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Time to right injustice that cost two lives 73 years ago

MEMORIAL notices in newspapers attract little attention. Death notices are surprisingly widely read: deaths are, by their nature, news.

But memorial notes are essentially private matters: a family wishing to commemorate a loved one and acknowledge the continued pain caused by their loss.

However, a memorial notice published to mark the 73rd anniversary of someone's death is so rare as to be newsworthy.

Especially when it is the first notice ever published in that woman's memory and no photograph accompanies it, because the only known photograph is her corpse, after being brutally shot in the face.

Research into the case in recent years suggests that members of the gardai and the legal establishment, all of whom have died, conspired to ensure that an innocent and bewildered neighbour, Harry Gleeson, was executed for her murder.


Last week saw the wounds of this double atrocity (the murders of an innocent woman and an innocent man) reopened with the publication of an Irish Independent memorial notice: "To the memory of Mary McCarthy, an unmarried mother of 6 children who cherished her ... Moll Carty was brutally murdered on 21st November 1940, 73 years ago today at Marlhill, New Inn, Co Tipperary ... In life, Mary McCarthy was a social outcast. Let us remember her with respect, in death."

It's been reported that the notice was placed by the family and friends of Harry Gleeson.

Moll McCarthy's mother was a streetwalker in Dublin until she inherited a cabin and two acres of land in Tipperary. Under her mother's influence, Moll drifted into a different type of prostitution: a succession of short relationships with local men who paid with small gifts of food.

She normally only received a larger present, like a winter's supply of turf, when a relationship ended, to assuage the men's guilt and buy her discretion.

She was especially hated by women, who placed all blame for such relationships on her shoulders, as if the husbands who visited her cottage had no will of their own.

Moll was a good mother (the State failed in court cases to remove her children). But in her dire poverty, all she could give her first six children was food and warmth and a discreet clue to the identity of their different birth fathers.

But when a ruthless local IRA leader fathered her seventh child, Moll knew it was too dangerous to leave any clue to his identity. This child died within months, but by then Moll McCarthy unwittingly knew too much incriminating information about the IRA man who dumped her.

She could also incriminate the married men who fathered her other children and dozens of men – from farm labourers to gardai – who sought her sexual favours.

Knowledge is a dangerous commodity. Therefore after being murdered, her body was placed in a field where her killers knew that a kindly bachelor would find it.

This innocent man, Harry Gleeson, managed his uncle's farm – beside Moll's tiny cabin. He often showed Christian kindness to his impoverished neighbour, by supplying her children with food. Locals knew there was no sexual motive behind Gleeson's kindness. In 1940s Ireland locals knew exactly who sought out Moll's sexual favours and who did not.

One Garda sergeant in the local barracks, Anthony Daly, not only knew of Gleeson's innocence but knew in advance that, acting from civic duty, Harry Gleeson would call to the barracks to report his grim discovery.

Daly was a thuggish married cop sent to New Inn to hunt down the equally thuggish IRA leader. When Daly started sleeping with Moll he did not realise that he and the Republican were now among the chain of men she had slept with.

Gleeson unwittingly became the second innocent victim in a game between the IRA leader and the Garda sergeant, who became allies in the conspiracy of silence leading to Gleeson's execution.

The novelist, Carlo Gebler, has written a novel – The Dead Eight – a fictional account of how the Republican discovered that Daly was sleeping with Moll, he decided to have her murdered.

According to Gebler, "Daly only found out the truth when the Republican came to his house on the night Moll was killed to say they had both slept with the same woman and they should 'fit up' the man likely to find her body, Harry Gleeson, for murder."

"Daly had to do a lot of work to make the case coherent," says Gebler, "but was industrious and had the support of superiors who wanted an arrest made, with no awkward questions asked."

Under Daly's manipulation, Gleeson became the only suspect. Gleeson was so blatantly innocent that after his execution his junior counsel, Sean McBride, became an advocate against capital punishment, who later co-founded Amnesty International.


Gleeson had no chance against a prosecution case based on a police fit-up, despite having a cast iron alibi. McBride emerges from the case badly, as do the courts, the Government, the police and the local priest who helped to cow locals into silence.

The book of evidence against Gleeson was fabricated, so no local man need mention in court their sexual relationships with Moll.

According to Gebler, "Everyone knew that the police's case that Moll was blackmailing Harry Gleeson was untrue. But the only way to prove that Gleeson wasn't sexually involved was to say who was.

"Nobody – especially the parish priest – wanted Moll's clients named in court which would bring shame on New Inn, onto the betrayed wives and the men who'd betrayed them. So everyone kept quiet and let the guards do what they did."

Many locals in New Inn knew exactly who murdered Moll McCarthy. Last week's Memorial Notice is the latest attempt to break the silence around a conspiracy where society looked away as Irish justice condemned to death an innocent man.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter had ordered a review of the case, something long overdue.

It is time to correct the injustice done to two neighbours, Moll McCarthy and Harry Gleeson, 73 years ago.