Father Michael Griffin, Gurteen

Father Michael Griffin (1890 – 1920) was an Irish Catholic priest born in Gurteen, whose body was discovered in an unmarked grave near Barna.

Gerry Costello

Fr. Griffin Memorial Church, Gurteen
© Gerry Costello Photography

Father Michael Griffin (1890 – 1920) was an Irish Catholic priest. Griffin was born in Gurteen, Co. Galway, and was ordained at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 1917. A priest of the Diocese of Clonfert, he actually ministered in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. In June 1918, as a curate, he was transferred from the parish of Ennistymon, County Clare, to Rahoon, just outside Galway City. On the night of 14 November 1920, during the Irish War for Independence, Griffin, a known republican sympathiser, was taken from his home at 2 Montpellier Terrace and taken to Lenaboy Castle, where he was questioned. His body was found in an unmarked grave on November 20th at Cloghscoltia near Barna – he had been shot through the head. On 23 November, after Griffin’s funeral mass at St Joseph’s Church, Presentation Road, the funeral cortege moved through the streets of Galway. Three bishops, 150 priests and in excess of 12,000 mourners participated. The priest was buried in the grounds of Loughrea Cathedral. A group of enthusiasts gathered together in Galway in the spring of 1948 to form a football club and they decided unanimously to name the club “Father Griffins” and they would grow and flourish to be a major force in Galway football. There is also a road in Galway City called “Father Griffin Road”.

Murder of Fr. Griffin

Galway Observer, 27th November, 1920

Horrible Details — Searchers Out for a Week — Body Found in Semi—darkness — Shot Through the Brain

The terrible anguish and anxiety which prevailed in Galway all last week since the disappearance of Fr Griffin, were laid to rest last Sunday morning when the announcement was made from the altar at the early Masses in all the chapels, that his dead body was found. The simple mention of the recovery of his body was a source of relief to many, even while most people were stricken with grief at the astounding intelligence, and many gave way to tears and prayers for the repose of his soul.

Later in the day particulars of the discovery were obtained. Search parties were out every day all last week, for every one came to the conclusion that he was foully done away with. It appears that on Saturday night a party came upon a piece of a clerical garment above ground in boggy land, a couple of yards from the roadside, about a mile beyond Barna at a place called Cloughacoltia, near Lough Inch. Later in the night a lantern was obtained and the soil cleared away till at length the searchers were horrified when they gazed on the dead body of Father Griffin, buried about two feet under ground. On the body being raised it was found to have a bullet mark on each temple, showing that the bullet entered the left temple and came out on the left temple the body was quire fresh when discovered, as decomposition had not set in. A few of the neighbours there remained with the body that night and next morning it was brought in to the residence of Rev Fr Davis, beside St Joseph’s Church. Later in the day the body was deposited in a coffin and laid out in the church where it was exposed to view during the day. A steady stream of people attended all day on Sunday to get a view of the body.

When the body of Fr Griffin at last was found the searches were too awed by the discovery to proceed further. A message was immediately despatched to Sea road, Galway, to report what had occurred to Rev J W O’Meehan, B.D.the senior curate of the parish, who shared his residence with Fr Griffin. The writer was discussing the mystery withFr O’Meehan and Mr Guy Moyston of the Associated Press of America, when the messenger arrived. Fr O’Meehan, who was labouring under considerable excitement, immediately left to follow up the clue.

On Sunday morning, with tears streaming down his face, he told the tragic truth. “Little I thought when I was talking to you last night.” he said, “that I should witness the dead body of my comrade thrown into a bog—hole by the road—side.”

I continue the narrative in Fr O’Meehan’s own words.

It was about half—past seven he said, when the messenger arrived. Up to then we had hopes that Fr Griffinwas alive and safe, as no one thought anyone would be found so iniquitous as to do to death a priest who had never done conscious wrong to anyone.

Accompanied by Rev Joseph Mitchell, M.A., President St Mary’s College ; Rev Andrew Sexton, a professor in the college and a class fellow of Fr Griffin, as well as the messenger I proceeded to the scene. By the light of a lantern, and with the assistance of men with spades and shovels, we scraped the earth carefully away. The boys were too awed to touch the spot till we came. We put the horse and car in a house near by so as not to attract undue attention, and proceeded with our melancholy search. It was a scene that I shall never forget. The moon lit up the landscape occasionally through scudding clouds, and out at sea the Margureita buoy moaned persistently. Presently one of the boys who was down in the mud searching carefully with his hands, speaking almost in a whisper, said, I have found a priest’s collar, Father. Here is poor Father Griffin. I put my hand down and laid it on the collar of my beloved comrade. The men drew away and there was a suppressed moan, followed by a groan of indignation and horror.

“In God’s name, be calm, boys” I begged. Fr Griffin is far better off than any of us, for he is in heaven. I knew him to be a saint.

Slowly, without another word being spoken, for all were too moved to speak they removed the wet and boggy soil. The body of Fr Griffin lay, with the feet facing Galway, covered with about two feet of soil. The narrow grave — if grave it would be called — ran parallel to the rubble wall. The body was clad just as it had left the house on Sunday night, but we could not find his hat. We had the body taken up on the dry soil, and one of us rubbed away the grime and mud from the face. We then recognised him beyond doubt. We had the body removed to a place of safety, cleaned and attended to. It was guarded through the night by a number of his parishioners, and taken in here at seven o’clock on Sunday morning.

Asked as to the expression on Fr Griffin’s face when it was taken from the scant covering of bog, Fr O’Meehancontinued:

One of his eyes were open. There was an agonised expression on the face, and an expression on the mouth as if he was framing a protest against their requests.

Fr O’Meehan added that no evidence could be discovered near the scene to show that any shots had been fired there, and the presumption is that the dead body was taken there in a car. It had been alleged that some young men who were “on the run” in the district heard a motor come along the road from Shantalla about 11 o’clock on Monday night. The lights were extinguished near the cross—roads, and after about twenty minutes the motor moved away turning down towards Barna village. There was no evidence that shots had been fired in the neighbourhood, nor were any traces of blood found near the spot where the body was discovered.

“I would like to add”, continued Fr O’Meehan, speaking with emotion, “that he has been my colleague and comrade for nearly two years and I can say from my heart that I have never at home or in foreign lands met or associated with a nobler character, a truer soggarth or a kindlier friend. His death under such circumstances will have a greater effect upon the conscience of the civilised world than even the martyrdom of the late Lord Mayor of Cork. May God have mercy on the murderers of the most innocent and child—like man I have ever known.”

It is a strange coincidence that whilst Fr O’Meehan has received no fewer than five threatening notices, no missive of the kind ever reached Fr Griffin, and none of his colleagues ever considered his life in the least danger. He moved about freely, and went on night calls without apprehension. Fr O’Meehan received the first threatening notice, which was similar to that delivered through the post to all members of Dail Eireann, on Ascension Thursday, May 11. Three weeks later he got a similar notice bearing the New York post—mark. On September 13, when Curfew was imposed on Galway, copies of the Order were posted on the door of the residence, Sea—road, in the form of a cross, and underneath was the inscription. “Doomed — R.I.P.”

Like Fr O’Meehan, Fr Griffin’s support of the Republican movement was on the civil and economic side. His principal desire was to promote the culture of Gaelic. Apropos of the Chief Secretary’s reply to the question of Mr Joseph Levlin, M.P., in the Commons on Wednesday, it is pointed out that after Mr P. W. Joyce, the Barna teacher, had been kidnapped on October, 15, Fr Griffin said three Masses for his personal safety.

Police Find Missing Hat

When I visited the field where the body was discovered I found a group of neighbours wistfully examining the spot. One of the group repeated the story of the motor lorry. The field belongs to Mrs Duffy, who has recently been ill.

Presently a body of Royal Irish Constabulary came on the scene followed by District Inspectors Williams and McGlynnin a private care. Shovels were procured form neighbouring farmers, and the sodden soil was dug up. It was found to be in a fur of a narrow grave, and at one end a black velour hat, such as that worn by priests was found. This was taken possession of by the police, who made enquiries in the neighbouring houses, and notified the priests during the day that a military inquiry would be held on Monday.

The dead priest was only twenty—seven years of age. His enthusiasm for the Gaelic language is revealed by the fact that he could not speak a word of Irish when he left Maynooth three years ago, and became a fluent speaker in the interval. He was extremely fond of children and distributed money freely to the little ones in Munster—lane. He always seemed happiest when he was amongst the poor.

On Sunday Most Rev Dr O’Doherty, Bishop of Clonfert, to whose diocese Father Griffin belongs, was summoned toGalway, and a message was also got through to Miss Anne Griffin, his sister, who resides at Sandymount—road, Dublin. His mother received the news of her son’s death with extraordinary courage and composure.

Heart Rending Scenes in the City Churches

The scenes witnessed in the Galway Churches on Sunday morning when the announcement was made of the finding of the dead body of Father Griffin are probably without parallel in the history of Ireland for over a century. A shudder of horror passed through the congregations. Women and even men sobbed allowed. Little girls and children wept as if their hearts would break. People were to be seen in tears on the street. The ordinary salutations were put aside.

After the Gospel, Very Rev Peter Davis, Adm, did not preach the sermon, that is customary at last Mass, but came forward on the alter steps, and in a firm voice began —

There is great sorrow in the parish to day, sorrow in which you and I will equally share. The body of Father Griffin with a bullet through his head was found last night.

At this point a shudder of horror passed through the congregation, followed by a moan of agony that swept through the church like a thornily of woe. Then audible sobbing was heard; and Fr Davis proceeded with a choke in his voice:

You knew Father Griffin as a zealous priest, a thorough gentleman — an overgrown boy, that is what he was. I cannot bring myself to speak to you, because I feel it too much. All I can do is to recommend him to your prayers. I am sure he has earned the martyr’s crown, because in all probability he went to attend a sick call and consequently he died doing his duty. Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Master, did not grudge his life for the salvation of the world. Let us therefore, pray as He prayed. ‘Father forgive them. They know not what they do.’ And, brethren, I will ask you of your charity, with the shadow of the great tragedy hanging over the parish, to pray to God for the repose of his soul, and that you will not forget to pray for those who murdered him. May the Lord have mercy on his soul and forgive them.

Father Davis was unable to proceed.

The Bishop’s Statement

On Sunday night the following statement was issued from Mount St. Mary’s by the Most Rev Dr. O’Dea :

The worst has happened. Father Griffin’s body has been found shot through the brain. It is the worst in the eyes of the world — the end of all. But to us, his friends, the supreme consolation is left that, so far as human judgement can discern, his soul is safe with God. The body can be killed, as was even Christ’s, the Almighty allowing this ; the should no power on earth can reach.

Catholics will be horrified everywhere at this tragedy. Yes, if there is need, I would counsel restraint. It is wise to be prudent, as well as just, in pressing even the most righteous of claims. The people of Galway are profoundly grieved. Their charity to their priests, never more conspicuous than in this instance, will obtain for him many a prayer in the coming days. May I suggest in particular that as many Masses and Communions as possible be offered on his behalf.

From my heart I sympathise with his widowed mother and family, and also with the bishop, priests, and people of Clonfert, my former diocese, for which I shall never cease to entertain the warmest affection.

Thomas O’Dea “Bishop of Galway, etc”

Brigadier—General Chaplain, commanding the western division, called on his Lordship Most Rev Dr. O’Dea on Sunday, and expressed his horror and indignation on behalf of the military at the murder of Fr. Griffin. He hoped the priests and people would co—operate with the authorities in every way to bring the guilty persons to justice.

County Inspector Sydley, RIC, also called and expressed his horror and that of the men serving under him at the foul deed.

Requiem Mass took place at St. Joseph’s Galway on Tuesday.

The following is a report on his funeral;

Father Griffin’s Remains Taken to Loughrea — Impressive Church Scenes — All Classes Horrified at the Awful Crime

Galway Observer, 27th November, 1920

Mourning was general in Galway on Tuesday, when the remains of Father Griffin, who, after being a week missing, was found murdered and buried in a bog adjoining the city, were removed for interment in Loughrea Cathedralgrounds. Father Griffin is the first priest to be murdered in Ireland since the days of Cromwell. High Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, Galway, was attended by the Archbishop of Tuam, the Bishops of Galway and Clonfert, over one hundred clergymen and a very large congregation. Messages of sympathy have poured into Fr. Griffin’s clerical colleagues and to members of his bereaved family from all parts of the world. Protestant ministers and leading members of other creeds joined in the general expression of horror at a crime that has shocked all Christian people. The remains of Rev Michael Griffin, C.C., the first priest to be murdered in Ireland since the days of Cromwell, were removed to Loughrea for internment on Tuesday after Requiem Mass at the Church of St. Joseph, Galway. TheArchbishop of Tuam, the Bishops of Galway and Clonfert, as well as clergymen from the neighbouring dioceses and an enormous congregation were present. Long queues trailed slowly past the coffin as it lay at the head of the aisle, covered in a pall of black, on which reposed the stole and biretts. Women and children wept as the vast cortege, headed by 150 surpliced clergymen wound its way from the church through the streets, in which every shop was shuttered and every private house expressed its mute mourning by drawn blinds.

Vast Cortege

In the vast crowd that awaited the funeral every section was represented, including the Protestant Rector, his curates and practically every single member of his congregation, Presbyterians, Methodists, leading landowners, officials and the humblest citizen. A group of R.I.C. men at the corner of Dominick street raised their hats as the cortege passed. The priests walked to Moneenageisha Cross—roads, where the road branches off to Loughrea. Here the coffin was transferred from the hearse to a waiting motor car. As the coffin moved away, the Bishop stood up in his car, with uncovered head, and remained in this attitude until it had passed out of sight. Father O’Meehan, Father O’Loughlin,Gurteen, and Father T. Fahy accompanied the remains to Loughrea. The coffin was followed by motor car carrying wreaths. There was a stoppage of work all day Tuesday and every shop was closed. Many people added to the vast crowds came from the surrounding villages, Barna, Spiddal, Moycullen, and Oranmore districts.

Chief Mourners

The chief mourners were Mrs Griffin, Gurteen (mother) ; Miss Annie and Miss Cissie Griffin (sisters), Morgan Griffinand Patrick Griffin (brothers) ; James Coyne, Gurteen, Joseph Coyne, Clonbur (uncles) ; Mrs Mahon and Mrs Forde,Ballymacward (aunts) ; Patrick Coyne, Michael Coyne, Honor Coyne, Gurteen ; Mrs Lohan, Menlough (cousins).

The celebrant of the Mass was Very Rev Canon Sexton, R.A., B.D. St. Mary’s College : deacon, Rev T. W. Cunnane, B.A. C.C., Moycullen ; sub—deacon, Rev Nicholas Donnelly, B.A., C.C. College House. The chanters were Rev J. Moran, C.C. College House, and Rev P. Lydon, P.P., Shrule. Over 100 priests were present in the choir from the archdiocese of Tuam, the united dioceses of Galway, Kilmacdugh and Kilfenora, and the dioceses of Clonfert. These included Right Rev Mgr. McAlpine, P.P. V.G. Clifden ; Right Rev Mgr. Considine, Adm., V.G., and members of all the religious houses.

Remains of Father Griffin Interred at Loughrea

Most Rev Dr O’Doherty, Bishop of Clonfert, celebrated High Mass at the Cathedral, Loughrea, on Wednesday, for the late Rev Michael Griffin, B.A., C.C., who remains lay before the high alter since the previous evening. The day was observed as one of general mourning in the town. The Bishop was assisted by Rev Father Vincent, O.D.C., and Rev J. Cogavin, B.A. The congregation was representative of Galway city and county, Clare and other places. The remains were later interred in the Cathedral grounds, the final Absolution being pronounced by the Bishop.

Military Inquiry

At nine o’clock on Monday morning three military officers opened an inquiry into the death of Father Griffin at Eglington st. police station, Galway. They first went to St. Joseph’s Church, where the remains were viewed, and, returning to the police barracks, proceeded to take evidence. Dr. W.A. Sandys, The Crescent, was first sworn. He stated that he saw the dead body of the Rev Father Griffin on the previous afternoon. On examining the body he found three scratches on the joints of three of the fingers of the left hand, and a bruise on the right hand on the front of the thumb. In the left templar region there was a circular wound and in the right templar region, higher up and more backwards than in the case, there was another wound on the skin. This wound was not circular, was a good deal larger than the other, and the bone underneath was fractured into small bits.

The President — What was the cause of death?
Dr. Sandys — The cause of death was a bullet which passed through the brain. It went in at the right and out through the left temple.
President — How long do you think he was dead?
Dr. Sandys — In order to give an opinion you would want to know in what kind of soil the body was found.
District Inspector McGlynn — It was boggy soil.
Dr. Sandys — In that case, my opinion is that death took place four or five days ago.

Dr. M. G. O’Malley swore that he examined the body of Father Griffin with Dr. Sandys on the previous afternoon. He agreed with the evidence that Dr. Sandys had given.

District Inspector McGlynn said he had sent for the other witnesses, and had no word from them yet.

Mr Wm. G. Mulvagh who lives next to the house of the late Father Griffin at Mountpelier Terrace, stated that on the night of Sunday, November 14, his attention was attracted by knocking at about 11.40pm. He was in bed at the time, and he thought the knocking was like the sound of fists on the door. Then it became more intensified as if it was done with sharper instruments, like the butt ends of revolvers.
The President — Some heavy instruments?
Witness — Yes.
Mr Sydley, C.I — You got our of bed and looked out of the window?
Witness — I could not look out of the window the whole way because the window was not opened. In addition it was very stormy, I only got a side view of the entrance to Father O’Meehan’s.
And I believe you saw a light shining out from Father O’Meehan’s door on to the street as if the door was open?
Did that light shew you anything?
Yes I observed two men with apparently their hats in their hands just as the door was opened. By the light I saw these two men. They were going to the steps to his door.
Did you hear one of the men say anything?
I took the words to be “Come on” to another man who was standing on the footpath or some words to that effect.
And did that man on the footpath then follow the other two? — He did; he immediately rushed up the steps.
Did you know any of the men? — No.
Could you describe them roughly?
The two men who went up the steps first to the door were something about five feet eight or nine in height, and of medium build. The two men who went to the door first wore light coats, and the other man who stayed on the footpath wore a belted coat — what is known as a trench coat. They all wore ordinary soft trilby hats.
Did you see these men go into Father Griffin’s?
They went in and then I went back to bed.
I was under the impression that it was an ordinary raid.
I believe in about half—an—hour afterwards you heard a side—car passing to Salthill? — Yes, something about twenty minutes or half—an—hour.
The President — You could not say whether these men were armed?
No. I saw no arms.
Had they sticks?
No, all I saw was two hats in their hands as they went to the door. District—Inspector McGlynn said they had sent repeatedly for the servant, Barbara King, and could not get her. There was no one in the house, which was locked up.
The President — She is a very material witness, because she may have answered the door for all we know.
Mr Sydley said she actually gave a statement to the Constabulary.
The President having read the statement, said that apparently she did not see anybody.


This page was added on 07/10/2014.

Comments about this page

  • Father Griffin was my Grandfather’s cousin. I was just at the monument and then church in Loughrea. Thank you for this accounting of what transpired. To think Father Griffin was no older then than my oldest son Patrick is now. God bless his soul.

    By Lisa Griffin Brennan (03/10/2017)
  • After our chat last week Gerry I had a ramble through your site. As you know my late cousins husband came from Skehana – God rest both at this stage. Have not been there but will call upon you soon. This story caught my attention in particular. I’d like to chat some more about this when I get some time out of the current travelling. I’m glad we have come a fair way over the years. Call you soon.


    By Raymond (27/10/2016)
  • This has been an incredibly story. Thanks for putting this wonderful piece of history here.

    By Thomas Long (17/12/2015)

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