Michael O’Donohoe Project Seeking Pardon for John Twiss and Poff and Barrett

Pictured during the filming of the BBC series ‘Murder, Mystery and My Family’ at Hughes’ Bar in Cordal last December were: Seán Hughes, proprietor; Helen O’Connor, Firies; Johnnie Roche, Castleisland; Tim Fairclough, production runner and Denis Sayers, Kilflynn.  ©Photograph: John Reidy
The roadside monument in Ardmona and a photograph of the ill-fated John Twiss c1894 – image courtesy of Paul Dillon.

At a meeting of the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Historical Committee earlier this year, and in consultation with the relatives of the men involved, it was decided to apply for a full pardon for the blatant miscarriages of justice which resulted in the hangings of the three men.

The now infamous hangings of cousins, Poff and Barrett in Tralee in January of 1883 were followed by another from this general locality when John Twiss from Cordal suffered the same fate in Cork prison in 1895.

Innocent of Charges

There was a groundswell of opinion at the time that the men involved were innocent of the crimes they had been tried for and subsequently hanged.

Those feelings have only deepened with the passage of time and even more so since last March. Then, a programme in the BBC TV series ‘Murder, Mystery and my Family’  carried out a reconstruction of the case against John Twiss. Its findings deemed him innocent of any involvement in the murder of James Donovan in Glenlara near Newmarket in North Cork in 1894.

Defence and Prosecuting Barristers

That programme took all the evidence available at the time and defence and prosecuting lawyers took their respective case files with what they had to work on.

Leading criminal barristers, Sasha Wass and Jeremy Dein put the case through a wringing, tough examination and concluded that Twiss did, indeed, die an innocent man on the gallows outside Cork prison on February 9th. 1895.

After shooting segments for that BBC programme in the Castleisland area this time last year, the TV crew returned recently to do a follow-up on the case of John Twiss.

Relatives of John Twiss

Michael O’Donohoe committee Chairman, Johnnie Roche was interviewed as were the relatives of John Twiss, brother and sister, Helen O’Connor, Firies and Denis Sayers, Kilflynn.

Minister Brendan Griffin, TD, was praised by Johnnie Roche for being of enormous assistance in bringing the pardon for the three men to the relevant government ministers, was also interviewed for the follow-up programme.

Letter to An Taoiseach

“We posted the official application for the pardon for John Twiss and Sylvester Poff and James Barrett to An Taoiseach last week,” said Johnnie Roche explaining the route being taken with the plan.

“I had a letter on Thursday saying that it was forwarded to the Department of Justice and that was swiftly followed by an acknowledgement from that department,”said Mr. Roche who also provided the following background on the case to the relevant government departments.

John Twiss – A Synopsis of the Background to the Case

“The last two decades of the nineteenth century saw the district of Castleisland ‘in the eye of the storm’, so to speak.

The late 1870s was a period of atrocious summers, and was referred to as a mini-famine.

Evictions were widespread, and Castleisland in 1879 got the formation of the Moonlighters, a secret society, avowed to prevent land-grabbing, and restoring evicted tenants to their homes.

Land League in 1880

This was quickly followed by the formation of the Land League branch in 1880. Two branches of the same tree, they were extraordinarily successful, and Castleisland historian, TM Donovan, who was intimately associated with the recognised founder of the Moonlighters, stated in his book A Popular History of East Kerry ‘By the end of 1881, they had put down land-grabbing and evictions completely and forever’.

Authorities Helpless

The authorities found themselves helpless, with no one prepared to enter an evicted farm, and in most cases the original tenants reinstated in their houses. The passing of the Coercion Bill in March 1881 was followed by a swoop on the district, and fourteen young men were interned without trial, the first under the new act. Many leading young men involved emigrated immediately but there were no convictions.

A ‘Special’ Jury

The authorities needed heads! Their first opportunity came after the brutal murder of a local farmer in a private vendetta. Without a scintilla of evidence or motive, and with the aid of a ‘special’ jury after the original jury failed to convict, they hanged Sylvester Poff and his cousin James Barrett.

Contempt for Justice

Twelve years later, showing the same contempt for justice, lack of motive or evidence, including even the physical capacity to be at the scene, they hanged John Twiss in Cork jail. This, despite the presentation of more than 40,000 signatures begging for reprieve. That number would equate to millions of signatures today.

A Blot on Society

Those ‘judicial murders’ are a blot on our society until we do the honourable thing, and issue an official pardon to Sylvester Poff, James Barrett and John Joe Twiss.

We, the Castleisland O’Donohoe Archive committee, commend the pardoning of all three men, so that their descendants can feel that justice has eventually been achieved. The evidence against their convictions is overwhelming – the evidence for conviction is nil.

Murder, Mystery and My Family

In the spring of this year, 2018, the BBC documentary, ‘Murder, Mystery and my Family’ tried the case of John Twiss with barristers on both sides before a judge, who concluded that in today’s court, the case wouldn’t even go past the prosecution.

Among books written about the cases are: A Popular History of East Kerry by T M Donovan;

They Hanged John Twiss by Pat Lynch and Forgive them All: the Judgement of John Twiss by Paudy Scully.

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