A New Dawn: Castleisland Celebrates Posthumous Pardons for Poff and Barrett

Put it there: Castleisland District Heritge / Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project founder members, Tomo Burke (left) and chairman, Johnnie Roche reacting to the expected good new from Dublin in Castleisland this morning. Tomo is a great-grandson of Sylvester Poff. Photograph: Noel Nash.
Back then: 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 2019,  ©Photograph: John Reidy 23-8-2019

Sylvester Poff and James Barrett were hanged in Tralee Jail on January 23rd 1883 for the murder of Thomas Browne of Dromoulton on October 3rd 1882.

Both men were innocent of the crime. Today their innocence is acknowledged by the government of Ireland in the announcement of posthumous pardons for both men.

Castleisland gained a gruesome reputation as the ‘blood capital of Ireland’ during the Land War for its brave and daring response to landlord oppression.

A Dangerous Place

In the wake of the murder of a local magistrate Arthur Edward Herbert by an unidentified assassin in 1882, Castleisland was a dangerous place to be. It might be argued that Poff and Barrett were scapegoats for the murders of both Thomas Browne and Arthur Edward Herbert.

The pardons of Poff and Barrett, like John Twiss before them, removes the murderous stain that Castleisland and those innocent men have borne, unjustly, for almost a century and a half as a new dawn breaks on the historic town.

Posthumous Pardons in Ireland

Only three posthumous pardons have been granted since Ireland gained its independence. The first was Harry Gleeson, pardoned in 2015, who suffered the death penalty in 1941 for the murder in 1940 of Mary McCarthy of Marlhill, Co Tipperary. Myles Joyce, pardoned in 2018, was executed for the murders of John Joyce and his family in 1882.

John Twiss, was pardoned in 2021 following a campaign by Castleisland District Heritage. He was was hanged in 1895 for the murder of James Donovan in 1894. The pardons of Sylvester Poff and James Barrett brings this figure to five.

Brendan Griffin’s Huge Role

Outgoing TD Brendan Griffin played a huge role in getting this pardon over the line as the self selected conclusion to his political career looms.  He raised the issue several times in Dáil Éireann over the past few years and, like Seánie O’Shea in Croke Park on that fateful game against Dublin in July 2022, he delivered the good news with the very last kick of the game. Sound man Brendan – as the old stout advert went.

Castleisland District Heritage Reading

Useful reading: John Twiss Judicial Murder in Castleisland (2021) and Poff and Barrett A Miscarriage of Justice (2021) both by Castleisland District Heritage and available from their offices at The Island Centre, Main Street, Castleisland.

You can contact The Maine Valley Post on… Anyone in The Maine Valley Post catchment area who would like to send us news and captioned photographs for inclusion can send them to: jreidy@mainevalleypost.com Queries about advertising and any other matters regarding The Maine Valley Post can also be sent to that address or just ring: 087 23 59 467.