fact that James Joyce rejected what Pearse saw and stood for.
 Sile: That’s easy. Pearse blamed the British.  Joyce blamed the Church. Joyce knew that Pearse had fallen for the Church’s British-baiting exercise. And that’s why Joyce would not remain on to learn Irish. According to Joyce, Pearse never saw who was pulling his strings. Indeed, if anyone should have know how hateful the native pagan heretics were to the Church of Rome, it was Pearse. Some say he was homosexual. But maybe, like Casement, he never knew what it was like to wait on Banna Strand, and never know when no one  turned up. I bet the Church knew why no one ever turned up. Maybe Pearse was naive as to what the new Ireland would , under the Holy Romans, do to homosexuals. On this , I genuinely don’t know. But I feel that Joyce’s stand was infinitely more insightful, even if it was people like Pearse who delivered the Saorstat, Holy Roman warts and all.
Sean: Ah! A Republican at last!  Now, I suppose you’re going to sing ‘Don’t get me wrong! Don’t get me wrong!’
Sile: Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of your Church-cowed national-front Republicans!  If I die ,it won’t be by killing Protestants, who have already fought the bloody Romans to a standstill in every Northern country in Europe. They have even presented liberty to the Irish, who can’t inhale it. They want to run back to their medieval chains ...Awe, what’s the use?…..
Seamus: In any event, Pearse  makes the same or  a similar sacrifice to that made by Adam Dubh O'Tuathaill. The parties (Rome, London and native Gaelic interests) are the same, but that there are no native Gaels, just people  who like to think they would like to be Gaels. In other words, the governing power relations that first operated in Ossory in the fourteenth century are present when Padraigh Pearse takes up the role of the conquered Gael. The conquest has to be re:done in order to put Pearse in his place. And even when Pearse and the Republicans win out adjacent the secular British, who by this time are not anti-Irish or  anti-Gaelic or  even anti-Catholic -- when the Republicans win back their Saorstat, the real hidden Ireland emerges to claim its hegemony, and we are back with the medieval church again; for there is no way that the Irish , on their own, could lay a  hand on the church. The mongrel Irish are the very creation of the Holy Romans; the Irish could not fart without Holy Roman permission.
So, the initial ancient issue  has a modern face. No sooner was  Pearse dead, than the Irish language issue was dead as well. It isn’t the annihilation of the old Gaelic tribes of pagans (heretics to the Holy Romans) or the destruction of their belief-system that is presented to view. It is rather the death, the final whimper,  of its container,  the Gaelic language, that Pearse refuses to live without. Personally , I can see nothing -- absolutely nothing -- flowing from the death of Pearse, that has not been confiscated by the RC Church. The  Church doesn’t mind useless sacrifice; it rather promotes it. Their real enemy,the pagan Gaels have been gone for centuries, to accommodate which,  the  Irish, without a notion  of their  own status or the history of those they destroyed for mother church, cannot even figure out the succession of things Irish, much less their mongrel role in the Christian conquest. Joyce, not Pearse , therefore, had the other half of the truth, which, if put together, might have made Irishmen whole.
And do you know what is the funniest thing of all is? Do you know what makes one laugh and cry simultaneously? They -- this horrid Church of celibate and calculating me and these mongrel Irish --- they want the children to learn Gaelic! The Holy Romans  smell more money and more power by giving back to the people the language they robbed from them fifteen hundred years ago. How could any self-respecting person voluntarily belong to such a culture! How could any mindful person bend a knee or find  repose in such a church! Joyce, like Luther, could do no other than proclaim:  Non Serviam! Non Serviam! Ireland is a country in spontaneous combustion. Look out, Holy Roman!
Sean: It’s hard to take it all in. But I begin to understand what you see. You see Maamtrasna as the incorporation of all these truths.  You see  the Christian conquest writ large on the whole episode, the place, the poverty, the crime, the treachery that reduced a noble race to a squirming reservation of sheep-stealers.
You see in broad sweep the reason for it all. In this you see first the hapless culture of  Gaelic Maamtrasna, busying itself  from day to day with little mundane tasks within a culture that has been dead for centuries. It’s a bit like Mairtin Ua Cadhain’s Cre na Cille. They live in an encased culture that is either dead or denying. This is the first circle you describe.
Then there are two competing powers, Rome and London, the conquerors and definers of the state of Maamtrasna. Rome and its bishops and priests are  purely moral  or  spiritual being and have no temporal responsibility whatsoever. By choice they remain unmarried, they stay celibate for life and nowhere do they contemplate the reproduction of  their kind or the maintenance of their own or any one else’s family. They are , in a word, governors with maximum spin.
The government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ,however, is a secular body which treats people as citizens and whose laws are applicable equally across the frontiers of their territorial conquest. They are responsible and answerable to Parliament on a constant basis as to the laws they enact ,the wealth they produce and distribute, and the management of the affairs of the nation. As an intrinsic part of the temporal and accountable domain, the notion of justice aims  at being as equitably applicable as is the law. In the practical management of these everyday affairs the language used is English and the government of Maamtrasna , as well as the government of London, necessarily includes the induction of moral and legal values.
The conquering morality of the outer world of Gaelic Maamtrasna, then , is made up of two competing and adversary systems of Christianity, the one subversive of the other. The one being Catholic, English-speaking and urban-international, deriving from the Pope in Rome, and being medieval in spirit and outlook, and the other being Irish/English, Protestant,  English-speaking and national, and deriving from a  modern Post-Reformation Parliamentary democracy, siting for all to-see at Westminster. The antagonisms that resided between Rome  and London has been the right to  advancement of the English and British people, their right not to be Catholic or to be otherwise organized in their own nation by anyone but their own royal succession, and least of all by a  foreign Pope. And since the Papacy had used it’s favors with the Gaelic and Irish people against the English, they had to respond in kind upon the Irish people, and notwithstanding their military inferiority Rome never failed to put the Irish on the line. So messianic is the Papacy that , as with the Italians themselves when they sought to unify their country, the cry was Roma o Morte: death or Rome.
As one might imagine , since the Reformation the main Irish drive was for Catholic Emancipation -- not the revival of Gaelic culture or the conservation of a Gaelic-speaking island under the British. It had to be ‘Catholic’ emancipation, nothing less would do Rome.
These universal  and messianic ambitions of the Catholic Church for Ireland, whether under Daniel O’Connell, or the Young Irelanders, or the Fenians,  or Parnell were primarily that the English-speaking part of the diaspora  would bring the faith to America and the English-speaking world, while, at the same time, making inroads into the re-conversion of Britain to Catholicism.
It is a sideline of Irish history, but the Holy Romans, since they had to abandon the Papal States,  always used some other secular power to do its fighting,  to beat down whomsoever they didn’t like, usually anyone who differed with the Popes. They used Constantine, for example,  to beat the pagans, the Christians to beat up on Islam,  the Austrians to beat the  Germans, the Germans to beat the French, the Normans to beat the Moors and whomsoever got in the way of the spread of  Christianity, they used the French to beat the Italians constantly , right up to the use of Napoleon the 111 to defeat Garibaldi,  they used the Anglici and Norman-French to beat the Gaels, the  British to beat the Irish, they used the Croats to beat the Yugoslavians,  the Americans to beat the Russians,  the Vietnamese, and every one in South Americas, they used a mixum gatherum , including Australia, to beat up Indonesia, the use  their world-wide Christian and Opus Dei network,their banks and confraternities, to infiltrate and spy and document everyone who might possibly get in the way or world domination or who simply don’t wish to adore either Mr or Mrs Christ, and they use everyone to beat the Jews all the time.
Sean: But they have no use for the Irish?
Sile: They most certainly have use the Irish. With their new-found English,  the Irish can beat up the poor and the  ignorant of the third world, they can give off all that smarmy-charmy-catholic-ooze, while back at the Vatican shack they plan the total  submission of Philippines, Brazilians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Iraqis. They call it education, but the Popes had them out beating the crap out of blacks and asians and poor conquered people already conquered by the Christian depositors of nuclear weaponry, the kind of gun that only the holy fingers of the Christian can touch.  And the totally conquered Irish? The Irish are out there doing what they always did --  telling people that they (the Irish)  know better what wis good for them and their families and communities, than their own Seanchaithe know. You know about the Golden Age of the Irish? What it meant ,and all that? After the great European plague -- the same that dropped Friar Clynn of Ossory , as he stood there making final entries in his diary.
Sean: What? What did the Popes do?
Sile: I’m sorry; I can’t help finding it funny. Here stood this poor  Friar . He’s entering his last words. All of Kilkenny is dropping dead about him from the plague, as if  it was raining cats and dogs. The place must be in bedlam. He’s about to die and he knows it, and the Statutes of Kilkenny a few years declare that no one is allowed to hurl a god-damn sliotair up or down the village green.
Sean: Feck this! You’re making a mockery of Friar Clynn’s final entries…
Seamus: Didn’t the Jesuits use the Irish-Americans to deny the rightful honour due to Garibaldi -- they who could never produce a Garibaldi.
Sile: If I was Italian I think I should hate Irish-Americans. Come to think of it,  if I wasn’t Irish, I wouldn’t be here. So, what was it like to live in Gaelic Maamtrasna in the nineteenth century?
Seamus: I think it is impossible to imagine. It is by permission of these two negotiated  cultures,   English and Latin -- and defined by them -- that Gaelic Maamtrasna lives  in a kind of a dead pool. It cannot batten on this outer culture without becoming English-speaking , and it cannot move into an urban environment by virtue of the terms of the original conquest and its contrived destiny for the Gaelic masses, and, at the same time,  it cannot quite adhere to the old pagan tribal values that gave meaning to its spoken word, because the RC Church has replaced them for centuries past. Maamtrasna ,therefore, is an unimaginable Limbo; it is the lot of Gaelic Ireland in 1882.
Sile: But there was plenty of  interaction of a kind?
Sean: There were the trials. So, there had to be interaction with the body of policemen, the lawyers, and the judges.
Seamus: Yes, but peculiarly, one sees this  body of legal men as one  set of cogs  doing  their necessary duties in a social setting that has nothing to do with the Gaelic culture in which the murders took place.
Sile: Well, there were the locals and the outsiders from  Galway, from Dublin, from Britain.
Seamus:  It’s like so many layers  of knowledge and of civilization have been caked upon each other. Men acting bona fides , but yet have nothing in common with Gaelic Maamtrasna, even when they are connected with Dublin Castle or the United Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland. But you don’t stop at these layers of the cake, you then see  a further layer in the Roman Catholic Church and their role-playing throughout the case,  and a further layer in the secular British in London coming to bear on the English-speaking Irish handling the  case. Indeed, the whole distrust engendered by the Church’s  interference at several levels, conspires to exploit the whole affair and converts it into something it never aspired to be. The whole  focus of the case, regardless of the murders committed, become refocused on the injustice done by the British, notably, in the mistake they made in hanging Myles Joyce. This injustice , if , according to the mores of the times, it ever was an injustice,becomes the whole focus of the case, simply because it is a rod with which  to beat the Parliamentary British.
It’s first presumption comes some two years after the case and  claims that religion can identify the  real murderers. This rehashing of the confessions of an Approver who has been the most prodigious lier throughout the case and throughout his life. It seizes upon the execution of  Myles Joyce,  determines, with the help and assistance of the same approver who caused his execution, to drive this matter, on foot of the new confession, right through British Parliament. The death of Myles Joyce now becomes a sacrifice -- which the Church is great at. The slaughtered family back in Maamtrasna are suitably forgotten -- if,indeed, they were at all necessary in the Church’s exploits to embarrass the English. The Church uses the Maamtrasna murders and the trial and execution of Myles Joyce as a payback for the Reformation. It isn’t that the English imperialists have done wrong in Ireland, or to the Irish, but that they have done wrong to the Church. They rejected Rome. That is their big sin. It’s the song of the whole case; and yet one can find very little that is premeditatedly  wrong.
 I think it is an example , par excellence, of Church manipulation and of denial of its own treachery in Ireland.
The British have a full session in Parliament about the case, but little focus remains on the Irish side of things. And here we have it. There is no Irish side of things. The Irish do not have an ‘ego’, national or otherwise.  They are as they were ,when they were first conquered by Christians, a horde of people , unable to create either a set of secular values or a history for  themselves. Their ego is the Church’s ego,  their history is the Church’s chronology, their government is neither tribal, which they once knew, nor Norman, which was appropriated by Rome and London. Whatever sense of government they have is  mediated to them by Rome and London. And their sense of justice is overborne with sentiment for what has happened and paralyzed by what is to happen: in neither event is there an ego which motivates life,  but merely which promotes  blame and points up failure.
The Irish have no  character that is their character. The Maamtrasna murders prove it; and the trials  and tribulations created by the Roman Church in its  aftermath , particularly in its attitude to the  secular English State demonstrate it.
Between the gearings of the Roman value system and the London legal system, upon the remnants of  a defunct but existing Gaelic society, there is much to be learned.
The Maamtrasna murders arise out of circumstances which  necessarily  call for  analysis of the cultural milieu in which the occur.  It is  reminiscent of cases like Kyteler (fourteenth century)  and Mary Daly (1902/3) in that Kyteler  and Maamtrasna occur  on the occasions of an uprising or a social agitation , in any event when there is a simultaneous confrontation between the three claimants to the hearts and minds of the Irish people -- which confrontations always reveal  the intentions of the respective parties.  In the instant case, there is still (mirabile dictu!) the Gaelic native population , whose ancestral language , after centuries of abuse, survived to clothe the little  lives of those who survived the Christian conquest. In this they had to change their inner values outwards, for those of their ancestors who spoke Gaelic were pagan and Druid- rather than priest-orientated. Such people were dead, vanquished and vanished from the earth. The natives who lived in Maamtrasna did so only in cultural memory. The had to live  like trespassers on the reservations of the Christian borders from where ,whether they liked it or not, they were summoned into the meascan mearai of the outer ongoing agrarian turmoil between Catholic tenant and Protestant Landlord.  This outer turmoil is the turmoil of the Christian conquistadores , the first  Anglici Catholics and Protestants , the very first traitors who betrayed the Gaels and made Ireland Christian and Irish. What adds to the interest of Maamtrasna is the argument for the higher moral  ground between 'the middle nation' or rather the  church that manipulated this a-historical Anglici , now called  'The Irish',  and the British people who had long since left the Holy Roman Church, the Reformation behind them for the secular Empire of humanism and science
Sean: Sounds as if the Gaels got the same treatment as the Molly Maguires, or rather vice versa. But not all murders have the same social import, surely?
Sile: Maybe not,  but  all murders have unique features. And even if the Invincibles sound like something authored by Baader Meinhof a century later, any analysis of the facts and the circumstances will reveal their unmistakable Irish identity. Murders are like a fingerprint, some socially telling, others insignificant, but all unmistakably cultural.
Seamus: Maamtrasna has an intriguing continuity in Irish history. Indeed, if understood in a proper context, it points unmistakably, I believe, to some of the most unique features of Irish life . Not only that, but these features also strike one with an extraordinariness that forces us to push back the boundaries of our simplicities in explaining murder.
Sean: What kind of features?
Sile: Yes. What features do you have in mind?
Seamus: Would you not accept that you can only  appreciate the features of a culture after you have become familiar with all the facts of a case. In other words, is it not futile to talk of characters or situations or structures (social or criminal) without first reciting the story, concerning the facts of which, might I say, all commentators are in agreement?
Sean: Of course. Why, then, was the crime  committed?
Sile: I  suppose that’s the fascination with Maamtrasna :why the crime was committed in the first place.  And this , in turn, is connected with who did the murders.
Seamus: But you are satisfied who did the murders, and why they were done?
Sile: Yes.
Sean: Can I ask you, did the Priests contribute to your understanding of the murders? Or , more importantly, did the debate in the Westminster Parliament have anything to do with identifying the guilty party.
Sile: No. But the role of the Roman Clergy in Ireland, as well as the part played by the  nineteenth century UK-Parliament, is most revealing.
Sean: How do you mean?
Sile: Well, isn’t that what the murders are about? The  conquering duo of Rome and London, begun fado fado, but now brought down to the nineteenth century. They do their best to disguise their  ancient hatreds and their contemporary struggle for the hearts and minds ; but their enduring  hatreds are all there. You asked what was fascinating about the case: that’s what’s fascinating about it: in their Christiaity they confirm their joint conquest over Gaelic Ireland and, at the same time,  exhibit both the benefits and jealousies of their post-Reformation rivalries and antagonisms
Sean: Surely you can mention one feature, which is unique to this murder without having to recite all the details?
Seamus: Most of those involved spoke Gaelic. Of itself, isn’t that unique?  
Sile: It’s so Irish! Sorry, Gaelic!
Sean: What is?
Sile: That someone back in 1882 , under the bad rule of the British, should only be speaking the First Official language of the Republic, when a hundred years later, with a hundred years of Irish freedom, no one can speak a blessed word of decent Gaelic, least of all  at our so-called third level institutions. Anyway, what’s the story about?
Seamus: Why don’t you read it and see?

Sile: Why don't you finish it --  and I will.




Maamtrasna, Co. Galway

Midnight, August 17th/18th, 1882
It was early on a Thursday night  when  Anthony Joyce went to bed. He awoke abruptly around midnight. The new moon shone bright against a starless night, and the August heat felt clammy.  When he realized that he had been roused by the barking of dogs, he tried to go back to sleep.

      The dogs  persisted!

    He got out of bed and went over to the main door. To his astonishment he saw some men approaching along the road. His house was some 47 feet from the main pathway, so there was some distance between them. The house was built at right angles to the road (or boreen) with the door facing eastward. There was also a barn situated at the end of the house,  which at first made it difficult for him to obtain a view of the road. Even if he could not recognize any of the men in the group,  by the way they were walking  -- or marching -- a momentary sense of alarm seized him.  And strain though he might,  he could not hear anything the men were saying.
    Whoever these men were , Anthony Joyce sensed they were up to something that smacked more of something foul than of something fair. From the first  moment he clapped eyes on them -- the way they moved,  their group contour, their body language -- in some peculiar way they looked familiar.  For six men to assemble in the early hours of the morning in the bye-ways of Cappanacreha in the County of Galway was sufficient in itself to arouse any man’s suspicion.  
    He put on his trousers, threw a shirt over his flannel vest and hurried round to the back of the house. He lost sight of the men momentarily, and grew impatient until he had the pack of six back in view again. This time he recognized them. Indeed, he surprised himself : he knew every mother’s son of them. And why wouldn’t he? He now realized that some of them were his kinsmen and others of them had gone to school with him.  
    His eyes fixed upon them as they passed by the gable end of the house.  He felt compelled to follow them – not least because they were heading in the direction of his brother’s house, and he wanted to make sure that whatever business they had out and about at such an ungodly hour, it would not hurt his brother or his brother’s family.
    Hurriedly he made a detour and, shortcutting the party of six, he entered his brother’s house in some urgency. He roused the men folk -- that is, his brother and his nephew -- and told them that there was something up.  But they could see for themselves. They came out of the house and saw the six men as they  proceeded westward along the road in the direction of Michael Casey’s house. The three men decidedly sensed the urgency of the occasion. But they needed to decide -- whether to follow the party of six , where ever it might lead -- or to go back to bed and  to forget about it. A decision needed to be made...
    Remaining behind, and strategically staying out of sight, the three Joyces followed the group of six along the road. When the six men stopped at Michael Casey's house, they also stopped and hid themselves behind some hedges. They could clearly see ‘most’ of the men going into Casey’s house. They waited patiently. It wasn’t long before these men re-emerged and walked along a back-road. At this stage their number had grown, for now the group of six had swelled to ten. The extra four men had come out of Michael Casey’s house. This intrigued Anthony Joyce who later swore that he knew and recognized all ten men.
    The Joyces now followed the suspicious gathering for well over two and-a-half  miles until they had in fact reached Maamtrasna. The track to Maamtrasna was hard and treacherous and the three men trailing were in their bare feet. With the mountain high up to their right and the lake down to their left, they travelled at a comfortable distance behind the ten men without being noticed.
    The ten men walked forward at a brisque pace until they came to the river of Srahnalong (Gaelic for a current/tide for boats/ships). As it happened they were on their way to the house of John Joyce and at Srahnalong they had the option,  of going in one of  two ways to reach the house of John Joyce, either by a high road or by a low road. In either event there was not much distance in the difference, although when marked upon a map, the detour seemed to take on a  significance it didn’t in reality deserve. According to Anthony Joyce, the party of ten crossed the river to take the low road towards Maamtrasna. (This fact, we might note, was going to be called into question later. For the moment, it formed part of Anthony Joyce’s unfaltering testimony.)  
    At last the group came to a halt at John Joyce's house. Anthony Joyce knew it well. But what could  ten men want with John Joyce so early in the morning? And why had they come so far? The Joyces had followed them for more than two and a half miles –  the better part of three miles -- but some of them had come from much further afield.  So, why were they all here? What was going on?
    Anthony Joyce watched the ten men cross the broad yard leading to the door of John Joyce’s cottage. At this stage he and his brother and nephew had to be careful to conceal themselves. This they did by taking refuge behind a tree obliquely situated across the yard from the cottage. They remained there in anticipation. It wasn’t long before they began to hear a noise at the door. Not all of the men went into John Joyce’s house. Some few remained visibly outside in the yard.  
    Anthony Joyce then heard more noise. It was like people beating at the door. He heard people inside the house shouting and screaming. He could not distinguish the screams of the women from those of men, but he heard someone screaming.
    When they heard the screams,  the party of three became spooked. They took instant fright and fled the scene. But before they fled , they saw the party of ten -- or some of them -- filing out of the little cottage and into the yard. The Joyces did not know what time it was exactly, or whether it was Thursday night or Friday morning. All they knew was that they wanted to get away – so they ran back home in their bare feet – all the way to John’s house, where  they found repose and Anthony Joyce stayed over until daybreak.
    That night nothing further transpired.
    John Collins lived in Maamtrasna, only yards away from the Joyce family. He slept soundly throughout the night and rose at six in the early hours of Friday August 18. Accompanied by two women, Mary and Margaret O’Brien, he went to see his neighbour,  John Joyce -- ‘for the loan of a pair of wool cards’.
    Six o’clock in the morning might seem an ungodly hour to be calling on one’s neighbours, but such ungodliness is more the result of a suburban arrangement than what actually transpired between close neighbors who lived on the side of a mountain and who, for the most part, had to share  a makeshift  ‘agri/artisan’ level of subsistence in the wilds of West Galway.
    It might be noted in passing that John Collins (and others of his neighbours)  when asked about their movements rarely if ever mention the time as ‘six o’ clock’ or ‘ten o’clock’. What John collins said was that  he went to John Joyce’s house ‘two hours after sunrise.’ Maamtrasna was not renowned for its use of either watches or clocks. Time in Maam was still referred to in the Ulyssian way, that is,  in terms of the heavenly bodies. Moreover, their reference points had nothing whatever to do with modern assumptions. As sheep, for example,  were the main -- and some might say  the sole --  asset of Maam’s ‘economy’, the only references  dealing with sheep and the implements of sheering were to be found, not in a Gaelic dictionary, but in the worked-out conversation of the people. In some senses,  thought and action were close to each other and were negotiated on a daily basis. Reflection, on the other had, was an urban luxury. In a similar vein , if anything wild and seasonal -- including rabbit, hare, fish, grouse, or pheasant -- chanced across a sheep man’s path, then it made a welcome addition to the Maamtrasna diet. By contrast, therefore, the hunting habits of Maamtrasna society and its surrounds had little or nothing to do with contemporary suburban habits of labour, no more  than the dining arrangements in Maam had anything to do with suburban occasions of discourse.
    From this it might be understood that Maamtrasna was no ordinary place. It was Gaelic. And it was Gaelic in the most incomprehensible way. The tribes of Joyces and Caseys didn't 'learn Irish'; it was their native tongue; they never knew any other tongue but that of the pagan, heretical Gael. Irish had nothing to do with it. And whereas the Joyces had experienced life through Gaelic for centuries, the Caseys were Gaelic since time began. Gaelic Ireland , even in 1882, was akin to the quaint skills of the Mammoth or the Dinosaur which, were they  to re-enter and re-populate  our world, we could find no place for them to avoid the emissions of carbon monoxide. The most we could do for them is to protect them on some reservation. The Gaels of West Galway belonged to a conquered era, a conquered race and a conquered culture. In  their origins , Roman  and Norman Christianity treated them as outcast pagans and heretics, and even as they turned Christian , Christian snobbery never ceased. After the Reformation, they were twice despised: once for being Gaelic natives and twice for being Catholic natives. In holding on to their native patois, Irish Ireland passed them by, such that they remained hidden from view on the reservations of Iarchonacht. Although one never noticed it, being a conquered nation was an everyday occurrence. In 1882 it had neither a beginning or an end; but was built into the customary conditions of life in Maamtrasna in a way that even the most cultured  contemporary urban Galwegians could hardly contemplate.
    Each of the two women, Mary and Margaret O’Brien,  carried a spinning-wheel on her shoulder. They waited without, while Collins entered the cottage. He was already familiar with the layout of the cottage,  but before entering he noticed that the door was off its hinges.
    Ordinarily the Joyce household was a  very lively place, but on this occasion it had fallen morbidly quiet. Ordinarily it housed  seven persons. But since the oldest son, Martin, had recently  gone to work in Clonlitir, the cottage housed the remaining six.   There was John Joyce (50), who slept in the kitchen area with his second wife Bridget (45). There was  John’s son  Michael (17),  John’s mother Margaret (80). She slept in the back room with her grand daughter, Margaret Jnr.  (14). And, then, there was the youngest son Patrick (9). The cottage, though not unusual for an Irish peasant, was never constructed to inspire private taste or to secure public hygiene. Nevertheless, it was where John Joyce and his second wife , Brigid, chose to take refuge from the world, to care for their dependent, and to raise their young family.
    When he entered the cottage he saw John Joyce’s naked body facing downwards on the floor of the kitchen. He was obviously dead. Shocked at the sight and without further ado, he retreated sharpishly to inform the two women Mary and Margaret O’Brien of the death of John Joyce. He then went posthaste into the village to raise the alarm. On his prompt return he entered the house again. To his renewed amazement he now found four dead bodies in the house, and another two wounded and struggling for life. Among the dead were,
    Margaret Joyce aged over 80,
    John Joyce (Margaret’s son) aged about 50,
    Bridget Joyce (John’s second wife) aged 45,
    Margaret Joyce junior (Margaret’ grand daughter) aged about 14.
     Amongst the wounded were Michael Joyce (their son) aged about 12 and Patrick (or Paudeen) Joyce, the youngest child aged 9 years. Both were still in great pain and struggled with their respective wounds.
    John Joyce's large body lay motionless in the fore room. He had two bullet-wounds in his side and a deep cut across his head. His wife, with whom he slept, was shot to death as she lay in bed. In the back room granny Margaret Joyce lay dead with her granddaughter Margaret, whose skull had been broken with a hammer. Michael Joyce, who was lying in the bed in the kitchen, was alive. He was able to speak, but with difficulty.
    Patrick, the youngest of the Joyces, was also alive. And when  John Collins got an opportunity, he  asked the brothers what had happened. Michael , through a haze of delirium, said something to the effect that the assailants wore ‘bright clothes and blackened faces’.
    As it happened Michael Joyce, who was suffering from bullet wounds in his neck and stomach, succumbed the same day to the overpowering malignance of his wounds.
    Patrick Joyce, therefore, bruised and wounded, was the only survivor of the unspeakable savagery visited upon the house of John Joyce of Maamtrasna.
    As John Collins was busy raising the alarm, Anthony Joyce, the man who was up half the previous night chasing ten men over three miles of dark terrain,  was already out on the bog cutting turf. This alacrity in the 55 year old was a true mark of a working peasant. His indifference to physical stress and tiredness, to the need for sleep,  and to the shock of what allegedly transpired the night before would , sooner or later, become a matter of great legal irony. In the meantime , he had told his  wife nothing  about his escapade the night before. But she was also up before dawn and hot from the village,where she had picked up the extraordinary news. She came to Anthony bearing something to eat as well as the latest news.
    ‘John Joyce of Maamtrasna was killed last night’, she said, passing Anthony the sandwiches she had prepared.  ‘Slad! Slad ar fad!’ , she said , to which Anthony peaked.
    ‘Slad!’ he repeated  involuntarily --as if he had never hear the word  for slaughter before.
    ‘The whole family was wiped out!’
    Anthony Joyce was startled, the curse broke from his lips: ‘Anam an Diabhail’, he said, the curse falling incredulously from his mouth … And in a sudden , with a more businesslike tone, he asked :  ‘Was Martin killed?’.
    ‘He wasn’t there. He was away working in Clonliter.’
    ‘It’s dreadful’, she said and, visibly upset,  busied herself to go home. ‘I only came to let you know’, she said , and paused momentarily waiting for a response.
    But Anthony said nothing. He ignored the sandwiches. When his wife had left , he began to  busy himself as best he could. Some say he went directly back to Maamtrasna, where, unseen and before the police came to protect the murder scene,  he re-entered John Joyce’s house and , in the absence of anyone else, inspected the bodies and every part of the house that was to be seen. He did not disturb either Paudeen or Michael . Indeed, he did not wish to be seen there at all.
    It was also thought that what he found shocked him profoundly, whereupon he went immediately to see his brother John, to tell him everything he had found. Both conferred with each other and, later on, with John’s son.
    John Colllins , in the meantime,  accompanied by ten villagers (everything seemed to happen in tens in Maamtrasna), proceeded to the police hut at Finney to report the murders.
    Finney barracks was a makeshift hut a mile outside of Maamtrasna. It was surprisingly larger than it appeared from the outside and contained several inner appartments or rooms. On arrival at about nine o’clock in the morning, Constable Johnston met the villagers.  He listened to them  patiently and on hearing the news, the Head Constable and some other detectives were alerted.  Constable  Johnston enlisted the aid of sub-constable Lenihan and both went directly to the John Joyce’s house to protect the crime-scene. As anticipated he found four dead bodies and two of the wounded in great pain.
    Apparently, no one lifted a hand to succour either of the injured children!
    Since Johnston had no Irish, he directed Lenihan to ask  Michael  Joyce to describe as best he could what had happened. Michael Joyce told him that  ‘two or three men’  had come into his room and shot him  while he was in bed. He  said he saw one of the men take up something like a stick ( ‘bata’) and strike his sister with it. He also remembered hearing his grandmother screaming in fear and pain. ‘At break of day’, he said, he got out of bed and came into the kitchen for a drink. He remembered seeing  his father lying on the kitchen floor. After getting a drink, he returned to the bed in the kitchen where his stepmother was lying. She was still alive then. He  remembered hearing shots. When asked how many men there were,  or  if he knew them, he said there were three or four men, but that he recognized none of them, because  their faces were blackened.  
    Sub-constable Lenihan then asked Pat Joyce much the same questions but got no reply. When asked if he knew his assailants, however, he said he did not know them for their faces were black. When asked if they carried a light, he said they did,   The constables also found a bullet on the floor near where John Joyce was lying.
    By this stage the villagers had begun to  mobilize themselves. Even as some of them were reeling from the shock, they held a conference to ascertain what ought to be done. The four corpses lay  inside in the cottage , where the two mutilated young boys  had to remain until a tent was erected outside. A detailed account of the comings and goings of visitors was kept, and however responsive the RIC were to the alarming circumstances of the murder,  they were not fast enough. At the subsequent trial of the murders, evidence was tendered to the effect that two dogs had taken up occupation in the bed occupied by the old Margaret Joyce, and that her left arm, which had hung over the bed, had been eaten of all its flesh ‘up to the elbow’. Despite the efforts made to chase the dogs away, they climbed back into the bed, again and again.
    Gradually, as  news of the murders reached the outside world, the enormity of the ‘Maamtrasna Murders` began to take shape in the imagination of a shocked  Anglo-American world.  The Catholic Irish, renowned for their religion, unspeakable poverty and a continuing  residue of  violence since the Norman conquest,  was now being identified by a linguistic cleavage between the villagers of Gaelic speaking Maamtrasna and an outer and upper world of English-speaking managers.  
    More immediately, in the villages and towns and cities, the news spread rapidly. Soon other counties echoed the sad tidings. Maamtrasna and the Phoenix Park Murders spread as a marker for national discussion, and the notion that they were very much connected to themselves and to the Land League was not easy to dispel. Already the great sense of horror and foreboding that Maamtrasna engendered  was grafted upon contemporary political discourse. On the face of it, the murders were used to show once again how violent, anarchic and ungovernable the native Irish were. Its immediate use to discredit the peasant leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt, the leaders of the renowned Land League, was something waiting to be exploited. Comments broke out across the British Isles, in the parlours and coffee shops of Dublin and London and surfaced more sternly in the corridors and chambers of the imperial Parliament and its house of echoes, Dublin Castle.
    In the meantime, a savage local crime had been committed, the sentiments and circumstances surrounding it were local, and the RIC would solve it locally. The RIC had no sooner learned of the murders than they rounded up their prime suspect.  Their main man was already under lock and key. Not much happened in Maamtrasna without the knowledge of ‘ Big’ Ben Casey and his son, John. The Caseys lived conveniently between the slaughtered family and the mountain on whose commonage for centuries Maamtrasna's sheep had grazed free of rent. The Caseys lived at the ‘bottom of the mountain’, hence their address at ‘Bun-a-chnoic’.  According to the RIC ‘Big’ Ben Casey, every bit as big if not as athletic as the deceased John Joyce,  had been complaining for ages about the disappearance of his sheep off the commonage. Nor was he reluctant to point the finger at John Joyce and his sons. Indeed, the Gaelic world already knew how disposed the tribal Joyces were to snatch such sheep.  The collective conscience had already committed the tribal guilt of the Joyces to verse. (Fr.) Jarlath Waldron recited the relevant quatrain as follows:
        Nil caora o na Beanna Beola
        Go barr na Binne Bui,
        Nach mbeadh goidte ag na Seoighigh,
        Marach airdeall mhuintir Niadh
        (From the Twelve Bens
        To the tip of Binne Bui,
        Not a sheep was safe from the Joyces
        Were it not for the care of Nee)
    The surname ‘Nee’ features in a most curious way further into the Maamtrasna story. For the moment it has no other significance than to point to a good neighbour and to rhyme off a  quatrain.
    What the Gaelic community believed in general  about the Joyces was one thing; what the RIC required by way of proof of the Maamtrasna murders was something else.  The RIC, who lived in the area, naturally listened to the rumours that prevailed. And that's why, in arresting 'Big' John Casey, they were doing no more that good policemen do: they act upon local knowledge.
    One of the most curious things to follow the night’s events was the behaviour of  Anthony Joyce. He waited until midday on Friday before he deciding to go and see the police. What was equally curious was the fact that he was out early cutting turf in the bog when he received the news of the murders from his daughter.
    If he was so anxious to report what he, his brother and his nephew, had seen the night before, why had he waited so long? By the time he got to the RIC station at Finney, he had his mind prepared to recite the whole story. When he went into the RIC hut, he found that the police were unusually busy and unusually good tempered. At first they hardly noticed his presence. Eventually, however, he began to  make his presence felt – for he knew that he had something important to say. He told one of the officers who understood some Gaelic that he had something to say about the Joyce  murders. The officer got him an interview with the Sergeant in charge and a translator.
    ‘ Ask him what he has to say?’ said the Sergeant.
    Anthony Joyce’s eyes now moved to the translator. He also noticed that several others had moved into the room to hear what he was saying. The translator related the story back to the Sergeant and everyone else the room. A pause ensued and a broad smile broke across the Sergeant’s gob. Anthony Joyce could not account for this reaction. It was disconcerting to be laughed at in a police station, especially when he was bearing what was, by any stretch of the imagination, a rather important piece of information.
    ‘ Cerd ‘ta cearr?’ he asked his translator with a broad Iarchonnacht blas.
‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Why is everyone laughing?’
    ‘Tell him’, said the Head Constable, ‘ Tell him we know about the murders. Tell him we knew about them  this morning, when the men of the village came in. And you might as well tell him that we have arrested the murderer as well.’
    By way of an afterthought, the Head Constable who had turned to leave, came back to say: ‘Of course,  if he feels he  can add anything useful, by way of evidence,  he can hang about and make a statement.’
    When this information was digested fully by Anthony Joyce, he looked at Sergeant Johnson and could not conceal his disappointment. He was astounded. He felt deflated. He knew that he had so much to tell the police, but he now found that they had arrested one of the men responsible.  He now felt that what he had to say  it was perfectly  redundant. If they already had the killers – even one of them -- then there was no more to say or do. They would get the whole story sooner or later. It as only a matter of time. Ten murderers couldn’t be concealed in such a small place as Maamtrasna, especially if you have one of them.
    But still he couldn’t quite understand it. He knew that John Collins had found the bodies early that morning, that it was John Collins who sounded the early alarm and  first raised the hue and cry. He just couldn’t understand how the RIC knew who the culprits were. Surely John Collins hadn’t given the police that information. So, who could have informed the police?  As far as the early alarm was concerned, he himself had heard the news repeated that morning in the village, but, curiously enough, instead of going to the police either then or earlier, he decided to visit -- or revisit -- the scene of the murders.
    Anthony Joyce went into himself momentarily.  He turned the events over again in his mind, savoring their intelligence each time he tried to think them through.  He was very impressed with the efficiency of the police and he  was satisfied that , in any event, the culprits were in the bag.  Justice would at last be done.  As he spoke they had their man in the station and were interrogating him. It appeared that they were compiling a full report on the whole matter. But which of the gang of ten  had they arrested?
    Anthony Joyce was preparing to leave Finney, when he saw someone with whom  he wanted a word. This delayed him somewhat outside the Finney RIC hut , but in general he was happy that certain people he knew would at long last get their just deserts at the hands of justice. Only one thing troubled him and as the translator was going into the hut , he decided to get it off his chest.  
    ‘Ce he?’ he blurted out at Johnston. ‘Which of the culprits has been arrested?’
    The translator looked sheepishly at him. Reluctant to impart police information to the public, by way of a concession he leaned into a whisper:  ‘ Big’ John Casey of Bunachnoic”.
    “‘Big’ John?” he asked incredulously. He had seen John Casey about the place, but he never suspected that he was the man the RIC thought did the murders. ‘Ach ni raibh se ann!’  protested Joyce by way of an explosion. ‘ Ni he do bhi ann!’
    The translator could see Joyce’s distress, but he also noticed the enthusiasm in  his protest. ‘Are you sure/” he asked Joyce. ‘Of course I’m sure: I was there’, he said. With that, Constable Johnston went off to find the Head Constable with some urgency.
 Since the RIC had the wrong man in custody, it meant that Anthony Joyce could speak authoritatively on the subject of the murders. He kept repeating emphatically : ‘He wasn’t there. It wasn’t him! He wasn’t there!’
    When the Head Constable heard about this, he. too, became anxious and it registered  in his voice. He began to take a much more serious look at the peasant-informant Anthony Joyce. Something about his enthusiasm disturbed him. He asked the translator yet again what Joyce was doing in his station and what he was going on about. When he was told about Joyce’s escapade the night before, he cleared the table, emptied the room of those present and put Joyce sitting down in front of him, as one would take possession of a prize animal and place in on the table for inspection. He then went outside the hut and roared unceremoniously to summon the DI (District Inspector) to attend.
    For hours to follow they listened to what Anthony Joyce had to say. There wasn’t a man among them who was not astonished at what he heard. They got the maps out. Pipe-smokers went in and out of the hut shaking their heads. Older RIC members were being consulted as to the plausibility of Anthony Joyce’s account. But none of them wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not only was the story remarkable – but the fact that Anthony Joyce -- the rarest of Irish peasants, a willing informer -- was positively ready, willing, able and absolutely keen to go to court and tell his story to the world. According to Anthony Joyce, it was all perfectly straightforward, they were the most wretched and evil  of men ; they had butchered his cousins, his kinsmen. Why should he not come forward and point them out, identify them, let the world know who they are and what kind of people they are?
    Now that he had the ear of of the police, Anthony lay into his story with unusual relish. For a while he became like a Seanachai, a man apart, blessed with the gift of the gab and a man with much to gab about.   He  outlined what had transpired the night before. He described in detail what he, his brother and his nephew saw and did.
    The question was: Had the witnesses, especially Anthony Joyce, even suspected that a murder of any kind had taken place?  When did they first suspect it?  And if they knew from their personal experience the night before, why had they waited so long to contact the RIC? Why, indeed, if a murder had been committed, did they not seek the assistance of their own kinsfolk ,who lived nearby?
     Already, therefore, there was an element of uncertainty creeping into the account of Anthony Joyce and and his brother John , who were hereafter known as ‘The Independent Witnesses’  Of course, even if  they did not know for certain that there had been a murder -- much less the murder of five -- , it did not take from  their claim that they were there, that they saw what went on, and that they had followed the ten men for the best part of  three miles. Indeed, if it was reliable, then it answered many of the questions that would be put to them in court.
    The RIC was rightly gob-smacked. When they heard Anthony Joyce’s full account, they could not conceal their studied astonishment.  Of course, some of them were  full of obvious enthusiasm,  but there were others who  could hardly take it in.
 Of itself , the account  was nothing short of  fantastic, but the more pressing problem  was , given this new information, how  should they proceed with the investigation?  
    ‘Big’ John Casey was already in custody at Finney. He was being questioned about his movements the night before -- and he was holding a firm and dignified silence. ‘Big’ John Casey was well known as a prime mover in the area. For weeks and months past, he had been complaining -- not  unusually -- about sheep going astray on the mountain – his sheep! All stolen from  his patch of the commonage! It was no secret that he held the Joyces  -- the most  proverbially  sheep-stealers in Iarchonnacht! -- fully responsible. So far as ‘Big’ John Casey was concerned John Joyce and his family, who lived so near the commonage, were the authors of every sheep that went missing for years, and as far as  the RIC was concerned , they had the man who wiped out the sheep-stealer and his entire family of sheep-stealers in one fell swoop. But as one of  the detectives pointed out, even if it was ‘Big’ John, he couldn’t have done it on his own.
    Now, out of the blue,  Anthony Joyce presented them with the most fantastic story: a complete alternative to their current focus on things. The more they acquainted their superiors with what they had, the more the focus shifted to the validity of Anthony Joyce’s account. At local level at any rate, a nagging feeling remained.
    Had they miscalculated the scope of things completely? Was it another political hit? If so, they would look ridiculous hanging on to a sheep-stealer.
    The dramatic thing about this new version of events, was that the RIC were pressed into making a preliminary decision.  They either believed the Independent Witnesses,  in which  case they would have to  let ‘Big’ John Casey go , or they retained Casey and ignored  Joyce’s account. It’s true they could pick him up again, but experience in these things prompted them to make  an early determination as to guilt. On the one  hand,  the information they had was made up of two mutually exclusive stories. As Anthony Joyce had said: the RIC had got the wrong man. ‘Big’ John Casey was not one of the ten men he saw. So, the RIC either went with one story or the other: it couldn’t really pursue both. Moreover,  it was simply  convenient to make a definite determination , not to mention the fact that  also satisfied the need to accommodate the growing interests of others in the case. Finally,  the scale of the familial slaughter was hard to reconcile with the scale of the crime.  Presuming that one man could do so, what man in his right mind would wipe out a family of neighbors ,  as a condign retribution  for sheep stealing?
    But apart from all  these reasons, there was another more  compelling reason for the RIC  to go the way of Anthony Joyce’s evidence. When a policeman has an unequivocal statement from a citizen accusing another citizen of a  serious crime, he cannot ignore it.  Under the law he is bound to investigate it and to act upon such a statement which becomes ‘evidence’. In the case of murder, the statements of three citizens is compelling evidence , and the whole paraphernalia of the law is there to guarantee that the police act without fear, intimidation or partiality. Should they have ignored these statements and acted solely on their suspicions, they would have left themselves open to the severest of disciplinary charges as well as the possibility of being guilty of gross negligence.
    For the moment, therefore,  the Finney RIC were in a pickle. Anthony Joyce swore he knew all ten assailants. He saw them with his own eyes, and ‘Big’ John Casey was not one of  them. To ‘Big’ John Casey, this evidence was most welcome. It not only got him out of a cell (half a hut separated for questioning prisoners) ,  but  -- better still – it now acted as an incontrovertible alibi as well as a defense.
    The news was circulated to every RIC station in the area, Finney, Clonbur, Cong, Galway and surrounding counties. Special reports were prepared for Special Branch who mostly operated out of Dublin Castle. They coordinated the work of several departments dealing with similar-type murders.  George Bolton , Crown Agent, carried the can for most things prosecutorial, and bore an even greater responsibility than John Adye Curran Q.C., who was working on the Invincibles , the fancy name given to the Phoenix Park murderers. Assisting Curran was Detective Superintendent John Mallon, an ambitious Catholic ‘dick’ who seemed to have spent most of his  waking life either in or around Dublin Castle or out and about spying on Fenians. Either way, his wasn’t the only life that was taken over by crime and punishment.  
     The Castle’s first attitude was to try and understand the murders in political terms, especially as it might relate to recent alignments in the Land League movement, the movement and speeches of their leaders and their periodic visits to the West of Ireland.  The local RIC were all well and good for local fixes, but sometimes a much  more speculative focus was required, ‘the bigger picture’, as Curran used to say. A crime of such magnitude was simply too political for local remedies; for  no sooner had the murders happened than certain  Land League luminaries and Parliamentary Party spokesmen -- men, like  Tim Healy, John Dillon, William O’Brien, not to mention the leaders themselves, Parnell or  Davitt  -- would make a speech about the inefficiency of the government and the whole matter became tinged with party political poison. By now it  was axiomatic that a whiff of murder from the West blew unmistakably in the direction of the Land Leaguers, and their leaders Parnell and Davit.
    The case was too big for snap decisions. Veiled behind the most extraordinary set of local circumstances, the evidence of Anthony Joyce, his brother and his nephew, created the most remarkable problems for the police. The more Anthony  expressed himself, the more some of the older RIC members flinched a little from the vehemence of his passion. A sixth sense told them that nothing was ever that simple in the‘ Wesht of Ireland’, least of all where ‘agrarian murder’ was concerned.
    In the meantime , a decision had to be made. Procedural rules  in such matters  were perfectly clear : ‘When in doubt, ask Dublin Castle’. So, Finney got on to Clonbur, Clonbur  got on to Galway City and the city got on to Dublin Castle. They wanted to know what to do? Who to arrest, whom to release?
    It wasn’t long before they received word down the line of command  --‘Go with the Independent Witnesses’. It was time to round up the suspects: all ten of them!
The Murder Scene
Everything now depended upon the accuracy and steadfastness of the ‘Independent witnesses.’ The actual roundup of the suspects  seemed  to be a simple matter -- until , that is, one started to organize it. It became imperative that all constables be brought up to speed with the plans provided. This meant that  the identity of the suspects and their immediate whereabouts, their respective addresses, etc.,  had to be known by all concerned.  Here again the Independent witnesses’ were more than helpful. Only when this was finalized would the available men be detailed as to their specific part in the overall roundup be made known. If there was a shortfall in local men or horses, then adjoining constables had to be notified. And when all was assessed and secured,  then the order  would be given to saddle-up and proceed with the arrests. The ten  men , when arrested, were to be brought to several detention and interrogation centres. Since there was little that went on in or out of the ranks of the RIC that the Land League, the Fenians and the Freeman’s Journal could not discover within minutes, the job had to be simple,  coordinated, and prompt.
While most of the suspects were well known, some were not known to all the constabulary. In any event Anthony Joyce and John Joyce were not slow to point out where they lived. The first thing that was consulted, therefore,  were the maps. Several of them were laid on the tables of the Finney police hut.  
    For our purposes it is instructive if at this juncture we introduce the sketch-map used by the  Judge and Jury at the  trial of the suspects. It depicts the layout of the extended murder scene,  and also includes an inset of the murdered man’s cottage ,  herein exaggerated to display its ungenerous dimensions.

The sketch was drawn up by John Ryan on a scale of twelve inches per mile. It served as a reference source for lawyers and juries during the respective trials that followed the murders. It also provides a focus on many of the residences occupied both by the witnesses as well as the suspects to the murders. The sketch does not include all the dwellings of the suspects alleged to have been involved in the murders, simply because it is too small to include those who lived outside the area. On the other hand the sketch includes most of the dwellings of those concerned with the murder, it describes the path taken by murderers and witnesses alike. It also adds a sense of reality to Anthony Joyce’s evidence.

    But leaving aside the whereabouts of the suspects for the moment, we might first observe by looking at the sketch, the distance between Cappanacreha on the right to Maamtrasna on the left. On the right hand side of the sketch also is a marking for Derry, with Derry Park and Lough Mask occupying the middle ground. The middle line in the Sketch commencing at Cappanacreha and finishing at Maamtrasna details the path taken by the suspected murderers and the witnesses who followed them. The path runs between lake and mountain and extends between two-and-a-half  to three miles in length. The road going through Cappanacreha (South) and Shanavallycahill (North) was where the three Joyces said they first saw six suspicious men – from which vantage point they began to follow the suspects right across the entire latitude of the sketch.
    The sketch also gives us an incidental impression of the extent of the Joyce and Casey settlements in the area, the Joyces as an extended family clustering around the extreme right of the sketch and the Caseys, not so much clustering as spread about the left side of the sketch.  These tribes may not have totally excluded others – such as Lydons and Coynes from entering the area – but any variety of settlers other than the more indigenous  Caseys and Joyces had obviously been  restricted down the ages. And this gives us a clue as to the nature of the relationships, which had for centuries built up in the area.
    Furthermore, while the landscape itself is colorful and picturesque, it at times offers an absence of horticultural bloom.  In some ways, it corresponded somewhat to the state of development -- or lack of it -- throughout  the area. The people were industrious , and yet  there was no large or medium or  small-scale industrial activity to be seen. Maamtrasna was what tourists often describe as ‘unspoiled’ ; it was  as nature first intended it to be -- a place where little or no manufacturing activity had ever penetrated and where, consequently, the division of labour was still if not on a tribal basis, then almost so.
    On the extreme left of the sketch a large X indicates the location of the cottage in which John Joyce and his family lived.  On the bottom left hand corner of the sketch, a further inset sketch (Sketch Two) of John Joyce’s cottage, it’s out offices, yard and, across the yard, some hedges. Symbols 1W, 2W, and 3W show respectively where the witnesses, Anthony Joyce, his brother John and his nephew, Pat Joyce, concealed themselves from the view of the murderers.
    1W, 2W and 3W marks the location of the homes of the three witnesses (first, second and third witness), that is, to the right of the sketch and to the left of the road as one proceeds from Cappanacreha to Maamtrasna. It also shows how closely the witnesses lived to each  other as well as to others of the extended  Joyce family. On the other hand, at the extreme left of the sketch, we can see how far John Joyce and his family lived from the other Joyces , as well as how close they lived to  John Collins and ‘Big’ John Casey of Bunachnoic.  
    So, when he came to see John Joyce early on Friday morning, John Collins had only to walk merely a few yards, whereas Anthony Joyce, to revisit the scene of the crime he had witnessed in the dark the night before, had to make a trip similar to the one he swore he made the night before from Cappanacreha to Maam.  
    Why he felt he had to revisit the scene at all prior to reporting matters to the police was a matter for some speculation among those who heard his story. Of course it could indicate that perhaps he didn’t know what had happened the night before or, hearing the shot, he did not imagine that anyone had been killed. Alternatively, it could mean that he knew that someone had been killed but wanted to confirm this or, in any event, he wanted to see the scene before he went to the police. These alternatives, as we shall see, were with good reason a matter of infinite speculation.

   Also displayed on the sketch is the inset of the cottage, the location of the three witnesses at the upper right-hand corner. vis-à-vis the cottage, several other houses, including that of ‘Big’ John Casey, beyond whose house was the Partry and Maamtrasna mountain ranges where the sheep of many of the villagers were held in commonage.
    The cottage, perhaps not atypical of a peasant’s cottage at the time, comprised a room, a kitchen, two cow houses, a barn, and a yard, were all built like boxes in a line under a thatched roof. More than one paper described John Joyce’s home cottage as ‘a hovel’ (The Daily Express of August 21, 1882) and in another a house ‘made of mud and stones. The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Spencer, was one of the many pilgrims who, a month after the murder, visited the cottage. In a note to Gladstone, he declared: “The house where the murders took place would not be used for pigs in England.” In their accounts of the murder, some of the contemporary newspapers and journals either drew their own sketches or simply recited the unflattering dimensions of the Irish peasant’s lot. None of the accounts were flattering.

    The large room called for distinction , the kitchen , measured  22 feet long and 10 feet wide. In one part of it is a small recess about 4 feet long, in which there was ‘a miserable bed’. The space of 22 feet was divided nearly in two parts – merely an imaginary division for there was no wall where John Joyce, his wife and eldest son slept and where their bodies were found.
    ‘At one end’, said one commentator, ‘were herded the cattle which belonged to Joyce and at the other, it is not inapt to say, were herded the man of the house … There was not even a fireplace there,not even the large space which  you see in the common places in the country, with the hobs across,whereon to         hang the pot and a chimney for the smoke to escape. The fireplace was built against the wall, with a hole in the roof through which the smoke could
    Inside was a smaller separate room (9.5 feet by 6 feet) ,which provided sleeping accommodation for  old Margaret Joyce and the two youngest of her grandchildren.
    Throughout the cottage an earthen floor prevailed. This became ‘damp in rain and rock hard in drought’, and was at all times ‘rough and smelly’.
    John  Joyce also owned a potato plot to the side of his cottage and a yard with an ‘outside’ cow-house that measured 37 feet  diagonally from the cottage doorway to the place where the witnesses (1W, 2W and 3W) claimed to have concealed themselves. He also had the grazing of a mountainside, whereon his two cows fed free.
    The killers, it was thought, when they broke open the cottage door, made their first assault on the three in the kitchen, presumably shooting John Joyce instantly. This would have aroused the three in the off-room, had they not been assaulted with immediately and overwhelmed with hammer blows and shots.
    Some commentators suggested that  when John Joyce was attacked the others of his family, hearing the commotion, came to his aid , whereupon the killer-party was so startled that it panicked and as a consequence ran amok and killed all present. Such speculations are desperate. They are aimed at explaining in some human terms , the all too fathomable effrontery of such violence. At base there is an aversion, a turning away from the proposition that  perhaps the slaughter of the entire family had been at all material times entirely premeditated. No one wants to concede that such a level of barbarity exists in a civilized society.  Because such speculations, however,  have no evidential or scientific base, they should not be entertained. And  even if such opinions were never  intended to mislead scientific enquiry,  they are entirely  unhelpful, save in so far as they  protect the popular mind from having to confront some of the worst aspects of human cruelty. Even in this guise, such opinions are in denial of the very reality that enquiries pursue in order to ascertain what it is we are in denial of.  
How or why the Maamtrasna murders were committed are questions which must , therefore, remain open until a fitting purpose is devised that allows us to understand them -- and ourselves -- better.
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