Harry Gleeson a patsy for locals with a secret

The framing of Harry Gleeson was a shameful episode in the history of Irish criminal justice.

Harry Gleeson was an innocent, well-respected single man who worked as a farm manager.

Gleeson walked into a garda station in New Inn, Co Tipperary, on November 21, 1940, to report the discovery of the body of Moll McCarthy in a field near his home. The 39-year-old victim had received two blasts from a shotgun.

Six months later, on April 23, 1941, Gleeson was hanged in Mountjoy Prison for the murder. He had nothing to do with it. He was an innocent, well-respected, single man, who worked hard as a farm manager in the area. The only thing he shared with Moll McCarthy is that both of them were ‘blow-ins’ to the area. He had been the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, and thereafter became a handy patsy for a murder others wished to cover up.

Moll McCarthy was an exotic figure in the rural Ireland of the times. A mother of seven — six of whom survived — the children were fathered by at least five different men, all of them local, most of them married to other women. She was, in some ways, a walking timebomb for scandal.

She didn’t hide her lifestyle. She named all her children either after their respective fathers or relatives of those fathers. One of the motives ascribed to Gleeson was that he had fathered one of the children, a suggestion which was completely untrue. But he was a handy fall-guy in a community which wasn’t sorry to see the back of a woman of so-called easy virtue, and managed to tie up her murder in a neat bundle.

Gleeson’s innocence was acknowledged by the Government last month when it was announced that he would be awarded the first posthumous pardon in the State’s history, following a review of the case by senior counsel, Shane Murphy.

The pursuit of justice for Harry Gleeson was led by his family and locals and taken on by the Innocence Project operating out of Griffith College in Dublin. But the case had also attracted the interest of authors.

Convicted and hanged for Moll McCarthy's murder, Harry Gleeson was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Local historian Marcus Bourke published a book in 1993, entitled Murder at Marlhill: Was Harry Gleeson Innocent? And a few years ago, novelist Carlo Gebler reimagined the whole story in The Dead Eight, an account that ascribed blame for the murder on local IRA elements. The murder occured at a time when a bombing campaign in England had led to a crackdown on the IRA on this side of the Irish Sea.

The latest tome is penned by author Kieran Fagan, who has a record in covering miscarriage of justice cases. The Framing Of Harry Gleeson comes to similar conclusions as Gebler’s fictionalised account, but draws on detailed evidence, documents and transcripts dating from the time, to produce a compulsive read.

It is also causing some consternation locally. Apart from throwing fresh light on the whole case, Fagan also goes further than other authors in naming the fathers of Moll’s children. These names were provided in a statement given to the gardaí by Gleeson by way of pointing out that he, Harry Gleeson, was not the father of any of the children. That statement was subsequently replaced in the murder trial by a second statement which did not provide names.

Now, the names of the putative fathers, all of whom are long deceased, are being made public. Fagan received correspondence from a number of local sources, including one solicitor’s letter demanding to see the manuscript prior to publication. The book names the four men that Fagan believes were involved in the murder. It is both descendents of these men and those born in wedlock to the fathers of Moll’s children, who have written to Fagan, and the publishers’ Collins Press. In the case of one man, he is named as both father of one of Moll’s children and as having a role in her murder, although the motive ascribed to him is not his parentage of the child.

“She [Moll] had different fathers for most if not all of the children,” Fagan says. “Obviously, the descendents of those fathers are still living in the area and they don’t want it out there that their father or grandfather or uncle was having sexual relations with Moll McCarthy while married.

“Then you also have the descendents of some of the instigators of the framing of Harry Gleeson and the cover-up involved in that.”

The author also emphasises that other descendants of the alleged murderers co-operated with him.

There is little argument as to the identity of at least five of the seven fathers, and some dispute over the remaining two. All except one of Moll McCarthy’s children are now dead, the last surviving child is believed to be alive and living in England.

One local source — who does not wish to be named — told the Irish Examiner that when the now-elderly daughter of one of the men was recently contacted and told that her father had fathered a child with Moll, this woman “nearly dropped dead”.

There is also still on-going dispute as to the identity of the fathers of the two youngest children. The youngest boy was named after his alleged father, but local sources suggest this child had a striking physical resemblance to the father of an older one of Moll’s children, and that this other man had perhaps been the father.

This man is also in the frame for parentage of the youngest child, who died three weeks after birth. The girl was named Margaret, but was to be known as Peggy. The man in question was married to a Margaret, who was known as Aggy.

“If Moll had named that baby as Aggy rather than Peggy, then yer man would have been in trouble, but as it is, there’s some dispute over the father there,” a local source said.

The publication of The Framing Of Harry Gleeson is opening old wounds all around the New Inn area. Principally, those who fought for justice for Harry Gleeson will be in a position to reflect wistfully on a life cut cruelly short by the State on a false premise. For those whose ancestors are now believed to have been behind the murder, there is the familial pain of a dark secret being exposed decades after the event. And for those others, who are related to the fathers of Moll’s children, another dark secret, probably harboured only by the men involved themselves, has also been brought out into the public square.

The Framing Of Harry Gleeson by Kieran Fagan is published by The Collins Press

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