On Thursday 16th December 2021, formal application was submitted to the Department of Justice in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, for the Presidential Pardon of Sylvester Poff and James Barrett. As with the recent Posthumous Pardon of John Twiss, application was made to the Department by Castleisland District Heritage, formerly the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project, on behalf of the descendants of Poff and Barrett.
The tragic case of the two Kerrymen who were hanged in Tralee Prison on 23 January 1883 for the murder of Thomas Browne featured in the BBC1 documentary series Murder Mystery and My Family in 2021. The outcome of the investigation of the charges against Poff and Barrett undertaken by two UK barristers and put before former High Court judge, David Radford, found that, as with Twiss, the case should never have come before a court.
Almost 140 years have passed since Poff and Barrett were hanged side-by-side in Tralee Prison and time, as we all know, leaves so much behind. Yet memory of Poff and Barrett refuses to yield, generations have come and gone, and the mantle has passed down with sufficient conviction to question why: why does the tragedy of Poff and Barrett persist?
In the 1960s, a member of the family of James Barrett met Éamon de Valera, then President of Ireland, seeking help in redressing the terrible wrong brought on his ancestor. Almost sixty years on, the appeal is being made again to the current President of Ireland via the Minister for Justice. A formal case file has been prepared and submitted, documenting events of 1882 and 1883, and showing why the hangings of Poff and Barrett are considered to this very day a most terrible miscarriage of justice.
Application comes in line with the Posthumous Pardon granted for John Twiss but this in no way diminishes the merits of the Poff and Barrett appeal: the tragedies of Twiss and Poff and Barrett are intertwined. Indeed, John Twiss, who unlike Poff and Barrett was afforded the opportunity to deliver a speech from the dock, referred to his counterparts no less than six times:
There were two innocent men hanged here before – Poff and Barrett were hanged wrongfully by a jury in Cork. They were hanged wrongfully … After the hanging of Poff and Barrett, it should be an eye-opener to all the juries of Ireland to take a murder case into longer consideration than five minutes. It is a frightful thing to put the rope around a man’s neck … The two men who murdered the man … they are around the country making their escape, and like Poff and Barrett, when I am dead and gone … then it will come out who killed the man. This is the same turn up that was in Poff and Barrett … The two men that killed Poff and Barrett are over in the free land of America and whatever way they are over they cannot expect to be good or lucky for they were not gone three months when the name was mentioned. Poff and Barrett were found guilty of murder and hanged in Tralee. I am found guilty of the Newmarket murder and will be hanged in Cork but it don’t give me that much trouble (snapping his fingers) for I am not guilty of it.
The combined tragedies of Twiss, Poff and Barrett have lain heavily on their families and on the Castleisland people for so long it will be a double blessing on the community if the Pardon of Poff and Barrett is granted in the wake of John Twiss. It is long overdue.