A new book looks in detail at the death of Fr Niall Molloy 37 years ago. The story isn’t over yet, say its authors
All these years later, the tragic death of Fr Niall Molloy in Kilcoursey House outside Clara, Co Offaly, still carries a strong whiff of scandal, cover-up and miscarriage of justice. Now a new book has resurrected the story so those fascinated by true crime can mull over the characteristics and contradictions surrounding a death that changed so many lives for ever.
Fr Molloy’s death has left a list of unanswered questions as long as the eight-foot “drag mark” of his blood on the carpet in the bedroom where he died.
Most of the main players in what many believe was a murder are now, like Fr Molloy, dead. There were three people in the upstairs bedroom of the Flynn mansion that night 37 years ago, but the explanations of Richard and Theresa Flynn never really carried the ring of truth. Sotto voce, some asked: what if?
What if in the hours before the gardaí and the doctor were summoned it was decided to rearrange the scene of the killing to fit in with the facts that were eventually presented to detectives?
The facts are well documented. It is the supposition, rumour and false memories that have made the Fr Molloy case an obsession that has transcended all these years of public scrutiny.
The book, Anatomy of an Injustice: The Killing of Father Niall Molloy, sets out a five-page timeline from 7pm that night — Sunday, July 7, 1985 — until 6.30am the following morning. It details where everybody was, where they said they were, where other people said they were — which was sometimes different — and lays bare the discrepancies that would later emerge.
The facts may have emerged in court cases, inquests, newspaper articles and documentaries, but it is the missing links that still tug at those seeking the truth about what happened, something that has been so long buried it realistically will never be revealed.
On July 7, the day after Richard and Theresa Flynn’s daughter, Maureen, married Ralph Parkes, from Limerick, at a society wedding in Kilcoursey House, friends and guests gathered on the lawn for a celebration lunch.
Among them was Fr Molloy (52), a priest who was working in Castlecoote, Co Roscommon, and shared a love and business interest in horses with Mrs Flynn. He was on such good terms with the family that he had his own bedroom in their home.
When the lunch party broke up, the Flynns and Fr Molloy went over to their neighbours, the Goodbodys, for a drink and a chat before arriving back at Kilcoursey at around 9pm. On that return journey, they met their other children — David, Anita and Zandra — and Ralph Parkes on their way in to Clara to White’s pub.
Once home, the Flynns and Fr Molloy had a couple of drinks before the three of them ended up in Mrs Flynn’s bedroom, which adjoined Fr Molloy’s room upstairs. Mr Flynn (47) said later that his wife and Fr Molloy attacked him when a row developed about who would go down to get another drink.
At about 1am, parish priest Fr James Deignan gave Fr Molloy the last rites before leaving to go back to the parochial house to get his glasses so he could phone the doctor. As the minutes ticked by, members of the Flynn family began arriving. New bride Maureen, a nurse, found Fr Molloy lying on his back with a pool of blood at his head. She could not find a pulse, so closed his eyes and covered his face with a towel.
Some time after 2am, Dr Daniel O’Sullivan arrived from Kilbeggan, but it was not until 3.15am that Fr Deignan knocked on the door of Clara garda station to rouse Sgt Kevin Forde and tell him a man had died in an accident at Kilcoursey House. When he arrived at 3.30am, Mr Flynn apologised for bringing him out at such an hour and said it was “a messy old business”.
Had he any idea of just how messy it was going to get between then and a year later when he stood trial in the Central Criminal Court, charged with the manslaughter of Fr Molloy?
On Thursday, June 12, 1986, the case was heard by Judge Frank Roe, the “racing judge”, who knew the Flynns through the horse business. The state pathologist, Dr John Harbison, concluded that acute brain swelling caused by multiple injuries to the head and neck, likely to have been caused by five or six blows, was the cause of death. The court also heard Fr Molloy suffered from heart disease, but of a level quite normal for a man of his age.
This did not deter Mr Flynn’s senior counsel, Paddy McEntee, from making an application to have the case dismissed because Mr Flynn was acting in self-defence when he struck his wife and Fr Molloy, saying the latter could have died from acute heart failure after falling and hitting his head on the bedpost.
Judge Roe recalled the jury, which had been absent during legal argument.
“In this case there is no evidence as to what happened, except the statement made by Mr Flynn, and on his own
statement it would not be proper to convict him,” he told them, before directing them to return a verdict of not guilty.
Maresa Fagan and Sharon Lawless, who worked on a three-part documentary about the case that was screened by RTÉ, have written the new book that looks in to the business relationship between Fr Molloy and the Flynns, the purchase of a house in Connemara that fell through and plans by Fr Molloy and Mrs Flynn to buy land at Kilcoursey from Mr Flynn instead.
An insurance policy and documentation to buy the house claimed Mrs Flynn was Fr Molloy’s sister. An attempt was made in August 1985 to claim on the policy with a note signed in her name. When this became public knowledge in 1988, Mrs Flynn denied she was involved, and called a handwriting expert to confirm her claim.
Fagan and Lawless also investigate how involved the church was in a subsequent cover-up. The parish priest rang the Bishop of Elphin when he went home that night to get his glasses, so the bishop was aware of events in Kilcoursey before the
Intriguingly, there were also attempts by both the Flynns and by Fr Molloy’s family to find his will. Fr Molloy had been an Army chaplain before being assigned a parish. It was believed that before going on a tour of duty to Cyprus in late 1972 with the 23rd Infantry Squadron, he had made a will, but none was ever found.
A note from the Office of Records to the Army’s head chaplain, saying he had deposited a will with a (priest) colleague and that it was held in St Mary’s Sligo, was confirmed on the official record, although what significance it would hold 13 years later when Fr Molloy died is uncertain.
When Billy Molloy, the priest’s brother, took out administration on the estate on June 13, 1986, the assets came to £6,278.15.
Then there was the intervention of Martin ‘The General’ Cahill, who ransacked the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, making off with confidential files, including that on the killing of Fr Molloy. This was, apparently, seen later by members of the criminal fraternity, before it was handed back as part of a “secret deal”.
“The story isn’t over yet,” the authors of the new book say; yet, sadly, it is for many of those involved.
In a tale with such twists and turns, who knows what might yet emerge — or maybe the truth of that July night has indeed gone to the grave with Fr Niall Molloy and Richard and Theresa Flynn.
Anatomy of an Injustice: The Killing of Father Niall Molloy, by Maresa Fagan and Sharon Lawless, will be published by Mirror Books on September 29