There will be a few people very uneasy watching this crime series, says priest’s nephew
It was a death that both shocked and fascinated the nation. Now, 36 years later, it is the subject of a new two-part RTÉ documentary.
On July 8, 1985, a Catholic priest from Roscommon, Fr Niall Molloy, was killed in what are still mysterious circumstances in the master bedroom of Kilcoursey House, a 23-room manor set in spacious grounds near Clara, Co Offaly.
When gardaí and the emergency services were eventually called to the scene more than six hours later, he had wounds to his head and face and there was an eight-feet-long drag mark in blood on the carpet, caused by an attempt to move the body — or did he crawl to his death?
“I’m the culprit,” businessman and horsey set member Richard Flynn told gardaí at the home he shared with his wife, Theresa.
A senior garda recalled that the businessman was calm and collected when first interviewed at 4.45am that morning.
The only witness to the assault, Theresa, had been removed from the house and taken to hospital before gardaí arrived at the scene, so they never got an opportunity to question her that night.
The day before, the Flynn family had been celebrating the high-society wedding of their daughter, Maureen, to Limerick businessman Ralph Parkes, in a marquee on the grounds of Kilcoursey House.
Senior figures from politics and business were said to be there, along with family friends from the equestrian world in which they socialised.
Fr Molloy (52) had been a friend of Theresa Flynn for almost three decades, but did not officiate at the wedding. He was said to have gone to the house the following day to collect a sum of money he believed he was owed by the Flynns.
Some years later, following a £126,000 settlement with the Revenue Commissioners, Richard Flynn was described as “asset rich but cash poor”.
Whether the row was about money will never be known for sure, although the available evidence points toward that being the case.
Flynn was said to have told people immediately after the killing that there had been an argument about politics. He subsequently denied saying so, but one thing was certain — as he was also reported to have said in 1985: “I had a terrible amount of drink taken.”
“There’s only one thing that’s ever been dirtier than sex in Ireland — and that is land and money,” says Bill Maher, a nephew of Fr Molloy, in the documentary to be broadcast in two parts on RTÉ One on Monday, September 6, and Monday, September 13.
The brutal killing took place in the Flynns’ bedroom and Mr Maher is aware of speculation rife at the time that the priest had been having an affair with Theresa Flynn.
“If Niall did have a fling with a woman, it’s not a crime,” he told the Sunday Independent last week. But he added: “There is nothing anywhere to say it’s true, nothing ever emerged to say it was true. And believe me, a lot of reporters tried to find out.”
He believes the real motive to be darker: “Greed. Pure greed.”
The documentary re-examines what happened in the bedroom in those final hours. It also delves into the backgrounds of Fr Molloy and Richard and Theresa Flynn and examines new information that points to a motive.
Producers built a set of the master bedroom and brought in three experts to walk through the events, detailing the discrepancies in statements and testimonies.
The Molloy family believe Fr Molloy wanted to stop bankrolling the couple and end all financial ties.
The Flynns were in difficulty at the time. As Bill Maher says today: “Niall had gone to a solicitor a couple of days before that to disentangle all his business dealings with the Flynns.”
Evidence at Fr Molloy’s inquest revealed that he appeared to have been kicked on the left side of the lower jaw and the inside of the thigh. An injury on the right side of the lower jaw was possibly inflicted with a fist, but a shod foot was more likely, according to the evidence.
Richard Flynn was subsequently cleared of manslaughter and causing actual bodily harm on direction to the jury by presiding Circuit Court judge Frank Roe.
A noted lover of horses who both rode and owned a number of winners, Mr Justice Roe accepted expert evidence that the priest may not have died from his injuries but from a heart attack.
However, the inquest jury found the priest died from head injuries sustained in a fight.
As part of the documentary, Professor Jack Crane, the former Northern Ireland State pathologist, re-examined the evidence.
He tells Mr Maher his uncle had blood and fluid in the lungs, which indicates he was “still alive and breathing” for hours after Richard Flynn said he was dead.
Prof Crane adds that this would “rule out a heart attack because heart attacks tend to occur rapidly and suddenly”.
He says if the priest had received urgent medical attention, there was the “potential for survivability”.
“If you hit a dog on the road, what do you do?” asked Bill Maher. “You get out and try and help it. And here is a man who was their friend, lying on their floor with horrific injuries.
“I have the photographs. His face is quite battered. How could anyone allow him to lie there for several hours without getting help?
“And then it emerges if he had been brought to a hospital he could have survived. Could you imagine if it was a family member of yours?”