Monday 24 July 2017

'It's vital' - Family of executed innocent Irishman campaign to get his body home

Kathy Armstrong

The family of an Irishman who was executed after being wrongly convicted of murder are trying to repatriate his remains so he can finally be at peace with his loved ones.

Harry Gleeson was wrongly convicted of the 1940 murder of single mother Mary "moll" McCarthy and sentenced to death less than a year later.

Harry, who was from Holycross in Co Tipperary, always maintained his innocence but was hanged in 1941.

His family campaigned for years to have him pardoned and after the Justice For Harry Gleeson group was established in 2012 they finally got their wish in December 2015.

His grand-nephew Kevin told Indpendent.ie: "We set out to finally clear Harry's name, a number of people had tried this do this throughout the years but none had been successful.

"During the campaign we got involved with the Innocent Project in Griffith College, who are legal heavyweights and they were a huge help in helping to bring about the pardon.

"In April 2015 the department of Justice made a recommendation that he was granted a pardon.

"It was tremendous news, it had been a burden and a dark cloud that had hung over the family for years.

The Gleeson Gathering last Summer, Kevin is in the front row in the middle
The Gleeson Gathering last Summer, Kevin is in the front row in the middle

"It's a pity that a lot of Harry's close friends and family had passed on but there were some of his nieces and nephews who are still alive, it was great for them to see his name finally cleared.

"It was a long journey though."

Kevin, who is a teacher, said that he grew up in the same homestead as Harry and the injustice hung over the family.

He said: "I was only about ten when I first heard that my father's uncle was an innocent man who was executed for something he didn't do.

"Harry was executed within five months of Ms McCarthy's body being found, it was all done so fast but people were led to believe he had done it.

"Harry came from a big family, there were 12 children in the family and they went through a very difficult time, one way they dealt with it was just not to talk about it, they kind of brushed it under the carpet.

"Their lives were crushed and I suppose there was nobody to help them or take a case against the state."

Harry was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Mountjoy Prison and now the family are determined to find it, something Kevin admits won't be easy.

He said: "His body is buried in the grounds of Mountjoy, the exact location is a difficult part, the only records we have at the moment is an old book and there's one column where it says he was buried at the rear of the old hospital.

"We've been told there's a commitment in place to do everything possible to find his remains.
"We're hopeful, in the next few weeks a team of geophysicists will do ground penetrating radar, which will identify any anomalies beneath the surface.

"It's kind of an x-ray and if there's disturbed ground it'll show up and identify burial plots.

"We're not naive, we know it's a huge task but we're hopeful that with the huge advances in DNA it's do-able, the biggest potential obstacle could be that there might be between 20 and 30 bodies buried at Mountjoy.

"They can do a DNA survey on the body though but if there are a number of bodies found it'll be a decision by the state to decide what to do then."

Kevin continued to speak about how much repatriating Harry's remains would mean to his family.

He said: "From the outset the Justice For Harry Gleeson group said that all we want is to clear his name once and for all, repatriate his remains and bury him in the Gleeson family plot.

"It'd be nice to be able to give him a proper Christian burial.

"It's a vital piece of the jigsaw, it'd be closure for the family to have a burial site for people to finally be able to visit or a funeral to attend."

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