Thursday 22 February 2018

‘On the day of his death, Fr Niall said he was dreading going over to the Flynns’

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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