Sunday 25 February 2018

Nobody cried for Harry Gleeson

A farmhand fitted up for murder 75 years ago is to be given a pardon. John Waters, who has been working on a film based on the case, feels he has travelled a fateful road with the wronged man

Harry Gleeson
Harry Gleeson
Moll McCarthy's house
John Waters

John Waters

I have spent many hours over the past 17 years in the company of a man called Harry Gleeson. Lately he's been in the news, his faded, waistcoated image featuring alongside newspaper reports - like one of those grainy album photographs of long-dead relatives, gawky innocents standing smilingly in their good suits as though from the mists of time. Gleeson is about to be granted the State's first ever posthumous pardon, on foot of his conviction and execution in early 1941 for a murder he did not commit.

It was Gleeson who discovered Moll McCarthy's body, on a November morning in 1940, when he was out walking his dogs close to the farm near New Inn, Tipperary, owned by his uncle John Caesar, for whom he worked as a farmhand. McCarthy had been shot twice in the face. Gleeson reported the discovery to gardai, but soon emerged as their chief suspect. Moll was the mother of six children, all reputedly fathered by different men from the locality. It would be suggested at Gleeson's trial that he was the father of her last child, born just six months before her murder.

From this implication, the prosecution's case took a predictable line, insinuating that Gleeson, having expectations of inheriting his uncle's farm, killed McCarthy to prevent the truth coming out. The circumstances in which Moll and her children lived were primitive and challenging, and it was said that she had a number of ongoing liaisons with powerful local men who helped her financially. She had been denounced more than once from the pulpit of the local church and burned out of her house by angry neighbours.

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