John Twiss Pardon – A Huge Step Closer after Ministerial Letter

Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project Manager, Janet Murphy presenting the documents to support a pardon for John Twiss to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, TD with committee Chairman, Johnnie Roche at the Old Carnegie Building in Castleisland in August.                            ©Photograph: John Reidy 23-8-2019

When President Michael D. Higgins signed the posthumous pardon for Myles Joyce – or Maolra Seoighe as gaeilge – in early April 2018 it was the first case of its kind from before the foundation of the state to be so examined and signed off.

Maamtrasna Murders

Joyce was who was one of three Connemara men hanged for the Maamtrasna murders in Galway in December 1882

It was a case famous as much for its brutality as for the miscarriage of justice which followed. It was the focus of a TG4 documentary.

A case closer to home which has gripped the imagination of the locality is that of the wrongful hanging of John Twiss of Cordal in Cork prison some 13 years after the Maamtrasna trials and hangings.

John Twiss Memorabelia

The Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project Committee joined up with the forces of The Crown – The Crown Hotel that is, on Friday night to stage an exhibition of John Twiss memorabilia and to draw attention also the case of Poff and Barrett.

The latter two were also hanged on shaky evidence in Tralee over a decade before the Twiss case and in fact John Twiss in his speech from the dock made reference to that as a miscarriage of justice.

Sole Focus Of Attention

Around 60 seats were taken up for Friday night’s event in the Crown’s function room and the letter from Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, TD was the sole focus of attention for many.

John Twiss’ descendants, Helen O’Connor and Denis Sayers were present on the occasion and heard invited guest, Minister Brendan Griffin TD reading the letter of hope.

It was obvious from the contents of the letter that there are no more hurdles to be jumped in the bid to clear the name of John Twiss of a crime he could not have committed.

Giant Step Forward

Friday night’s meeting provided the stage for a giant step towards having the name of John Twiss join Myles Joyce in receiving a posthumous pardon before being signed into the constitution at Áras an Uachtaráin.

A clearly delighted Helen O’Connor sat at the top table beside Minister Griffin and project Chairman Johnnie Roche.

A Genuine Interest

She thanked Minister Griffin for taking such a genuine interest in the case and Johnnie Roche and his committee for its work in getting it on the agenda.

The exhibition, both digital and tangible, was put together by project Manager Janet Murphy with technical assistance from Moss Hartnett of Tomo Burke’s and the forces of The Crown sponsored tea/coffee and biscuits and threw the use of the hall in free of charge.

Donovan Book Launch

In the course of a busy Friday night at The Crown, Minister Griffin also obligingly launched a book, To Queensland with Love by T.M, Donovan.

The book chronicles his Australian years from 1887 to 1926 and was rediscovered, researched and reprinted under the direction of the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project Manager, Janet Murphy.

On Sale in Castleisland 

The remaining books are now on sale at Jackie Reidy’s Menswear and Newsagents and Doreen Brosnan’s Curiosity Shop on Main Street, Castleisland.

Project manager, Janet Murphy provided the following synopsis of To Queensland with Love

Timothy M Donovan of Castleisland, author of A Popular History of East Kerry (1931) who at one time worked as assistant teacher in Castleisland Boys’ National School, lived for almost 40 years in Australia.

He left Castleisland as a young man in 1887 with his friend Jack Brosnan. They had been nominated passages by another friend, Jack Riordan.

They followed in the footsteps of Dennis G Shanahan, who afterwards became one of the leading businessmen in Brisbane.

The voyage to Australia was arduous and the loss of a young man from Kingwilliamstown to sunstroke did not aid the spirits of the Irish on board.

Bush School Near Brisbane

Donovan landed his first job in a bush school near the junction of the Brisbane and Stanley rivers. He was subsequently promoted to a state school at Barcaldine with the help of a Killarney man, Patrick O’Sullivan, about whom he wrote, ‘God rest O’Sullivan’s soul … many a poor new Irishman had to thank him for his help in time of need.’

The Finest Irishman
In Barcaldine State School Donovan met P J McDermott, Under Secretary to the Premier of Queensland, ‘the finest Irishman that I ever knew’. During his years at Barcaldine he witnessed the great shearers’ strike; he also came close to losing his life during a kangaroo hunt.

From Barcaldine, Donovan went to teach in the Burketown State School in the tropics.

There he enjoyed a visit to his school by Sir Henry Wylie Norman during his northern tour.

A Selection of Beetles

About this time, Donovan sent Australian government entomologist Charles French (1842-1933) a selection of beetles for which he was rewarded with a copy of French’s book.

Donovan’s teaching career progressed and in the years that followed, he worked in schools all over Queensland including the Normal School, Gracemere Rockhampton, Freestone Creek, Normanby, Villeneuve, Benair, Lark Hill, Douglas, Darling Downs, Dundowran, Dundas, North Eton and Cloyna.

Perished on the Lusitania

In 1915, Donovan returned to Ireland for a few years and but for a visit to his brother in Los Angeles en route, believed he would have perished on the Lusitania. He was in Australia at the end of the First World War and while at Douglas State School, lit a bonfire in honour of the 60,000 Australian military who died in Europe.

Returned to Church Street Castleisland

In 1926, failing health caused Donovan to return to Church Street, Castleisland and he wrote a vivid account of his experiences down under … ‘experiences of an Irish emigrant leaving Ireland for Australia … the joys and sorrows of Young Ireland transplanted in Australia.’

Sketch about Snakes

His following sketch about snakes gives a flavour of his Australian adventures:

When St Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, he made the country safe for the children – especially for the bare-footed. The snake in the grass generally strikes the bare foot, ankle or leg; or at the hand when picking up things from the ground.

During nearly 40 years in the tropical and sub-tropical parts of Queensland, I killed hundreds of snakes. In my bush school I always kept a long stick ready for reptilian interlopers.

Bitten by a Black Snake

A pupil of mine – a girl of eleven was bitten in the ankle by a black snake. Instead of running home, she made straight for the school.

I pinched up the flesh where the two black-rimmed punctures showed that they were made by a venomous snake, nicked it with the razor to let out the poisoned blood, and, knowing that my mouth was sound, I sucked the wound.

Saved the Child

My wife had a bandage ready above the knee and with a small round ruler used as a tourniquet, I made the ligature taut. When the mother took her daughter into Rockhampton, the doctor said the child was saved.

Donovan’s energetic writing style makes To Queensland With Love an enjoyable read.

It is also a valuable contribution to the literature of Castleisland and, in a broader context, to the social history of Ireland at this period.