By Sean Ryan
A Kerryman looks set to receive a presidential pardon after almost 126 years.
John Twiss from Cordal, Castleisland, in County Kerry was hanged in Cork County Gaol in 1895 for a murder which many say he did not commit.
The Twiss family have been campaigning for a presidential pardon for the last number of years. The family and many others believed Twiss was innocent of the murder of James Donovan on 21 April, 1894. Mr Donovan was a caretaker of an evicted farm at Glenlara near Newmarket in County Cork.
Following the trial and conviction, which took place in Cork in January 1895, a reprieve campaign was organised and more than forty thousand signatures collected in Ireland and Britain. Lord Lieutenant, Lord Houghton and Chief Secretary John Morley, however, refused to intervene.
The campaign has garnered further support from the Michael O’Donoghue Memorial Project in Castleisland which has submitted several pieces of documentation to the Department of Justice saying Mr Twiss’s conviction was unsafe. Now Justice Minister Helen McEntee is considering a presidential pardon.
Speaking in the Dáil, Ms McEntee said that she is awaiting a report from UCD associate professor Niamh Howlin, an expert on 19th century trial law in Ireland.
She said ‘’If it is advised that a presidential pardon should be awarded, I will bring that to Cabinet and then it goes on to the President to decide, following advice of Government, as to whether a pardon should be granted’’. She added ‘’Where a miscarriage of Justice may have occurred it is extremely important that we correct the record. We need to provide clarity and assurance to the family.”
The move has been welcomed by Kerry TD Brendan Griffin who brought the issue to the Minister’s attention. He said ‘’Many experts over the years have examined the case in detail and have found there is no possible way this man could have committed the terrible crime that he was accused of.’’
Deputy Griffin said the BBC did a documentary on the case “and got barristers and solicitors to look at the defence and prosecution and they found it was an unsafe conviction. It was practically impossible for him to have been at the scene on the night.”
He said he brought the case to former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan after a presidential pardon was granted in 2018 to Myles Joyce, one of three Connemara men hanged for the murder of a family of five, also called Joyce, in their home in Maamtrasna on the Galway/Mayo border in 1882.
Only four presidential pardons have been awarded since the 1930s, and the Maamtrasna case was the first where a pardon was issued for an offence that occurred before the State’s foundation.
Mr Griffin said that “when John Twiss went to the gallows, he swore on his dying breath that he was innocent”. He added: “John’s case was conducted in English and he didn’t speak English, so there wasn’t a proper defence conducted.”