Monday 23 September 2019

Lay of the Land: Cold Christmas of more than a missing postman

Stock image
Stock image

Fiona O'Connell

Times have changed. For Christmas Day in 1929 found married father-of-four Larry Griffin putting on his postman's outfit as usual, before cycling from his home in south-east Ireland to deliver mail to the surrounding areas.

Much like the glass of good cheer awaiting Santa with his sack of goodies, it was customary to offer the man with the mailbag a thank you tipple. Presumably Griffin wasn't the only postie to be a tad tipsy as a result. Though that's when this Father Ted-type tale takes a tragic turn, with Griffin doomed to become the unenviable enigma in the case of the missing postman.

For a conspiracy of silence persisted in the village where he was last seen, despite over 20 people allegedly witnessing what happened. Exposing the tenuous esteem in which the church was held, for all its control, as bishops begged their congregations in vain for information.

The case caused huge embarrassment for the government, the innocence and ideals of the Free State arguably eclipsed by a new era where rights trumped responsibility. It shamed the fledgling Garda Siochana, founded only seven years previously, especially as guards were among those charged with Griffin's murder.

They included other pillars of the community, such as schoolteacher Thomas Cashin, who drove around the guards looking for Griffin's body in the same car that was used to dispose of it.

After Griffin dropped three half crowns in the pub, Ned Morrissey picked them up and used them to buy drinks. There was a scuffle, before Morrissey deliberately tripped Griffin up, causing him to fatally fall.

Then darkness descended. Or as Jim Fitzgerald's testimony chillingly put it "nobody said anything about going for the priest or doctor". Because it would have ruined publican Patrick Whelan, while others like Master Cashin and Garda Dullea and Murphy would have lost their jobs.

So they hid Griffin's body, the 10 defendants cheering when the case collapsed and they were acquitted. Many of them went on to profit from libel actions.

There were losers. Like Fitzgerald, the State's only witness until he withdrew his testimony after repeated threats. The labourer could not find work in the area afterwards and moved to Galway, ending his life in a home for the elderly poor.

While there is a cruel irony in the postman's wife, Mary, who received letters from time to time telling her where his body was, though nothing came of any search. For not just a postman went missing that Christmas; where was compassion? Griffin's grandson says the loss devastated the family, who longed for answers. But above all "just to get hold of the body, so they could give him a Christian burial".

It seems apt that drinking in pubs was forbidden on another day, aside from the one celebrating the birth of a saviour who brought peace and goodwill.

Which was Good Friday; when we crucified Him.

Sunday Independent

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