The brutal murder of a family of five in Maamtrasna, Co Mayo, in 1882 shocked Ireland and helped to bring down Queen Victoria’s government.
Ireland was well used to violence of every kind during the turbulent years of the Land War, but the sheer viciousness used in the killing of the Joyce family in the isolated valley of Maamtrasna appalled the whole country. The men of the house had been shot and the women and children had their skulls smashed.
John Joyce, his wife Brid, his mother Margaret, his son Michael and his daughter Peggy all perished. One child, nine-year-old Patsy, remained barely alive. Another son, Martin, was luckily not at home that night. The bodies lay in the house for many hours as locals were afraid to venture in.
The police arrested 10 men based on evidence given by three witnesses. Many of those arrested were related to the murdered family and to the witnesses. The prisoners were transferred to Dublin to face trial in what was effectively a foreign land. The jury was mainly middle class and unionist and the language used in court was English which none of the Irish-speaking prisoners understood. By a combination of persuasion and intimidation the Crown Solicitor managed to get two of the men to turn state witnesses and three of the accused were sentenced to death.
In Galway Jail on the 15th December 1882, Myles Joyce, Pat Casey and Pat Joyce were hanged. The remaining prisoners pleaded guilty to save their lives and now faced long, harsh prison sentences. Two of the prisoners died in jail, while the other three were released over 20 years later, still guilty in the eyes of the law.
Calls for an official inquiry gained momentum in the British parliament as Parnell raised the issue again and again. When Prime Minister Gladstone refused an inquiry, Parnell withdrew his support for the Prime Minister which led to the downfall of Gladstone’s Government.
Why were the Joyce family murdered in Maamtrasna? Rumours abounded of secret societies, of police informers and of sheep stealers. Nearly 130 years later CSÍ: Maamtrasna Massacre discovers a wall of silence still exists around the killings. Johnny Joyce from Dublin, a great-grandson of the murdered man, has spent the last 20 years trying to find out what happened to his grand-uncle Patsy, who survived the slaughter of that fateful night. We ask how and why the murders took place and should the names of those executed and imprisoned be finally cleared?