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MICHAEL GRIFFIN: 'Martyr Boy Priest'

Updated: Feb 17


‘His face was reminiscent of the Leonardo composite head of Christ. He was cheerful and happy and busy.’[1] These are the words used by Geraldine Dillon (Plunkett) to describe twenty-nine year old Father Michael Griffin, a Roman Catholic curate who was abducted on 14 November 1920. Father Griffin was shot dead and six days later his body was discovered buried in a shallow grave in bogland at Cloch Scoilte. This surely was one of the most despicable deeds carried out during the Irish War of Independence.

Daniel O'Mahony birth registration

Figure 1: Birth Registration of Michael Griffin, 18 September 1892.

Early Life

Michael Griffin was born in Gurteen, Athenry, Co. Galway. He was the fourth child born to Thomas and Mary (nee Kyne). His father, Thomas was Chairman of Galway County Council and was involved in the Land League in the 1880s. In 1911, Michael can be found on the College and Boarding school return for St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, where he is an undergraduate student of the National University of Ireland. Five years later, in June 1916, he was ordained as a sub-deacon. He worked in Ennistymon before being assigned as a curate in Rahoon Parish, Co. Galway, where he resided at Montpelier Terrace.[2]

1911 Census

Figure 2: 1911 Census - St. Patrick's College, Maynooth.

1916 Newspaper report - Maynooth Ordinations

Figure 3: 1916 Newspaper report - Maynooth Ordinations.


1921 - Troubling Times

Fr. Griffin was well liked in his parish and ‘there was no house where he was not welcome, thieves and blackguards as well as honest men loved him.’[3] However on the night of the 14 November 1920, Father Griffin disappeared and less than a week later his body was discovered. On the 22 November 1920, a Court of Inquiry was assembled at Eglington Street Police Barracks to investigate the murder of Father Michael Griffin, presided by Major E. Yeldham of the Connaught Rangers. First witness was Doctor Sandys who examined Father Griffin’s body on the 21 November, his conclusion was that cause of death was a bullet ‘which went in at the left and passed out at the right, passing through the brain. My opinion is that death took place four or five days before examination.’[4]

The next significant information was from Father Griffin’s neighbour W.G. Mulvagh, who recounted that on Sunday night just before midnight on 14 November 1920, he heard knocking at Father Griffin’s door. When Mulvagh looked out his window he saw two men, wearing trench coats and soft Trilby hats. Miss King, Father Griffin’s housekeeper, reported that she heard a rap on the door late on the night of the 14 November 1920. Father Griffin went to the front window and asked who was there. Miss King did not hear the reply from the caller but she did hear Father Griffin saying he would be down shortly. Both Father Griffin and possibly one man returned upstairs, where they remained for approximately fifteen minutes. The two men then proceeded back down the stairs and out the front door. She recounted that she heard no raised voices and shortly after noted a sidecar going in the direction of Salthill.

According to several witness statement recorded by the Bureau of Military History, 1913-1921, the murder of Father Griffin was carried out by the Auxiliaries. Patrick Moylett, states that 'as the Auxiliaries could not find Father O’Meehan, they took Father Griffin instead.’[5] Father O’Meehan represented Mid-Galway on the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle. He had got a death notice in November 1920 warning him that he would be held responsible with his life if anything happened to the British.

Montpelier Terrace, Sea Road, Galway

Figure 4: Montpelier Terrace, Sea Road, Galway.

Peter Greene, Lord Mayor of Galway City, noted that ‘it is generally believed that the young fellow who called to Father Griffin's house to get him out on a so-called sick call, was Joyce who was hanged by the British after the 2nd World War for broadcasting from Berlin for Germany and was known as Lord Haw Haw.’[6]

This theory is confirmed by Joseph Togher, Staff Captain, Galway Brigade who reiterates that Father Griffin and William Joyce were not on good terms and Joyce was hostile towards the IRA. In 1920, Togher states that the IRA failed to find out who murdered Father Griffin, ‘as it was an inside job carried out by the Auxiliaries.’ He also notes that ‘we were convinced the caller (a tout for the Auxiliaries) was none other than William Joyce, later executed by the British after World War II for his activities as an announcer from Berline Radio Station on behalf of Germany. He became known as Lord Haw-Haw.’ In 1921 Togher and his men received instructions from Michael Collins to find out more about the murder of Father Griffin and others in the Galway/Mayo area. The conclusion was drawn that Father Griffin was murdered by the ‘Auxiliaries, one of whom was named Nichols, and Wm. Joyce.’[7]

Headlines following Danno's first bout

Figure 5: Father Michael Griffin's death certificate.

Ed George congratulates O'Mahoney after their match

Figure 6: Court of Inquiry Conclusion.


Father Michael Griffin - Conclusion and Legacy

Father Michael Griffin was laid to rest on Tueday 23 November 1920. ‘Women and children wept as the vast cortege, headed by one hundred and fifty priests, wound its way through streets [in Galway] in which every shop was shuttered and every private house expressed its mourning in drawn blinds.’ On the following day Michael Griffin was buried ‘beneath the shadow of the eastern wing of the Cathedral in Loughrea’.[8]

In 1931, an appeal was made to the people of Ireland to contribute to build ‘The Father Michael Griffin Memorial Church’ in Gurteen, Co. Galway.[9] Two years later, the funds were raised, the church built and on the 16 July 1933, the first mass was celebrated by the Bishop of Clonfert, Doctor John Dignan, ensuring that the memory of Father Griffin will be kept ‘fresh in the minds of all’. [10]

Bishop Dignan's Appeal

Figure 7: Bishop Dignan's Appeal.

Father Michael Griffin Memorial Church

Figure 8: Father Michael Griffin Memorial Church, Gurteen, Co. Galway.


[2] Freemans Journal, 19 June 1916

[4] Proceeding of Court of Inquiry accessed

[8] Connacht Tribune, 27 November 1920


[10] Irish Independent, 12 July 1933

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