Myles Joyce declared he was innocent of the August 1882 murders of five neighbors in rural Maamtrasna, County Galway. “I had no dealing with it, no more than the person who was never born,” he said.
Joyce, in his 40s, spoke Irish. The crown prosecutors and judge in the Dublin courtroom where he was tried for the crime spoke English. Joyce was denied a translator until he was found guilty and sentenced. He was hanged in December 1882.
Margaret Kelleher, chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, authored the 2018 book about the case, The Maamtrasna Murders: Language, Life, and Death in Nineteenth-Century. In a Feb. 19 talk at Georgetown University’s Global Irish Studies program, she acknowledged becoming aware of her own tendency to say Joyce spoke “only Irish”, instead of “Irish only,” a vestige of how the language was diminish by the official English of the ruling British state. Joyce was among just over 64,000 monoglot Irish speakers in a population of 5.1 million.
In April 2018, Irish President Michael D. Higgins granted a posthumous pardon to Joyce, concluding “the case was unsafe according the standards of the time.” Debate continues as to whether the British state that administering the 19th century court system that failed Joyce should take the same action. The bigger question, however, is whether such miscarriages of justice can be avoided today.
Kelleher reprised these thoughts from her 2018 piece in The Irish Times:
In contemporary Ireland, the arrival of new immigrants from a more diverse range of backgrounds than heretofore necessitates a significant expansion of translation and interpretation services in the judicial system; yet these needs are poorly addressed, where recognized, at service or policy level. … Our contemporary moment is one in which large-scale mobility (forced or voluntary) is occurring within a seemingly globalized society but individual migrants can find poor accommodation from judicial systems and legal processes.
I look forward to reading the book, now being published in North America by University of Chicago Press Books.