Fr Niall Molloy
In the 31 years since the death of Fr Niall Molloy many journalists – Veronica Guerin, Gene Kerrigan, Justine McCarthy and Gemma O’Doherty among them – have sought to make sense of what happened that night in Clara, Co. Offaly in July, 1985.
But with each apparent breakthrough comes disappointment for the Molloy family.
The reason being that this cover-up involves not just gardai, the church, judiciary and the medical profession but, perhaps uniquely in a scandal of this nature, upper echelons of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
This has arguably ensured that even now, when many of those who were there that night have passed away, the cover-up persists.
To mark the anniversary of Fr Niall’s death, we have compiled a timeline covering the night he died and the subsequent efforts to find him justice. We will correct/amend any errors/omissions.
July 6, 1985: Maureen Flynn marries Ralph Parkes, from Limerick, in the church at Clara, Co. Offaly.
The reception – attended by, among others, Fianna Fáil’s Brian Lenihan Snr – is held in a marquee at nearby Kilcoursey House hosted by the bride’s parents, Richard and Therese Flynn.
Family friend Fr Niall Molloy – known as Fr Niall – who has been close friends with the couple for many years, and had a bedroom in their house – does not officiate at the wedding, but arrives during the reception and is seated at the top table.
July 7, 1985: Fr Niall leaves for Kilcoursey to attend an afternoon lunch at Kilcoursey hosted by Richard and Teresa Flynn. Caterers arrive to set up the meal but leave at or around the time the guests start arriving, at 2pm.
Until 3.15am, the next morning, when Fr Niall’s death is formally reported to the Gardaí, the only record of events is to be found in the statements of the Flynn family, the parish priest of Clara, Fr Jim Deignan, and the local doctor, Dr O’Sullivan, the contents of which may be summarised below.
According to the Flynn family, all guests leave by 7pm. According to Therese and Richard, they then drive with Fr Niall to the house of a neighbour, Douglas Goodbody, for a drink, arriving back at Kilcoursey between 9pm and 10pm.
Ann Flynn and Maureen Parkes – who had remained to look after Richard Flynn’s elderly aunt May Quinn, who lived with the Flynns – leaves to join other young guests at White’s Pub in Clara.
May Quinn goes to bed at midnight, in a room at the other end of the corridor from the Flynns’ bedroom, and claims to know nothing of what had occurred until she wakes the next morning – other than the fact that Fr Molloy was alive at midnight, when she met him on her way to get a bedtime drink from the kitchen.
According to Richard and Therese, they sit and chat downstairs with Fr Niall until midnight, when – at Richard’s suggestion – they move to the bedroom to continue their chat over a nightcap. Subsequently, Therese goes to bed and takes a sleeping tablet.
She remembers waking and finding her husband in bed with her and Fr Niall sitting at the end of the bed, chatting. The next thing she remembers is finding herself on the floor next to Fr Niall, who is dead.
According to Richard Flynn, a row had broken out between himself, his wife and Fr Niall as to who should go down to get more drink, in the course of which Flynn hit his wife, and also hit Fr Molloy a couple of times. He left the room to phone the parish priest, Jim Deignan, and a doctor, and when he returned Fr Niall was dead.
According to his own account, Fr Deignan arrives at Kilcoursey at approximately 1.30am. He then administers the Last Rites to Fr Niall before returning home briefly. There are differing accounts of why he returned home. He himself says that it was because he had forgotten his reading glasses. However, Ralph Parkes stated that Fr Deignan told him that he had returned home to check to see if he had the correct phone number for the local doctor.
Fr Deignan’s return to Kilcoursey is noted in the Flynn family statements as occurring at 1am, coinciding with the return from David Flynn’s house of Maureen and Ralph Parkes, Zandra and Anita Flynn and two family friends, Denis and Marie Hoctor. Ralph Parkes says that he subsequently phoned David Flynn, who came over with his wife, Ann.
Contact is also made with a local doctor, Dr Daniel O’Sullivan, although again different accounts exist as to both the exact time of this contact and the particular family member who made the contact. Although Dr O’Sullivan is the family doctor, he lives 15 minutes away while another doctor, Doctor Corboy, lives only 5 minutes away. Dr O’Sullivan is friendly with Richard Flynn and the two men had previously discussed going into the hotel business together.
1.45am: O’Sullivan is seen leaving for Kilcoursey by an independent witness. He subsequently gives evidence that when he arrived at Kilcoursey he was told by Richard that Fr Molloy came into his bedroom some time after an argument downstairs. Flynn says that he fell after being hit by Fr Molloy and then got up and hit him himself. According to Dr O’Sullivan, Fr Niall’s body was still warm when he arrived and Therese Flynn was in a state of hysteria. Before leaving the house, he calls an ambulance and accepts Fr Deignan’s word that Molloy is dead.
3.15am: Fr Deignan arrives at Tullamore Garda Station and reports Fr Molloy’s death to Sergeant Kevin Forde, implying that the death was accidental, but that it was important to keep it quiet because of the scandal. Around the same time, Therese Flynn, accompanied by Maureen, arrives at and is admitted to Tullamore General Hospital.
3.30am: Sgt Forde arrives at Kilcoursey and is taken by Dr O’Sullivan to view Fr Molloy’s corpse, which is lying face upwards just inside the door of Richard and Therese Flynn’s bedroom. The body is fully clothed with a shirt pulled out at the back. There is a towel over the face and there is blood on the face. The lip is burst and there is a cut on the lower left jaw.
There is a large bloodstain between the body and the bed. There is also blood on the floor around the bed, on the bedclothes, which are in a state of disarray, and on two wall pictures directly above the body. Blood is also found on the bannisters. Dr O’Sullivan identifies Fr Niall to Sgt Forde and says he has been dead for ‘a couple of hours’.
Sgt Forde is then taken downstairs to meet Richard Flynn who is wearing nightclothes. Mr Flynn states that he struck his wife with his left hand and hit Fr Niall at least twice with his right hand.
4.25am: Inspector Tom Monaghan arrives at Kilcoursey and is again told by Richard Flynn: ‘I’m the culprit’. Flynn denies having encountered his wife and Fr Molloy in a compromising position and says that the the row was over drink.
7.30am: Solicitor Liam Lysaght arrives at Kilcoursey after having travelled down from Dublin.
12.00pm: Lysaght tells Monaghan that Richard Flynn will not be making a statement.
1.47pm: Fr Niall’s corpse is identified by Canon Patrick Murray and examined by Chief State Pathologist John Harbison. Harbison describes the body as lying on its back approximately three feet from the saddle of the door of the main bedroom with the trunk at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees to the partition wall between the bedroom and the adjoining bathroom.
The body is described as fully clothed with a tweed jacket lying on the floor adjacent to the feet. There is white froth on the mouth and an injury to the left side of the upper lip and to the angle of the lower jaw on the left cheek. In addition to the large blood stain on the floor and the disordered bed mentioned by Forde, Harbison notes an area around the bed where clothes, male and female, are scattered.
2.30pm: Fr Niall’s corpse is removed to Tullamore General Hospital where Harbison carries out a full post-mortem examination identifying six different areas of injury to Fr Niall’s head as well as bruising to his legs. His report states that there was no injury of a defensive or offensive nature on the arms or hands.
The heart and and surrounding tissue are found to be healthy, and the blood alcohol level within the limits of normal social interaction. On sectioning the brain, traumatic sub-arachnoid haemorrhage is found. Harbison concludes that Fr Niall died of “acute brain swelling and acute sub-dural haemorrhage, both resulting from multiple injuries to the face and neck, principally to the face”. Harrison concludes that the time of death was a period, “late on the night of the July 7or very early in the hours of the July 8.”
A subsequent survey of the bedroom and house, carried out by Gardaí, identifies blood spatters and smears throughout the bedroom and on a towel in the bathroom opposite. Downstairs, the glass top of a coffee table in the television room appears to have been recently broken. There are no traces of blood downstairs.
Later that afternoon, Fr Niall’s brother William Molloy arrives at Kilcoursey, accompanied by two priests. Richard Flynn tells him that he hit Fr Niall in the course of a political row.
July 15, 1985: Fr Niall’s niece is told by solicitors Fair and Murtagh about an arrangement between Fr Niall and the Flynns in 1984 whereby Fr Molloy was to purchase land at Kilcoursey. The sale fell through because Land Commission consent was not forthcoming, but Fr Niall’s deposit of £11,000 was retained by the Flynns.
Lysaght provides statements to the Gardaí on behalf of the Flynn family.
July 19, 1985: Inspector Monaghan seeks to interview Richard Flynn in relation to his financial transactions with Fr Niall. Mr Flynn refuses to talk without his solicitor.
July 23, 1985: Inspector Monaghan interviews Therese Flynn who tells him that she had repaid Fr Nialls deposit two months prior to his death from money kept by her in a safe in the house. Gardaí later established that there was no safe in Kilcoursey House.
July 31, 1985: The Garda file in respect of Fr Niall’s death is forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Eamon Barnes.
August 20, 1985: Barnes directs that Richard Flynn be prosecuted for manslaughter and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
December, 1985: A son is born to Ralph and Maureen Parkes.
February 27, 1986: It is reported that Richard Flynn has opted for trial in Dublin. The trial will be held before Judge Frank Roe, recently appointed President of the Circuit Court, a former jockey and well known in equestrian circles. According to Fr Niall’s nephew Bill Maher, Judge Roe knew both the Flynns and FrNiall.
June 12, 1986: Richard Flynn’s trial for manslaughter and assault takes place in the Dublin Circuit Court. After hearing the prosecution case, Judge Roe directs a nolle prosequi in respect of all charges against Richard Flynn on the basis that the cause of death has been insufficiently proved.
Judge Roe said that the trio had been friends for 30 years and that this was not the first time friends had struck each other blows but that it was “unlucky” that it led to a death. He also said that because this “great tragedy” had taken place in a couple’s bedroom and had given rise to much publicity and “unpleasant talk”, he was taking the “unusual but not improper” step of declaring that there had not been “an iota of evidence” to suggest that there was anything improper in the relationship between Fr Niall and the Flynns. This relationship in fact had been “perfectly proper, so proper he went into the friend’s bedroom”.
July 8, 1986: It is reported that a watch, found on Fr Niall’s corpse and subsequently handed back to his family, had stopped at 10.40pm.
July 9, 1986: Brian Lenihan’s son Conor writes an article in The Irish Press praising Judge Roe for his judicial skills.
July 23, 1986: The Garda file in respect of Fr Niall’s death is handed over to his relatives.
July 24-26, 1986: The inquest into Fr Niall’s death takes place following a last-minute withdrawal by Coroner Patrick Grealy due to laryngitis. His place is taken by Brian Mahon, Deputy Coroner and son of District Justice Seamus Mahon. Both Richard and Therese give evidence at the inquest along the lines of the statements furnished by Lysaght.
When asked by counsel for the Fr Molloy family if he was swinging or aiming punches, Mr Flynn replies: “I was protecting myself. I was attacked by Fr Molloy… Vicious.”
Mr Flynn said that when he refused to get the next drink his wife and Fr Niall both”‘went for him” and he struck both of them in the face with his fists. He then suffered a memory lapse until he saw them both lying on the floor.
Although Richard Flynn says that he only struck Fr Niall two to three times, pathologist John Harbison gives evidence that Fr Niall had been struck at least five to six times, probably with a fist, although under cross-examination at the earlier trial he had conceded that some injuries could have been sustained by falling against a hard object.
Richard Flynn also denies the evidence of Dr O’Sullivan that he had been told by Mr Flynn that an argument had developed downstairs. Contradicting the view of Judge Roe, that the cause of death had been insufficiently proved, the inquest jury held that Fr Niall had died from a brain haemorrhage caused by serious injuries to the head.
Subsequently, Richard and Therese Flynn’s son, David, said the family wished to offer sympathy to the Molloy family, saying: “We have been through a very difficult time over the past year and it was made more difficult because we knew things and could not explain them before now.”
Later that year, Fr Niall’s brother William receives an anonymous letter from a person claiming to have worked as a waiter at the lunch the day after the wedding. This person states that a row broke out downstairs earlier in the day as a result of which Fr Molloy was injured.
Therese Flynn took him upstairs to recover and a further row broke out in which Fr Niall was killed. Subsequently William Molloy receives a further anonymous letter in which it is alleged that Fr Niall bled to death as a result of an operation and that his killer was someone other than Richard Flynn.
May 24, 1987: William Molloy dies.
August 29-31, 1987: Martin Cahill steals a number of files, including the Fr Niall file, from the DPP’s office. In his book, The General: Godfather of Crime, Paul Williams later wrote of the theft, saying:
“Included in the files were documents on a number of Garda corruption cases and the file on the controversial death in 1986 of wealthy midland priest, Fr Niall Molloy. Officially, 145 files were stated to have been taken, but some underworld sources have since claimed the number was over three hundred.”
October 20, 1987: A report from pathologist Dermot Hourihane suggests that Fr Niall may have died from kicks rather than blows of the fist and survived for some time after being hit.
November, 1987: The Revenue Commissioners register judgments totalling £126K against Richard Flynn for unpaid taxes on three businesses in Athlone, including Therese’s coffee shop. The shop subsequently closes down.
April, 1988: The sum of £13,000 in damages is awarded against Richard Flynn in Tullamore Circuit Court in respect of the loss caused to Fr Niall’s family by his death. It is reported that Fr Niall insured his life prior to his death in favour of Therese Flynn, described on the policy as his sister and that, following his death, a claim was made on the policy by letter written on Kilcoursey House notepaper. In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, Therese Flynn tearfully denies having made any such claim. Her son David Flynn, also asked about the claim, has no comment to make.
October 6, 1988: Fr Niall’s nephew and administrator of his estate Ian Maher requests re-opening of the investigation into his death.
December, 1990 – January, 1991: A fire occurs in the offices of the Offaly County Coroner. Thank-you cards to the Coroner from the Molloy family are destroyed but the main inquest file is left intact.
December, 1992: The Garda file on Fr Niall’s death is returned to Gardaí by Martin Cahill in a Dunnes Stores shopping bag.
March, 1993: Liam Lysaght is censured and fined by the High Court, on foot of a Law Society Disciplinary Committee finding, that he wrongfully denied having acted for a partnership involving Fr Molloy and Therese Flynn.
August, 1993: Therese Flynn dies.
October 16, 1994: An article by Veronica Guerin in the Sunday Independent claims that the Garda file on the death of Fr Niall contains a letter from Judge Frank Roe to the DPP Eamon Barnes confirming his knowledge of all parties in the case.
2000: Fr Niall’s nephew and personal representative Ian Maher dies at 52.
2003: Judge Frank Roe dies. His obituary in The Irish Times states:
“[h]e came from a staunch Fine Gael family and his political sympathies were always well known. He was described as ‘strong Fine Gael’ this week by those who knew him, and he was active in Fine Gael politics for most of his legal career.”
October 23, 2010: An article by Gemma O’Doherty in the Irish Independent raises concerns about the investigation into Fr Molloy’s death and the trial of Richard Flynn.
November 25, 2011: David Flynn is questioned on a voluntary basis as part of the re-opened Garda Serious Crime Review Team’s investigation into Fr Molloy’s death on foot of Ms O’Doherty’s article. In the course of this questioning he agrees that, after 1985, his relationship with his mother changed from mother and son to a purely business arrangement. He also describes the relationship between his mother and Fr Niall as closer than most married couples.
November 9, 2012: David Flynn reverts about the coffee table downstairs stating that his sister had informed him that it had been broken either during the wedding or shortly afterwards by a 12-year-old boy.
March 1, 2013: The Garda Serious Crime Review Team (SCRT) publishes its report into the death of Fr Molloy. The report examined the original investigation and concludes that all guests at the wedding on July 6, 1985, should have been identified and interviewed; that house-to-house inquiries should have been conducted; and that a burglary at Fr Molloy’s home shortly before his death should have been properly investigated.
It also concludes that Fr Molloy’s wristwatch should not have been returned to the Molloy family without a proper investigation of its condition. The report also expresses concern that the gardaí had not sought the opinion of Dr Michael Farrell, a consultant neuropathologist, at an early stage. The report finds no evidence to prove Judge Roe sent any letters to the DPP. There were no such letters on file and no witness who saw the alleged correspondence could be found. It also finds no evidence that politicians were present on the night of Fr Molloy’s death.
October 15, 2013: Journalist Maresa Fagan, in the Roscommon Herald, reports:
Senator [Terry] Leyden indicated that he had recently raised the Fr Molloy case with Minister Michael Noonan, who had been Minister for Justice at the time of the Castlecoote priest’s death.
The Fianna Fail Senator revealed that Minister Noonan had registered some concerns about the case with the Secretary General of the Department of Justice some time after Fr Molloy’s death.
“He was told by a TD from Laois/Offaly at the time that no-one ever will stand trial for this murder. I won’t name that person now but the Minister told me himself. He was so concerned he went to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice to report what was said to him,” Senator Leyden said.
February 2014: Dominic McGinn, SC, is appointed to review the contents of the report of the SCRT relating to the Garda investigation into the death of Fr Niall.
April 2014: Dominic McGinn, SC, finds that the length of time passed and the death of key witnesses means that an inquiry would be unlikely to establish the truth into the death of Fr Molloy.
At p100 to 102 of his report, McGinn agrees with the SCRT regarding deficiencies in the original investigation and draws attention to the absence of any statement on file from Lysaght, despite the fact that he had been interviewed in relation to the significant financial difficulties which had arisen between the parties.
He also notes that notwithstanding the fact that blood samples were taken from the scene and from members of the Flynn family, that various items were taken from the house, that numerous fingerprints were located, and that all of these samples and findings were transmitted to the State forensic science laboratory, there is a complete absence on the file of any record of scientific testing of the samples.
The McGinn Report makes reference to an interview carried out by the SCRT with C, an employee of the Flynns living in Kilcoursey. According to C, he was out at a disco for the evening of the 7th July 1986 and only returned at 3am the following morning, when he was informed of Molloy’s death.
C denied assertions that there were more people in the house at the time of Molloy’s death. Separately in the report, it is noted that C moved to another place of residence for a number of weeks after Fr Niall’s death and was very upset and crying when he arrived.
The McGinn Report also includes interviews with two friends of Ralph Parkes who were staying with David and Ann Flynn in Tober House.
They did not return to Kilcoursey House on the night of the 7th and left Tober House for the airport in the early hours of the July 8 without ‘appreciating what had happened’.
April 12, 2015: It is reported that a new witness – described as a local man with direct knowledge of events – came forward and told Gardai in August 2012 that Molloy was attacked downstairs in the house.
It was decided, the witness claimed, “having taken legal advice by telephone, that the considerable amount of people who were present at the time should all leave the premises.”
Fr Niall was then “carried upstairs to the Flynns’ bedroom and left to die over a period of hours.”
Sources: Court and inquest documents and RTÉ, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Daily Mail, Newstalk; Magill magazine; The Irish Press and Evening Press; Evening Herald, The Sunday World, Sunday Independent; The Times Ireland edition, The Sunday Times Ireland edition and Irish Newspaper Archives
Previously: Fr Niall Molloy on Broadsheet