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Mystery of priest's violent end casts shadow over time

The question of what really happened to Fr Niall Molloy late one night in the bedroom of a society couple remains unanswered to this day, writes Liam Collins

IAN MAHER would raise his arm to show a gold Favre-Leuba watch with a gold bracelet, stopped permanently at 10.40pm. The watch belonged to his uncle, Fr Niall Molloy, and the time, Ian Maher believed, told the moment that the priest was killed in the bedroom of businessman Richard Flynn and his wife Therese.

The death of Fr Molloy in Kilcoursey House, Clara, Co Offaly, only hours after the society wedding of one of the Flynn daughters, and the unanswered questions that remained is still one of the great enigmas of modern Ireland.

Last Sunday Ian Maher, a nephew of Fr Molloy, died at his home in Bray, Co Wicklow. As a representative of the Molloy family, he played a central role in the inquests that followed, the abortive manslaughter trial of Richard Flynn, which collapsed on the direction of Judge T.F. Roe, and the ongoing campaign find out what happened that night.

In his early 50s, Ian Maher was still a relatively young man but for years he had carried the burden of the violent death of his uncle on his broad shoulders. He became a tireless campaigner, trying to find new information, talking to witnesses and journalists in an attempt to focus attention on the case.

"It's eating us up because we don't know what happened that night," Ian Maher said after the trial in the Four Courts, Dublin. "We want to know what went on. The whole thing has been very frustrating, it's destroying everything we ever believed in, the legal system, and the church and the law and the politicians and our faith in democracy. We would like to find out what exactly happened to Niall and why he was left to die for so long."

Fr Niall Molloy, a life-long horse enthusiast, was a close friend of the Flynn family, particularly Mrs Therese Flynn. While Richard Flynn appeared to be a wealthy businessman running a chain of motor accessory shops from Athlone to Galway, Fr Molloy and his wife indulged their passion for horses.

On July 6, 1985 the eldest of the Flynn girls, Maureen, married Ralph Parkes and there was a big society wedding at the sprawling Flynn mansion in Co Offaly. Although Fr Molloy was not at the wedding reception, he called to the house that afternoon and they went visiting family friends.

The trio returned to Kilcoursey House and had a drink and a chat and Richard Flynn says they went to bed at midnight. The priest had his own bedroom in the mansion. Therese Flynn told an inquest that she went to bed first. She said she took a sleeping pill and dozed off. When she awoke, her husband Richard Flynn was in bed beside her and Father Molloy was sitting on the end of the bed, both men having a nightcap.

Richard Flynn then decided to have another drink and his wife told him "get one for father". When he refused, she became abusive and, he maintained, she and Fr Molloy launched a vicious attack on him. He says he hit his wife, knocking her out, and then he struck Fr Molloy twice or three times.

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But according to evidence given at various hearings, Fr Molloy suffered extensive injuries to various parts of his body, and there was an eight-foot bloodstain on the carpet where the body was dragged across the bedroom floor.

Richard Flynn says he threw water on their faces and then went down and phoned the local doctor, Dan O'Sullivan, but got no reply and then phoned the local parish priest, Fr Duignam. After administering the last rights, Fr Duignam went with a member of the family to Kilbeggan village, five miles away, to Dr O'Sullivan's home.

The gardai were first notified at 3.15am when Fr Duignam rang Sergeant Forde. It was 4.20am before back-up arrived from Tullamore. Therese Flynn was by then sedated and admitted to Tullamore Hospital, while Richard Flynn stoutly maintained his original story, that he had beenattacked.

In his only interview on the case, Richard Flynn told the Sunday Independent: "My conscience is clear, I have never lost a moment's sleep."

But the amazing events at Kilcoursey House were to have a far more dramatic effect on the Molloy family. Billy Molloy, the priest's step-brother, died within a year of the trial. Some said his death was brought on by the traumatic effect of the case.

Ian Maher always believed that the watch was a crucial piece of evidence and he wore it all the time. He called a senior member of the murder squad before the trial to tell them the watch was crucial. He was told that it would not be put into evidence.

Before he died, Billy Molloy told Ian Maher to "continue the fight," and for years he did. He followed leads, he interviewed witnesses, he uncovered what he believed was vital new evidence, he tried to get the Catholic Church to use its influence to find out the truth.

He mounted court actions to try to recover horses and land which were jointly owned by Mrs Flynn and Fr Molloy and which the priest's estate had failed to recover after Fr Molloy's death.

But in his pursuit of the truth, he neglected his business. The quest to find the truth also took a heavy toll on his personal life. Eventually he decided he had had enough and that he should get on with the rest of his life. He rebuilt his career, but although he was quite certain he knew what happened in Kilcoursey House that night, he never got official confirmation.

He put bits and pieces of the jigsaw together for himself but officially the case was closed. After a trial that last just one morning, Judge T.F. Roe halted proceedings because he said the evidence of State Pathologist Dr John Harbison indicated that Fr Molloy could have hit a blunt instrument like a bedpost when falling and because he had a weak heart, the fall could have brought on his death.

Kilcoursey House was sold in 1991. Billy Maher, the priest's brother died, some say from the strain of the case. Therese Flynn died too.

In a bizarre twist, the case file was stolen from the Director of Public Prosecutions by the criminal, Martin Cahill, known as the General, who tried to sell it back to the State. Richard Flynn remarried in 1998 and lives outside Athlone where he still runs a business.

Two days before Christmas, Ian Maher died at his home in Bray, Co Wicklow, aged 54. He was cremated last Friday. He is survived by his wife Margaret and his two sons, Colin and Niall.

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