Friday, October 18, 2019


No this is not a prison. It is St. Mary's church Haddington Road, Dublin, at the approach of dusk. At 7.30pm we will be in attendance for the latest in the series of Patrick Finn Lectures. The series has been going now for some years and is notable for the quality and relevance of its speakers.

And, by the way, you don't have to be a Holy Joe/Mary to attend and enjoy the evening. You don't even have to be a believer. The talks stand on their own two feet without any help from above.

Felix Larkin chaired the night's event on behalf of the church's Education Committee and he is to be congratulated on getting Margaret Kelleher for this talk.

Margaret is Professor and Chair of Anglo Irish Literature and Drama at UCD. But she will not be performing any dramatics from the altar on this occasion at least. Nor will she be giving us a course in Anglo Irish literature, though she will briefly mention James Joyce in the course of the evening.

The solemnity of the altar setting is appropriate to the theme. The Maamtrasna murders were brutal; the men and boys were shot and the women and girls bludgeoned to death. This was followed by an equally brutal miscarriage of justice and the botched hanging of an innocent man.

Margaret gave us the guts of her story which she has spelled out in great detail in her book.

The scope of her story is wide, dealing with a community in transition both in terms of property and language and an administration which was alien to those it was administering, was unforgiving and would never admit to having made a mistake.

I think you can see the relevance of this to much that is going on in the world today, both at home, with our near neighbour and further afield.

Margaret mentioned some resonances of her own.

She recently gave a talk in Kilmainham gaol on the time spent in jail by five of those convicted of the murders. They had been detained in that very jail in the run up to their trial in an alien urban environment.

Then there was the Áras, when President Higgins reinstated Myles Joyce as an innocent man - this on the very spot where nearly a hundred and forty years ago the Viceroy had refused to heed persuasive pleas of Myles's innocence with the chilling remark: the law must take its course.

Why am I stressing these aspects in particular? Because our history gives us a sense of our identity. Since I started poking at my local and family history, no end of places and happenings resonate with me.

I am not talking here of history as dates and battles and blood and guts, but of people. Some of them are ordinary and some extraordinary. But they all convey a sense of place and belonging. Following them up has been an extraordinary experience in itself.

I'm fairly sure that Felix would endorse my sentiments as we catch him here listening attentively and reflecting on what Margaret is telling us.

Kevin Cross

As someone remarked to me in the course of the evening, this is a parish with many heavy hitters. So we not only had an attentive and enthusiastic audience, but also a widely ranging and substantive Q&A, in the course of which Margaret took us further into the story and its implications.

You can follow through on all of this by checking out the blog post I did when I read the book and then get a copy of the book to deepen your understanding of an important element of our heritage.

1 comment:

  1. Margaret made the very valid point that the word "pardon" is not really appropriate in this case as it still carries the connotation of forgiveness for a crime committed and Myles was wholly innocent.

    She wondered if the Irish word "maithiúnas" might capture the required meaning more fully as in restoring or acknowledging the good as opposed to forgiving the bad.

    She may have a point etymologically speaking, but the modern connotation of maithiúnas is forgiveness (of sin) rather than a recognition of innocence.

    I'll have to think about that one. A term conveying the sense of officially restoring/recognising innocence is required. Something along the lines of "neamhchiontú" or "frithchiontú" come to mind but I'm sure there is a better term lurking out there somewhere.

    The text in the actual "pardon" reads:

    "NOW I, Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland, do hereby, on the advice of the Government, pardon the said Myles Joyce in respect of the said conviction, and wholly remit the sentence imposed as if he had not been so charged or convicted."

    At the end of the day, however, I think the President probably doesn't have any alternative to "pardon" as it is presumably enshrined in law. Nor can the sentence be undone, sadly.