Patrick Joyce was born at Lisheenagaoithe, near Headford, on May 23, 1868. He became a monitor teacher in 1884, taught in Cloghanover School for two years, later as principal of Trabane, and then Tiernee in the parish of Carraroe. In 1892 he married Margaret Donohue. He was eventually appointed as principal of Barna National School and his wife taught in Boleybeg National School.
They lived in a teacher’s residence called Cappagh House which consisted of seven to nine rooms, a stable, coach house, cow house, piggery, fowl house, and turf and potato houses. In 1911 they had four children aged fromthree to 17. They spoke both Irish and English, but as the young children only spoke English, that was the dominant language. The teacher’s house was eventually taken up by an RIC officer named Colgan and his wife, who was the principal of the girls' national school in Barna. The Joyces had to move to a house on the Ballymoneen Road, a decision which made Patrick Joyce very bitter.
Joyce was for a time president of the Galway branch of the INTO and was respected by other teachers. He was ‘assertive and forthright in his speech’, lacked finesse, and was occasionally 'aggressive’, ‘a dark person’, ‘against Irishness of all kinds’. He was a supporter of John Redmond and sought permission to speak at recruitment meetings for the British army. This was granted but the school manager, Fr Lally, objected. Joyce and the local curate, Father Griffin, were on bad terms over some trouble in the parish.
The authorities carried out a number of surprise attacks and very specific raids on houses of members of the IRA in Barna and Moycullen, and this made the IRA realise that someone was feeding information to the Crown forces. Joe Togher from St Francis Street worked in the Post Office and was trained in deciphering military and police communications. He did this by sneaking back into the office at night, removing the mail of interest and taking it home, breaking the cyphers and reporting the results to the IRA.
Over a period, he picked up five letters from Joyce, two of which were addressed to the Black and Tans, Eglinton Street, one to the County Officer, Military Station, Earl’s Island, one to the OC Galway, and one to Sir Hamar Greenwood in the House of Commons. Some of these were signed PW Joyce, many provided accurate intelligence about the local IRA, thus putting them in mortal danger, and some included spurious information that he had concocted about neighbours against whom he held personal grievances. In one, he urged them to “send a dozen or so Black and Tans to Barna to confiscate the Colgan house”; in another he mentioned a man named O’Donnell who had a lawsuit with Joyce.
Micheál Ó Droighneáin was a teaching colleague of Joyce’s, though in a neighbouring school. As Commandant of the East Conamara Brigade of the IRA, he was politically opposed to Joyce. He managed to obtain examples of Joyce’s handwriting and, when he compared these to the letters, realised that they came from the same source. He sent John Geoghegan to General Mulcahy in Dublin to ask for instructions and was told to take the necessary action. Obviously, Joyce suspected nothing because on October 15, 1920, 100 years ago today, three more letters were picked up by Joe Togher.
The IRA decided they had to act immediately and so that night, at 11pm, a party of armed men arrived at Joyce’s house and abducted him. He was walked to the Cappagh Road where a sidecar was ready to take him to an old house on the Spiddal-Moycullen Road. Here, he was court-martialled, and after some deliberation on the part of the judges, was found guilty. Joyce appealed for leniency and promised, if released, that he would do them no harm. The judges considered this, none of them wanted to kill him, but decided they would in effect be signing their own death warrants if they let him go.
Fr Tommy Burke from Glencorrib, a supporter of the Volunteers, was brought to the house because he did not personally know Joyce and because of his distance from the area. He spent 15 minutes with Joyce and heard his last confession and offered some spiritual consolation. Then a party of Volunteers brought him into the bog where he was shot with a .32 revolver and a service rifle. Fr Burke gave him the last rites and then his body was removed to a remote grave in the bog.
The RIC and the Tans started searching for Joyce. The locals found posters in the area declaring that if Joyce was not returned by Sunday morning, there would be reprisals, and there were. Some people were shot and wounded, many were beaten. Joyce’s eldest son Joe was regularly seen in the Black and Tans' Crossley Tenders as they went about their raids and searches. Some time after the disappearance, it became known that a priest had attended Patrick Joyce prior to his execution, which was of some consolation to the family. The Crown forces may have incorrectly assumed that it might have been either Fr Griffin, Fr O’Meehan, or Fr Cunnane, a curate in Moycullen, and they threatened them with murder. So the bishop, Dr O’Dea wrote to the Chief Secretary of Ireland to defend them against the potential targeting of the clergy should a reprisal target be sought.
On November 15, Fr Griffin was abducted by the Auxiliaries and taken to Lenaboy Castle, where he was murdered. His body was found a week later buried in a bog in Clochsgoilte in Barna. As it was assumed that Joyce had been buried in a bog in Barna, the symbolism of burying the remains of Fr Griffin in a bog pointed to his execution as being a tit-for-tat reprisal for the execution of Joyce.
Joyce’s body was discovered in 1998. He was identified by the contents of his pockets.
Most of the research for this article was done by Tom Randles. The image of Joyce is from an INTO conference programme of 1909 and the reproduction of one of Joyce’s letters is from the UCD Archives and is one of the illustrations in Cormac Ó Comhraí’s wonderful book Revolution in Connacht, which was published by Mercier Press.
This weeks Galway Diary can be found on page 37