Monday 20 November 2017

Fr Molloy: The vital new questions

Priest's distraught family call for a new investigation after reading the Irish Independent file on the 25-year mystery

Sergeant Kevin Forde walked up the staircase of Richard and Theresa Flynn's lavish mansion and stepped into their bedroom.

It was just after 3.30am on a July morning and the first shimmers of dawn were breaking through the night sky.

His eyes fell to a dreadful scene on the carpet below. A dead man was lying in a pool of blood with an orange towel thrown over his face. He was casually dressed in a pair of grey slacks and a woollen pullover.

A leaf was lodged in the collar of his blue shirt. White foam seeped from his mouth.

Sergeant Forde pulled back the towel and saw the man had been beaten several times on the face. His lip was burst, there was a deep gash on his chin and his cheek was cut.

From a pool of red oozing out of the man's head, Forde noticed a streak of blood, about eight foot in length, stretching across the white carpet. The body had clearly been moved before he arrived.

Specks of blood on the walls and picture frames suggested that the man had been beaten upstairs but a significant quantity of blood on the banisters of the stairway left him wondering if the man had suffered an earlier attack downstairs.

Seconds later, Forde's eyes were drawn to the man's wrist.

The face of his gold watch was cracked, the hands stopped at 10.40. He hadn't been called until 3.15am.

The attack could have started almost five hours earlier, he thought.

Why had nobody called the guards until now?

Shortly after, Sergeant Forde was instructed to return the watch to the family of the dead man.

As far as he was concerned, this was a crucial piece of evidence.

But is his recollection correct? At the inquest, detectives on the investigating team stated that they recalled Professor Harbison, the State Pathologist, saying that the watch was working at the time of the post-mortem.

In evidence, Dr Harbison said he had no recollection of such a conversation.

Sergeant Forde was about to embark on the most extraordinary case of his life.

The death of Fr Molloy shocked the country and made headlines around the world.

On a summer day in 1985, the small Offaly town of Clara came to a standstill as word filtered through that a popular priest had been brutally beaten and killed in a local manor house in the wake of a society wedding.

One year later, the father of the bride, Richard Flynn, stood before Mr Justice Frank Roe in Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court charged with the manslaughter and assault of Fr Niall Molloy, his friend of 28 years.

He had admitted to hitting the priest twice or at most three times in the marital bedroom of Kilcoursey House during a 'stupid row' over drink.

This account differed starkly to that of the state pathologist, Professor John Harbison, who performed the post mortem.

He found that Fr Molloy had sustained extensive injuries including at least six blows to the head, internal bleeding to the kidney, bruising on his knees and shin, and an abrasion on his inner thigh, one and half inches from the groin.

At the trial on June 12, 1986, Professor Harbison stated that the priest had died from pulmonary oedema or water-logging of the lungs.

This was caused by acute swelling of the brain consistent with 'five, six or more blows' to the head.

Fr Molloy was a tall, athletic man. The pathologist had found some degeneration in the tissue around his heart but this was consistent with the normal wear and tear of a 52-year-old male.

However during cross-examination, defence counsel for Mr Flynn, Paddy McEntee SC, put it to Professor Harbison that there might be another explanation for the cause of death and that the priest could have had a fatal heart attack.

The doctor said that he was still convinced head injuries were the primary cause of death but admitted that it was 'possible' a heart attack could have contributed to it.

On the basis of Professor Harbison's submission, Mr McEntee requested that Justice Roe direct the jury to acquit Mr Flynn. This application was strongly opposed by the DPP's barrister, Raymond Groarke.

But just three and a half hours into the trial, in a decision that would go down as one of the most bizarre in Irish legal history, Justice Roe told the jury to throw the case out.

"No-one intended any injury to be caused," was his remarkable conclusion.

It was a decision that caused public consternation and media outcry. There were calls in the Dáil for a public inquiry. But Mr Roe stayed silent on the matter for the rest of his life. He died in 2003.

But some years after the trial, in 1994, damning revelations about the judge came to light, which left the Molloy family in no doubt that the former president of the Circuit Court had single-handedly corrupted the course of justice.

Shortly before Richard Flynn was charged, Justice Roe took a most unusual step when he wrote a hand-written letter to the DPP Eamonn Barnes stating that he knew both Richard Flynn, his wife Theresa, and the dead priest.

All were members of the horsey set and had mingled in the same hunting circles.

This letter only emerged after Dublin criminal Martin 'The General' Cahill stole the Molloy file among 144 others from the DPP's office and shared details of it with the murdered journalist Veronica Guerin in a bid to embarrass the State.

Given Justice Roe's acquaintance with the parties involved, it was unethical for him to have anything to do with the trial.

This week, in an interview with the Irish Independent, Judge John Gerard Buchanan, a colleague of the late Justice Roe and former President of the Circuit Court, echoed the opinion that it was "inappropriate" for the judge to take the case, and "that the full facts did not come into the public domain as a result of his direction to the jury."

He also stated that it was well-known that Justice Roe would have been acquainted with the family through horses.

Six weeks after the trial, a public inquest contradicted the court findings and concluded that Fr Molloy had died as a result of head injuries.

Two years later, the priest's family took a civil action against Mr Flynn. His liability in the death of Fr Molloy was not contested in court, and the family won £13,000 in damages, setting a legal precedent.

Since then, they have fought a tireless campaign to get answers to the litany of striking inconsistencies surrounding their uncle's death.

One thing both they and many residents of Clara have always maintained is that other people were present in Kilcoursey House the night Fr Molloy died.

This week, 25 years since his death, an in-depth investigation by the Irish Independent has uncovered new information which supports this theory.

This came to light from a new witness who was a close friend of an eminent doctor.

The witness, a successful businessman, has told the Irish Independent that shortly after the priest's death, the doctor confided to him, in a state of anguish, that he was in Kilcoursey House the night Fr Molloy died.

He said: "If I hadn't been there that night, I wouldn't be in the mess I'm in today."

Friends and colleagues of the doctor recall how he was in 'a different world' when he returned to work and seemed deeply troubled by the events of that night.

To the shock of the medical world, he died very shortly afterwards at a young age. His death was caused by a heart attack.

His friend believes that he could not live with the burden of what had happened in Clara that night.

On the day of his death, July 8, 1985, Fr Niall Molloy was attending a buffet to celebrate the marriage of Richard and Theresa Flynn's eldest daughter, Maureen. The wedding itself had taken place the previous day in a large marquee on the lawn of the family home.

Maureen married Ralph Parkes, the well-known Limerick hotelier, in what locals describe as the most glamorous society event Clara had ever seen, with an impressive guest list.

The Saturday nuptials and Sunday luncheon were attended by a number of high-profile members of Fianna Fail, including the late Brian Lenihan -- former Minister for Foreign Affairs and father of the current Finance Minister Brian, and of his brother Conor, Minister for State.

A long-time friend of the Flynns who knew them as Richie and Tess, he travelled down from his home in Castleknock for the luncheon and was seated next to the top table.

The day itself was full of merriment and fun, and even the VIPs let their hair down. Guests recall Mr Lenihan swinging in a garden hammock and pulling pints for himself at the marquee bar. Some of the party even stayed overnight in the 22-room mansion.

But behind the revelry, weeks of tension between Fr Molloy and the Flynns were starting to surface. Locals were astonished when they heard that the curate would not be officiating at Maureen's wedding and even more shocked when he did not turn up on the day, only making a brief appearance late in the afternoon.

A love of horses first brought Fr Niall into the Flynns' world. The son of a wealthy senator, William J Molloy, he grew up in a Palladian mansion, Carrowroe House, on the outskirts of Roscommon town. He started riding at the age of four, went on his first hunt at eight and became Junior Irish showjumping Champion at the age of 12.

But his passion for riding was matched by a deep religious vocation that developed when he was a teenager.

In March 1957, he was ordained to the priesthood in Rome and took up a job as secretary to Bishop Philbin in midlands Diocese of Elphin.

It was around this time he met Theresa Brennan, a well-known horsewoman from Galway. When she married Richard Flynn and moved to Tober, Co Offaly, their shared interest in horses brought them closer after Fr Niall was appointed chaplain at the local barracks in nearby Athlone, and later Castlecoote, Roscommon.

In 1962, the curate was given a gift of IR£65,000 by his father, a sum worth about €400,000 today, which allowed him to pursue his equestrian interests.

But his clerical duties always came first. Even today, 25 years on, he is remembered in the midlands as a deeply spiritual man and a devoted parish priest.

As the friendship with the Flynns grew, they offered him the use of their lands for stabling and training horses. Theresa and he set up a partnership buying and selling horses. So successful was the business, they even had a live-in groom.

They shared a bank account, and Fr Niall was given his own office at Kilcoursey House and the use of a bedroom for the nights he was too tired to do the hour-drive home to Roscommon.

But in the weeks leading up to his death, the priest seemed anxious.

Some months earlier, his bungalow in Castlecoote had been burgled with valuable documents stolen along with two collection boxes. The boxes were later found dumped in a nearby field with the money still inside.

Nobody was ever caught for the crime.

Shortly before the priest's death, relations between him and the Flynns deteriorated sharply following a collapsed business deal.

It had been agreed that Theresa and he would buy 38 acres of land from Richard Flynn, who was in need of cash.

Fr Molloy handed over a deposit of £12,000, which would be returned if the deal fell through. When the Land Commission refused the sale, he asked for his money back.

On the Friday before his death, he visited his solicitors in Athlone to discuss the return of the deposit. He planned to raise the matter with the Flynns as soon as possible and disentangle himself financially from them for good.

The day after the wedding, as the Flynn household was gearing up for the Sunday gathering, Fr Niall confided in a close acquaintance that he was dreading going over to Clara.

The next morning, at 3.15, Sergeant Kevin Forde was woken to the sound of knocking on his front door. The local parish priest, Fr James Deignan, was standing outside.

"There's a dead man at Kilcoursey," he said. "I don't know who he is.

"He is a priest. This is a terrible scandal in the parish. Is there any way it could be kept quiet?"

Sergeant Forde was taken aback and told him that the case would have to be investigated. He left immediately for Kilcoursey.

When he arrived at the house, he was shown to the master bedroom by a local GP and close friend of the Flynns, Dr Dan O'Sullivan, who was already in the mansion.

Theresa Flynn, a key witness to the attack, had already been taken to Tullamore Hospital in a state of hysteria. When she returned home several days later, she had suffered a complete memory lapse over what had happened in her bedroom the night Fr Molloy was killed.

After examining the remains in the bedroom, Sergeant Forde was brought to Richard Flynn in the sitting room by his son David.

He recalls how Mr Flynn was completely at ease, sitting in his dressing gown with a mug of coffee. It was a 'messy old business', he told the guard, referring to the dead priest upstairs.

He went on to say that a silly row had erupted when he and his wife were having a nightcap with Fr Molloy. They all wanted a top-up, but when Richard refused to go downstairs to get one, Fr Molloy lunged at him and was joined by his wife in the attack. He fought back, and struck out at both of them.

This account of the row conflicted with two other versions given later, one by Fr Molloy's brother Billy. He visited Kilcoursey in the days after the priest's death and said that Mr Flynn told him that a row about politics had erupted in the house.

At the inquest, Dr Dan O'Sullivan also testified that Richard Flynn had told him that an argument had taken place downstairs before the row in the bedroom.

Just four weeks after his death, Mrs Flynn proved that her friendship with Fr Molloy was somewhat suspect when she attempted to cash in an insurance policy which named her as the priest's 'sister' and Richard Flynn as her 'brother-in-law'.

The Combined Insurance Company of Ireland checked its records and found that a Little Giant accident policy had indeed been taken out six months before the priest's death. Fr Molloy's address was given care of 'R Flynn, Kilcoursey House.'

The firm requested a copy of the death certificate and a doctor's statement from Mrs Flynn but never heard from her again.

At the time of Fr Molloy's death, his closest friends and parishioners were both sickened and bemused by scurrilous and unfounded rumours that were allowed to circulate suggesting that he was having an affair with Theresa Flynn.

They are adamant that he was honourable man, who would not have betrayed his vow of celibacy, the sanctity of marriage or his friend Richard Flynn.

But even if he had, they say, Theresa Flynn was simply out of his league.

"Fr Niall was a deeply holy man but he was also blessed with beautiful good looks," says one close friend of the priest.

"If he was that way inclined, he could have any woman in Roscommon falling at his feet. No offence to Theresa Flynn but she would not have got a look-in."

The Flynns' fortunes declined after the death of their friend and they were forced to sell their mansion. In 1987, Richard came to the attention of the Revenue Commissioners who demanded £126,000 for three businesses in the midlands he had not paid tax on. His wife died some years later.

Today, he has remarried and lives in modest circumstances in Moate, Co Westmeath. In a recent conversation with the Irish Independent in his home, he said he had nothing to say about the case.

Fr Niall Molloy was one of the most respected priests in the midlands.

Before he died, he had just been voted 'Roscommon Man of the Year'.

After his death, his popularity continued as notices began to appear in local papers giving 'grateful thanks for the intercession of Father Molloy'.

Even today, 25 years on, he is still revered in his old parish of Castlecoote, where his picture still hangs over fireplaces and on living room walls.

His heartbroken neighbours and friends have never stopped believing that the truth will one day come out about what happened to their beloved priest and why his family were deprived of the justice they deserved.

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