Per­haps, some of those in au­thor­ity were ready to let a mur­derer go free to avoid the scan­dal of a priest hav­ing sex with his house­keeper

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

The 19-year-old girl at the cen­tre of the case was work­ing as a house­keeper for Fr Ryans when she be­came preg­nant.

Fr Ryans later gave a num­ber of ex­pla­na­tions about how the young woman be­came preg­nant. In one of his ac­counts, he said the fa­ther of the baby was a “friend of his fam­ily” who used to visit him in his house. As a re­sult of the fam­ily link, he said he was anx­ious to have the mat­ter “cloaked up”.

But there was a wide­spread be­lief lo­cally that the priest was the fa­ther of the child.

Fr Ryans sent the girl to Dublin for the last three months of her preg­nancy, pay­ing for her up­keep.

Giv­ing a false name, Kate Brown, she gave birth to a girl in Holles Street Hos­pi­tal. The baby was named on the birth cert as Rose Brown, and there was no men­tion on the doc­u­ment of a fa­ther.

The mother and Fr Ryans dropped the baby on the doorstep in Broad­stone two weeks af­ter she was born.

Then, in the fol­low­ing month, the mur­der of Dr Mul­doon hap­pened. In the days af­ter the shoot­ing, Fr Ryans was im­me­di­ately linked to the killing. There were ru­mours of a con­nec­tion to the events at the Black Church in Dublin a month ear­lier, and spec­u­la­tion that an IRA gang had been re­cruited to carry out the mur­der. Fr Ryans was a sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure in lo­cal repub­li­can cir­cles and took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War.

A state­ment from the anti-Treaty IRA af­ter the mur­der took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the killing while at the same time seek­ing to quell the spec­u­la­tion.

Is­sued by the ‘Pub­lic­ity Depart­ment of the Repub­li­can Party’, the state­ment said: “It is be­ing stated that a civil­ian was re­spon­si­ble for the death of Dr Mul­doon, Mo­hill, Co Leitrim. This is en­tirely un­true.”

The IRA claimed that Vol­un­teers had mis­taken Dr Mul­doon and his friend for Free State sol­diers “in mufti”, and said that the pair had re­fused to halt when ap­proached. The state­ment de­scribed the killing as an “un­avoid­able ac­ci­dent”.

The ex­pla­na­tion given by the IRA is seen as im­plau­si­ble, and is con­tra­dicted by ev­i­dence given at the doc­tor’s in­quest. The widow, Rita Mul­doon, wrote to news­pa­pers, deny­ing the IRA’s claims.

Lo­cal his­to­rian Cor­mac Ó’Súil­leab­háin, who is in­ter­viewed in the doc­u­men­tary, says: “It’s eas­ily the most in­trigu­ing and con­tro­ver­sial killing of the time.

“A 32-year-old doc­tor mar­ried with three kids [the fourth child was on the way]. He was quite well got, a well-re­spected man. It was ob­vi­ous there was some­thing un­der­ly­ing, some­thing else in the back­ground (that) caused it.”

Hav­ing re­searched the events sur­round­ing the mur­der for two years, pro­gramme maker Tim Des­mond says: “We can’t be 100pc sure why the doc­tor was shot.

“How­ever, the ev­i­dence sug­gests that the doc­tor was killed be­cause he had in­formed the Bishop of Ardagh and Clon­mac­noise Joseph Hoare that the priest was the fa­ther of the child.

“The doc­tor knew that the priest was the fa­ther be­cause the girl had gone to him for as­sis­tance dur­ing the preg­nancy. And he was will­ing to give ev­i­dence at the trial for the aban­don­ment of the child.”

Des­mond says the ev­i­dence in­di­cates that the priest or­dered or per­suaded a lo­cal IRA gang to carry out the mur­der.

The priest’s first prob­lem that spring was to deal with the charge of aban­don­ing the baby, with three wit­nesses tes­ti­fy­ing against him.

Ac­cord­ing to Des­mond, the priest was tried three times, and in all three cases the jury could not agree on a ver­dict.

“The pros­e­cu­tion ap­pears to have dropped the charges and there was no fur­ther trial,” says Des­mond. For much of this time, the priest was held in cus­tody in Moun­tjoy Jail, but he was re­leased in late 1923.

Mean­while, there was an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der of the doc­tor, and Fr Ryans was prime sus­pect. Gen­eral Seán Mac Eoin of the Free State Na­tional Army was heav­ily in­volved in deal­ing with the case.

“An ini­tial Army re­port by Gen­eral Mac Eoin puts Fr Ryans right in the frame,” Des­mond says.

The Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tions Depart­ment (CID) came to Mo­hill to look into the case and took state­ments. Ac­cord­ing to Des­mond, they also es­tab­lished that the priest was the chief sus­pect.

But no charges were brought against Fr Ryans for the mur­der. “There was a feel­ing that this in­di­vid­ual had done bad things, but rather than pros­e­cute him, there was an agree­ment that he would go away,” Des­mond says.

“The priest agreed with the bishop’s sug­ges­tion that he should go away. That was his pun­ish­ment.”

Fr Ryans sailed to Amer­ica two years af­ter the mur­der, spend­ing time in Florida and Ne­vada, be­fore mov­ing to More­cambe in Lan­cashire. He was con­fronted at least once by a mem­ber of the Mul­doon fam­ily but ve­he­mently de­nied the killing un­til his dy­ing day.

The baby at the cen­tre of the aban­don­ment case died of gas­tri­tis in a mother and baby home just a few months af­ter she was born, and lit­tle is known about what hap­pened to her mother.

An Un­holy Trin­ity will be broad­cast to­day on RTÉ Ra­dio 1 at 1pm: rte.ie/do­conone

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