At 10:15 pm on the balmy spring night of 18 March 1923, 31-year-old Dr Paddy Muldoon and his 70-year-old neighbor Edward Geelan were returning from their weekly Sunday evening card game with local Catholic pastor Canon Michael Masterson in the small Leitrim market town of Mohill .
Just as the two companions were about to part ways near their homes, three men in trench coats emerged from the darkness and a gunman opened fire on Dr Muldoon, killing him with a single shot before he fled.
Almost immediately, speculation pointed to Father Edward Ryans involvement in the murder of the popular doctor. Ryans, 36, a pastor in the neighboring parish of Aughavas, was an important figure in local Republican circles, serving as president of Leitrim Sinn Féin from 1920 to 1922.
Although he was initially a strong supporter of the Treaty, he switched to the Treaty side in 1922.
Three men in trench coats emerged from the darkness and a gunman opened fire
Speculation about Ryans involvement was linked to the arrest of the pastor on February 22 when he attempted to leave a baby on the steps of Black Church in Dublin’s Broadstone.
The pastor – dressed in civilian clothes and accompanied by his 18-year-old housekeeper Mary Kate Gallogly – was spotted by some local women who were behaving suspiciously and immediately alerted the police and the couple were arrested.
Writers Ken Boyle and Tim Desmond in their book The murder of Dr. Muldoon establish a clear connection between Ryans’ arrest and the murder of Dr. Gallogly was the mother.
Dr. Muldoon knew the priest was the child’s father because Mary Kate Gallogly had attended his surgery during the early stages of her pregnancy. His wife Rita was active in the Mohill Nursing Association and had also supported the young pregnant woman.
Three days after their arrest in Dublin, Ryans and Gallogly were released on bail and returned to Leitrim. Within days, Bishop Hoare visited Ryans and suspended him from his duties.
In late February and early March 1923, Ryans was seen erratic in the southern Leitrim area threatening the Muldoons during a series of drunken binges. Not only did Ryans accuse Rita Muldoon of interfering in his affairs, he also knew that the doctor and his wife were potential witnesses in his upcoming trial.
In his efforts to quell local rumours, Ryans issued a series of conflicting statements about the events surrounding his housekeeper’s pregnancy.
In one of his accounts, he claimed that the baby’s father was a family friend and a “worthless individual”.
Anxious to support his young housekeeper, he stated that he had arranged for her to stay in accommodation in Dublin for the last three months of her pregnancy and had paid for her maintenance.
She gave an assumed name, Kate Brown, and gave birth to a baby girl at Holles Street Hospital on January 29, 1923.
The baby was named Rose Brown on the birth certificate and there was no note on the child’s father’s document. Three weeks after the birth, Ryans and Gallogly tried to leave the child in Broadstone.
The specialist Criminal Investigations Department (CID) came from Dublin and conducted an extensive investigation into the murder.
According to Boyle and Desmond, the police officers identified a local Anti-Treaty IRA unit as the gunmen and that Ryans had been transporting the killers to and from Mohill.
In late March 1923, Ryans was arrested at his family home in Keadue, County Roscommon, on charges of anti-Treaty activity and suspicion of involvement in Muldoon’s murder.
No one was ever charged with the murder.
Charged with child abandonment, Father Ryans faced three different trials between May and August 1923, with all three juries failing to reach a verdict.
No one was ever charged with the murder
At the first trial on May 9, 1923, all charges against ‘Kate Brown’ (Mary Kate Gallogly) were dropped.
Arrested and taken to the women’s detention center in Athlone, a vulnerable and distressed Mary Kate Gallogly was said to have been unaware that her infant daughter had already died of gastritis at St. Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home, where she was taken after being abandoned left.
A series of “back channel” activities between church and state saw Ryans held in Mountjoy Prison until December 1923.
There the priest carried on extensive correspondence with IRA Commander General Seán Mac Eoin, whom he knew, and denied that he was the father of Mary Kate Gallogly’s child or involved in Muldoon’s murder. Mac Eoin knew better than to believe the chaplain.
Fr Ryans uses his influence in Republican circles to get IRA Chief of Staff Frank Aiken to investigate Muldoon’s murder and exonerate him.
The Anti-Treaty IRA even issued a press release on 15 May 1924 claiming that volunteers Dr.
Rita Muldoon immediately rejected that, saying her husband was targeted by his killers.
In 1924 Ryans became an embarrassment to the Church, the New State and the IRA. His continued suspension from his administrative duties left him with no future as a clergyman in Ireland.
After discussions with Church authorities, he sailed to America, where he resumed administrative duties in Nevada and Florida, before returning to Morecombe, England, where he remained until his death in February 1964.
The events of that year gave a clear indication of the future direction of church-state relations
The two women who suffered most from the tragedy, Mary Kate Glogly and Rita Muldoon, never met again.
Rita Muldoon returned to her native Clifden Co Galway where she raised her four children on the proceeds of the compensation she received from the Free State as a result of her husband’s murder.
Three of her four children followed the same career path as their late father and qualified as doctors.
Mary Kate Gallogly emigrated to America and returned to Leitrim in 1933 before marrying local farmer Peter McGuire.
In 1967 she joined three of her emigrant children in Australia, where she died on September 3, 1974.
Within two months of Muldoon’s assassination, the Irish Civil War ended, but the events in a small town in Leitrim in March 1923 gave a clear indication of the future direction of church-state relations.
The collusion between the Church, the State and the Anti-Treaty IRA in the aftermath of the assassination meant that the defense of powerful interest groups often took the place of the pursuit of natural justice.
Dr. Patrick McGarty is a senior lecturer at Munster Technological University and author of ‘Leitrim, The Irish Revolution: 1912-23’ published by Four Courts Press