When I came across the cottage it evoked the chilling story of an infamous event which took place in nearby Maamtrasna. In what was to become know as the Maamtrasna Murders, five members of the Joyce family were brutally killed in their home in an isolated valley in August 1882. The killings were said to have been carried out by a secret Ribbon Society apparently motivated by a bitter personal feud over grazing rights and the suspected theft of a sheep. The horrific nature of the killings shocked both Ireland and England and eventually helped bring down the Gladstone Government in Westminster
In the subsequent police investigation ten men were arrested based on evidence given by three witnesses. Many of those arrested were related to either the murdered family or to the witnesses. The prisoners were transferred to Dublin where they were to face trial in front of a mainly middle class and unionist jury. The case was conducted in English, a language which none of the Irish-speaking accused prisoners understood. The Crown Solicitor managed to get two of the accused men to turn state witnesses and this resulted in three of the accused being sentenced to death; Myles Joyce, Pat Casey and Pat Joyce. These men were hanged In Galway Jail on December 15, 1882.
In an attempt to save their lives the remaining prisoners all pleaded guilty and were sentenced to long prison terms. Two of these prisoners died in jail, while the other three were released following the completion of their sentences over 20 years later. It is widely regarded that several of the accused men, including at least one of those who were hanged, were innocent of all changes. As he faced the hangman's noose at Galway Prison, Patrick Casey, one of the accused, signed a declaration before the prison Governor, stating that
"as a prisoner under sentence of death…. Myles Joyce is innocent in this case."
The case was repeatedly raised in the English House of Commons. When the then Prime Minister Gladstone refused an inquiry, Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, withdrew his support for the Liberal government which led to its defeat. To this day the case remains highly divisive and the worst mass murder in Irish history.