Murders in the Glen - The True Story of the Maamtrasna Massacre

Before the magistrates at Cong, ten men were accused of the Maamtrasna murders

Maamtrasna is situated in the county of Galway, at the head of a rugged glen, running up from one of the inlets with the deep dark valley through which the waters of lovely Lough Nafooey find their way into the Mask.

That night

The night of Thursday, August 17th 1882 waass (sic) dark but fine as the New Moon was about her fourth day and there was not much light.  Early in the morning of the following day, a man named John Collins, having gone to the Joyce household, found the door off it’s hinges and on entering, John Joyce, his mother, his wife and his daughter were found murdered and his sons, Michael and Patrick, seriously wounded, the latter of whom, subsequently recovered.  John Joyce was lying on the kitchen floor with two revolver bullet wounds in his side and a deep cut in his head.   His wife was dead in bed with several bullet wounds, as was his daughter who had her skull broken.  His mother was also lying dead but his son Michael was alive, with bullet wounds in his neck and stomach, from the effects of which he afterwards died.

Innocent men plead guilty

The wholesale character of the motive, the want of any sufficient motive to account for the crime, the singularly strange story of the men who alleged that they tracked the murderers for miles and witnessed the horrible tragedy, the trials, the dying protestations, the reticence of the government with regard to some facts and their unwanted readiness to defend themselves by the publications of others, the plea of guilty made in the dock by men believed to be innocent, the confession of one man, that though wholly ignorant of even the slightest knowledge of the murder, he swore himself guilty that he might save his own life by the sacrifice of others and the allegations that the real murderers remained at large and known to the Crown while men of whose innocence it is assured, lay in jail all combine to form a story that might well challenge the pen of the most sensational novelist of our time.


Acting on the information of two brothers named Anthony and John Joyce (cousins of the dead man), the police arrested on the 20th, ten men, all of whom resided at a considerable distance from the scene of the crime – some at a distance of seven miles.  The story related by those two brothers, supported by the son of one of them, was of so extraordinary a character that no-one but the Crown officials seemed to credit it.

Suppression of evidence

However, the authorities had in their possession at the time of the trial, evidence which would have completely proved the story of the Joyces to be a fabrication and they chose to suppress this evidence rather than discredit the testimony of those so called ‘independent witnesses’.

Discrepancies in the testimony

Subsequently, when the truth was forced upon them, they suffered the actual murderers to remain at large rather than discredit their former proceedings.  The Joyces claimed that they were awoken by the barking of their dogs and when arisen, they noticed the men passing by, on their way to commit the terrible crime.  They claim to have recognised the men from a distance of 200 yards, on their dark night and allowing for the fact that the faces of the men were blackened.  Their testimony was littered with discrepancies and when they made their tale public, it was laughed at as being absurd; but it is only upon a minutes examination of the route described and the other circumstances details in the evidence that the audacity of it’s concoction was be appreciated.  Amongst the men accused were cousins of their own, but with whom they lived in perpetual feud – the motive for the accusations in the first place.

Transcribed by Mary Coyne




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