Thursday, March 10, 2011

Larry Griffin - The Missing Postman (2)

Following the disappearance of Stradbally postman Larry Griffin a number of arrests were made.  On 24th January 1930 National school teacher Thomas Cashin and local farmer Edward Morrissey were arrested.  Three days later Patrick Whelan Publican, George Cummins Farmer and Patrick Cunningham were also arrested.  Within days Whelan’s wife Brigid, his daughter Nora and son James were charged and lodged in jail.  Sensationally two Stradbally based Gardai, Edward Delea and William Murphy, were arrested and all made their first Court appearance at Waterford District Court on 7th February 1930.  The Prosecuting Counsel in his opening address claimed that National School teacher Thomas Cashin struck Larry Griffin while local farmer Edward Morrissey pushed him to the ground.  Griffin, he claimed, hit his head off a stove and remained motionless on the ground.  Counsel then made a quite extraordinary claim that Griffin ‘was not beyond medical aid’ and that when he was carried to Cashin’s car ‘he was a live man’.  However, despite six appearances before the District Court no evidence whatsoever was adduced to substantiate these claims.

Only one of the 15 or 23 persons alleged by the State Prosecutor to have been in Whelan’s pub that Christmas night made a statement to the Garda.  James Fitzgerald was called to the witness box on 7th February and immediately claimed to have made his statement under duress and that much of what he had said was false.  In his statement he claimed that Edward Morrissey had pushed Larry Griffin to the ground and that Pat Whelan, the publican coming out from behind the bar cried out ‘you have ruined me, you have killed a man in my house.’  Griffin, he said, was wrapped in a white blanket and put in Cashin’s car which was driven away by Cashin, accompanied by Morrissey.  Larry Griffin was never seen again. 

Near the village of Stradbally were several disused mine shafts, a legacy of the local copper industry which flourished up to the 1870s.  Deep disused shafts were to be found at Tankardstown and nearby Ballinasilla and it was there that the Gardai’s search for Larry Griffin’s body was initially concentrated.  In the meantime the ten Defendants were remanded in custody to appear again at Waterford District Court on 14th February.  At that second Court hearing Dr. John McGrath, a pathologist based in Mercers Hospital Dublin, was unable to give conclusive blood test results on clothing removed from some of the Defendants and items taken from Whelan’s pub.  The Defendants were again remanded in custody for another week and by now busloads of sightseers were descending on Stradbally as national and international newspapers carried the story of the missing postman.

The mine shaft at Tankardstown was inspected by Garda Brazil who was lowered down 130 feet when he encountered a ledge beyond which he could not go.  Further investigation was discontinued and the search moved to the Ballinasilla mine shaft.  The expertise of a Mr. Frank Morgan of Liverpool was now used and Morgan was lowered down the Ballinasilla shaft to a depth of almost 250 feet.  Water was reached at that point with a depth of another 150 feet or so.  However, the Liverpudlian advised that the narrow shaft was in a very dangerous state and so the  part of the shaft underwater could not be inspected.

The District Court sat on 21st and 28th February and on both occasions Prosecuting Counsel sought further remands in custody so that information as to the possible location of Griffin’s body could be followed up.  The ten prisoners made their fifth Court appearance on 7th March when Thomas Finlay asked the Judge for a final remand so that information made available to the Gardai within the previous five days could be checked out.

On 14th March with Griffin’s body still untraced the State formally asked the Court to withdraw all charges.  The case remained open but without Larry Griffin’s body further legal proceedings were unlikely to arise. 

James Fitzgerald, the only person to make a statement to the Gardai about Larry Griffin’s disappearance, left his native village in March 1930 and never returned.  The two Gardai who were in Whelans pub that Christmas evening were dismissed from the Garda Siochana.  I first visited Stradbally village in 1958 in the company of John W. Kehoe and was shown the fireplace in Whelan’s pub against which my informant claimed Larry Griffin fell.  However, I was not told that the fireplace was a later replacement for the stove which the Gardai had taken away for forensic examination in January 1930.

A Judge in a subsequent libel action brought by some of those accused of Larry Griffin’s murder criticised the people of Stradbally whom he claimed ‘closed up like an oyster’ and who with low public spirit ‘declined to help the police’.

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