Joyce, Myles (1837?–1882), victim of a miscarriage of justice, was the second of three sons of Shaun Joyce of Cappanacreha, Co. Galway, a desolate and isolated townland in the parish of Ross in the Joyce Country bordering Co. Mayo. Myles Joyce, a small farmer at Cappanacreha, who understood only Irish, came to public notice after being arrested with nine other men on the night of 19 August 1882 for the murder two nights previously of another small farmer, his first cousin John Joyce, and four members of his family, who lived nearby in the townland of Maamtrasna. At the ensuing trials in Dublin (1–21 November) evidence was given for the prosecution by Anthony and John Joyce, also first cousins, with whom Myles Joyce had for long been feuding, and by two of the accused who turned queen's evidence, Anthony Philbin and Thomas Casey. With two other accused men, Patrick Joyce and Patrick Casey, Myles Joyce was found guilty and sentenced to death. On being sentenced he vehemently denied having had any part in the murders. One of the accused still awaiting trial, Michael Casey, privately admitted his own guilt while stating that Myles Joyce was innocent. Both Patrick Joyce and Patrick Casey made signed statements before the governor and chief warder of Galway jail on 13 December – two days before the date set for the executions – admitting their own guilt, affirming that Myles Joyce had not been present at the murders, asserting the guilt of Thomas Casey, Michael Casey, and three others, and claiming that Philbin was far away when the murders took place. Patrick Joyce stated that Thomas Casey ‘did all the shooting’ and that ‘the Joyces who swore against us did not, nor could not, have seen us the night of the murder’, which Patrick Casey confirmed (Waldron, 142–3). Although these statements were seen early the following day by the lord lieutenant, Earl Spencer (qv), he refused a reprieve and all three men were hanged at Galway jail on 15 December 1882, Myles Joyce protesting his innocence to the last.
The Maamtrasna affair was reported in United Ireland, the organ of Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and his party, but was of no political interest until it was taken up by two MPs, Joseph Biggar (qv) and Timothy Harrington (qv). On 7 August 1884, at the catholic chapel at Tourmakeady (not far from the scene of the murders), when the archbishop of Tuam, John MacEvilly (qv), was administering confirmation, Thomas Casey publicly confessed to having sworn falsely at the trials in Dublin. MacEvilly, seldom a critic of the authorities, called for compensation to be paid to the family of Myles Joyce and for a public inquiry to be held; he corresponded with Earl Spencer, who proved unyielding. An important consequence of the Maamtrasna affair was that McEvilly, hitherto hostile to Parnell and his party, underwent a political conversion; at an episcopal meeting held on 1 October 1884 he seconded a proposal by Thomas William Croke (qv), subsequently carried overwhelmingly, to entrust Parnell's party with catholic business at Westminster, a vote that gave it formal recognition as the party of the catholic church. The Maamtrasna affair became a cause célèbre and was twice debated in the house of commons (24–29 October 1884 and 17 July 1885).
Myles Joyce and his wife, Bridget, who is said to have been the inspiration for a play by Lady Gregory (qv), The jail gate, and a poem by Patrick Pearse (qv), ‘An bhean chaointe’, had at least six children, the youngest of whom was born shortly after Joyce's execution. The story of Myles Joyce is told by James Joyce (qv) in a piece entitled ‘Ireland at the bar’ (1907). Myles Joyce's brothers Paudeen (1836?–1911) and Martin (1839?–1906), both of Cappanacreha, were among the ten accused; they amended their pleas to ‘guilty’ to avoid conviction and probably a capital sentence, and served twenty years' imprisonment.