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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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'An extraordinary story': TG4 docu-drama on Mám Trasna murder case to air this week

On 17 August 1882, five members of the Joyce family were murdered in their home in Mám Trasna.

MMT STILL5 (1) Headshot from Murdair Mhám Trasna, TG4's new documentary Source: TG4

A DOCU-DRAMA about the Mám Trasna murders of 1882 – Murdair Mhám Trasna – is set to air this Wednesday on TG4.

On 17 August 1882, five members of the Joyce family were murdered in their home in Mám Trasna, a remote area on the Galway-Mayo border.

Eight local men were convicted of the crime and sentenced to hang, based on what later emerged to be perjured evidence.

Informers and alleged eyewitnesses were given compensation amounting to £1,250 (€160,000 today) for giving the perjured evidence.

Those convicted were tried in English despite being native Irish speakers.

Three of the men were hanged, while the five others received life sentences. Two of those convicted died in jail, while the remaining three were released after 20 years.

Three local men, named frequently in parliament and in the media as having planned and directed the murders, were never charged.

The documentary to be aired this week is based on the book Éagóir, written by former language commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ó Cuirreáin explained why he took such an interest in the case: “I was interested in this case particularly because of the fact that it involved issues of language rights.

These were native Irish speakers who are actually monolingual Irish speakers, most of them had little or no English whatsoever.

Ó Cuirreáin noted that the murders happened in the Connemara Gaeltacht, however, the case was subsequently transferred to the Green Street courthouse in Dublin, where the men were trialled.

“It was a jury who had no Irish and it was a judge who had no Irish. All of the legal teams didn’t have Irish and the solicitor didn’t have Irish,” he said.

If you’re tried in a court of law in a language that you don’t understand, then you can’t really contribute in any meaningful way. When you can’t even speak to your own solicitor because he doesn’t speak your language, then there are huge fundamental problems of law.

“It’s also a human rights story. It’s an extraordinary story of, effectively, a murder mystery and at the same time it has a lot of critical intrigues.”

Posthumous pardons

It was announced on Wednesday  that the Minister for Justice received approval from the government to recommend the pardoning of Myles Joyce, one of the men executed in December 1882.

It is now up to President Michael D Higgins – who has previously supported such calls – to issue the pardon for Joyce.

If granted, it will be only the fourth such presidential pardon since 1937, and the second posthumous one.

In a statement last week, Flanagan said that the decision to recommend the pardon was made after considering the weight of the evidence in this case that clearly pointed to a wrongful conviction.

In recent times, then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny commissioned an expert review of the case from Dr Niamh Howlin of the Sutherland School of Law in UCD.

She found a number of factors, including witness statements and the processes and procedures around the trial, led her to form the opinion that an injustice occurred.

Presidential support 

President Michael D Higgins has spoken out previously on his support for a pardon.

Speaking ahead of the TG4 airing, Higgins said: “At that stage, I will be returning to this issue to see what I can do. If it were up to me, the formalities aside, I would be happy to accept that the injustice which occurred should be recognised.

My view is that the moral issue is clear.
Everything that happened at that level of the State was horrendous.

“There was bribery involved. The accused didn’t get a proper chance to defend themselves. There wasn’t an atmosphere of equality and there was no equality as regards legal processes at that time,” he said.

Ó Cuirreáin has expressed his gratitude to Higgins for his ongoing support in the campaign for pardons of those convicted of the Mám Trasna murders.

“I want to acknowledge the pivotal role of President Michael D Higgins in this,” Ó Cuirreáin said.

It wouldn’t have happened without him. His personal interest in human rights and the language rights of the case were central to it being on the political agenda.

Documentary 

Murdair Mhám Trasna, produced by ROSG for TG4, has recently been selected to represent Ireland in the history category at the Celtic Media Festival.

It is set to air on TG4 at 9.30pm this Wednesday. The docu-drama has been produced in an Irish-English bilingual manner and the show in its entirety will have subtitles.

“It’s a drama-documentary recreated with full-drama and recreations of the hangings and the murders and the court cases and that,” Ó Cuirreáin said.

“What people should expect are the three things that I find personally fascinating in films. I love murder mysteries, I love courtroom dramas and I love stories of political intrigue. The Mám Trasna murders have all of those three things encapsulated in it,” he said.

Read: ‘Horrendous, no equality’: Expert to examine Mám Trasna murder case for posthumous pardon

More: Hooded Man: ‘They asked me to count to ten; I refused in case I couldn’t do it’

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