At Maamtrasna, Co Galway, five members of the Joyce family were brutally killed on 17 August 1882. The initial victims were John Joyce, his mother, Margaret Joyce, his wife, Bridget Joyce, his daughter, Margaret Joyce (also known as Peigí). John’s son, Michael Joyce, died of his injuries the following day. The sole survivor of the attack was Patsy Joyce, John’s youngest son, aged around nine or ten years.
Myles Joyce was convicted in November 1882 of murdering his cousin, Margaret Joyce. He was one of ten men arrested. Two of these men, Anthony Philbin and Thomas Casey, later testified against the others. Five pleaded guilty and received prison sentences; these were Michael Casey, Martin Joyce (Myles’s brother), Patrick Joyce (another brother of Myles), Tom Joyce (Patrick’s son) and John Casey. Three men, Myles Joyce, Patrick Joyce and Patrick Casey were tried, convicted and hanged. Given the number of victims, accused persons and accusers, and the remote, tight-knit nature of the area, it is unsurprising that there were various relationships between the main protagonists. They were neighbours, cousins, brothers, fathers and sons, many of whom shared the same names and surnames.
Myles Joyce’s death sentence was executed at Galway Gaol in December 1882. Right up until the point of death Myles protested his innocence, and is now widely accepted as having been innocent of the offence. Two other men who were hanged alongside Myles, (Patrick Joyce and Patrick Casey), claimed responsibility for the murders before they were executed. Both emphasised Myles Joyce’s innocence.
Informers and alleged eyewitnesses were given compensation amounting to £1,250 (€160,000 today) for giving the perjured evidence. The men were tried in English despite the fact that they were native Irish speakers. In 1884 one of the witnesses confessed his part in the wrongful conviction of one of Myles Joyce [Maolra Seoighe], and four of the men imprisoned.
President Michael D Higgins issued a pardon to Myles Joyce on 4 April 2018. In the first presidential pardon relating to an event predating the foundation of the State, Higgins said Joyce was “wrongly convicted of murder and was hanged for a crime that he did not commit”.