Irish President Michael D. Higgins has pardoned executed Maolra Seoighe almost 140 years after he was hanged for a murder other men admitted he was innocent of.

A pardon has been granted to an Irishman who was wrongfully executed for murder in 1882, for what is seen as one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice to ever take place in the history of the Irish legal system.

President Michael D. Higgins on Wednesday granted a posthumous pardon to Maolra Seoighe who was convicted and executed for the infamous Maamtrasna murders. The man was hanged in December 1882 for the brutal murder of five family members in Maamtrasna, on the Mayo-Galway border, as well as the attempted murder of a sixth family member.

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The native Irish speaker was found guilty in a trial conducted in English and he was one of three men executed for murder out of the eight local men tried in court. (Ten men were initially arrested for the crime and set to stand trial before two men, one of them believed to have been a guilty party in the murder, took a deal to "identify" the men who entered the house and committed the murder.)

Two of the eight men tried in court had admitted before his execution that Joyce was innocent of the crime but it was deemed too late to stop the execution of the innocent man, a miscarriage of justice that the Irish President has now attempted to redeem.

As he was brought to the scaffold, Seoighe was quoted as saying, “Feicfidh mé Íosa Críost ar ball – crochadh eisean san éagóir chomh maith”. (“I will see Jesus Christ in a little while – he too was unjustly hanged/crucified.”)

The Maamtrasna area.

The Maamtrasna area.

“On Wednesday, April 4, 5 pm, President Michael D. Higgins signed a warrant granting a posthumous pardon to Mr. Maolra Seoighe (Myles Joyce), in respect of his conviction of November 1882 and subsequent execution on 15 December 1882,” said a statement from Áras an Uachtaráin.  

“Under article 13.6 of the Constitution, the President has the power to pardon, commute or remit punishments imposed by the courts, but the President must act on the advice of the Government.

“Only five presidential pardons have been awarded since 1937, and this is the first to have been recommended for a case which occurred before the State’s foundation.”

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Three convicted local men are hanged for the Maamtrasna Murders, 1882 Murdair Mhám Trasna film. Image: TG4.

Three convicted local men are hanged for the Maamtrasna Murders, 1882 Murdair Mhám Trasna film. Image: TG4.

Seán Seoighe, his wife Bridget, his mother Mairéad, son Míchael and daughter Peggy were brutally murdered in their small cabin in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of Maamtrasna, while another son, Patsy, was grievously injured but survived.

Míchael had also survived to be discovered by the neighbors, despite having been shot several times, but he later died from his injuries. While the men were shot, the women were so brutally beaten they were barely recognizable.

Eight men in total were brought to trial for the murder and three were sentenced to death. The remaining five were given a last-minute reprieve by the Earl Spencer and had their death sentences commuted to penal servitude for life.

Three of those convicted had some involvement in the brutal massacre of the family of five but those who orchestrated and carried out the killings remained free and escaped justice.

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Grave of the murdered Joyces. Image: TG4.

Grave of the murdered Joyces. Image: TG4.

The motive for the murder of the family remains shrouded in mystery but it is generally presumed that the killings were connected with sheep stealing,  a serious offense in a time of great poverty and distress in the rural west of Ireland.

The story of the trial and the murders have been brought to life again in the Irish-language book "Éagóir" by Seán Ó Cuirreáin, as well as the documentary “Murdair Mhám Trasna” (Maamtrasna Murders) which aired on TG4 for the first time on Wednesday night.

Patsy Joyce played by actor Peadar Mac Donncha at the scene where his family were murdered. Image: TG4.

Patsy Joyce played by actor Peadar Mac Donncha at the scene where his family were murdered. Image: TG4.

The producers of the documentary are still hoping to discover the whereabouts of the sole survivor Patsy Joyce, who moved to America as a young man and was never heard from again. You can find more information about their search here and you can watch the full docu-drama on the murders on the TG4 player here.