Drizzle fell as a stream of cars began to arrive on Monday into Tubberclair, near Athlone a half an hour before the funeral mass began.
Two hundred mourners had come to mark the passing of Richard Flynn, a man acquitted of assault and manslaughter of a priest in a trial that lasted less than a day, 30 years ago, which still remains controversial.
Mr Flynn’s daughter Sandra read William Butler Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree, while his grandchildren brought gifts at the start of the service, remembering his life.
They included a photograph to show his love of family, a rugby ball marking his passion for sport, an Irish language book for his love of Gaelic and a radio for his abiding interest in current affairs.
Later, the Galway-born native, who had lived into his 80s and died in a nursing home after a long illness, was laid to rest beside his late wife Therese in the cemetery adjacent to the church.
Mr Flynn’s passing closes another chapter in the unsolved killing of Fr Niall Molloy in 1985, though the priest’s relatives believe that the truth is still to be uncovered despite the passage of the years.
It was a case that shocked and fascinated: a priest found dead in the bedroom of a prominent business couple in 1985 was the stuff of popular soap operas, like Dynasty and Dallas, but not life in a rural village in the Irish midlands.
In the words of The Observer, one of many international titles to follow every twist and turn, it offered a “rich mix” of religion, high finance, horse breeding and even politics.
For the Roscommon-born Fr Molloy, July 7th began as usual, with the celebration of Sunday Mass in his parish of Fuerty. Later, however he made his way to Clara in Co Offaly.
There, he went to Kilcoursey House, the home of his friends of three decades, Richard and Theresa Flynn to join in the revelries of a family wedding that had taken place the day before.
He was a frequent visitor to the 23-roomed Tudor-style home. The former Army Chaplain shared an interest in horses and show jumping with the Flynns, who owned and ran a number of businesses in the Midlands.
Within hours, however, the keen horseman was found dead in the house’s master bedroom: the exact time of death remains uncertain, like much else that night, but it was sometime between 10pm and the early hours of Monday.
His face was bloodied and bruised. His body showed no defensive marks. A long bloody dragmark on the white bedroom carpet suggested the body was moved. Blood smears and spatters were evident in the room and elsewhere.
Emergency services were never called. Medical evidence later suggested the priest may have been alive for several hours after the assault. Richard Flynn telephoned a now-deceased local priest at 1am to come and be prepared for an anointment.
It was after 3am before local gardai were alerted. By this time the family doctor, who like many others in the story is now dead, was at the house, as were other members of the Flynn family; Therese Flynn had been taken to hospital.
When questioned, Richard Flynn admitted he was the culprit. Charged subsequently with the manslaughter and assault of Fr Molloy the 47-year-old businessman was acquitted of all charges a year later.
In a trial that lasted less than four hours, Justice Frank Roe, then President of the Circuit Court, directed the jury to acquit. The medical evidence, Judge Roe said, was inconclusive and it would be improper to convict on Mr Flynn’s statement alone.
“It is a little bit unusual but not improper of me to say that no one intended any injury to be caused,” Judge Roe remarked. The acquittal came despite Garda concerns over monies owed to Fr Molloy after a land deal fell through.
A month later, a jury in an inquest decided, however, that that Fr Molloy had, in fact, died from head injuries, which prompted a public outcry and calls in political circles for the case to be re-examined.
In 1988 even more questions were raised when new medical evidence suggested that Fr Molloy had survived for a number of hours after the assault. In the years that followed there were a succession of yet more extraordinary twists and turns.
Files on the case were among a batch stolen from the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions in August 1987 – in a theft carried out, it is believed, by criminal, Martin Cahill, otherwise known as The General.
In 1988 Therese Flynn was linked to a fraudulent life insurance claim on Fr Molloy’s life but denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the policy, which was eventually paid out to the Molloy family.
In 1994 there were claims that Judge Roe was known to both the Flynns and Fr Molloy and should not have heard the court case.
The case refused to go away. New medical evidence was brought to light in 1988 but nothing came of it at that time.
On a rare occasion, after the trial and inquest, when Mr Flynn spoke to one national newspaper, the Sunday Independent where he said his “conscience was clear” and that he had “never lost a moment’s sleep”.
Other features in the case begged questions about the Garda investigation, the criminal trial and, over two decades later, allegations of a ‘cover-up involving several arms of the state’.
In response to these allegations and new witnesses coming forward, the Garda Serious Crime Review Team (SCRT) embarked on a review of the case in 2010 and spent two and a half years re-interviewing witnesses and reconsidering evidence. The inquiry, however, did not result in any new prosecutions.
And in March 2015 the Government ruled out the prospect of a public inquiry. A senior barrister appointed to review the SCRT findings concluded that an inquiry was unlikely to establish the truth.
“It is unlikely given the passage of time, the death of many of the pertinent witnesses and the reluctance of others voluntarily to give evidence, that any further inquiry would have a reasonable prospect of establishing the truth,” senior counsel, Dominic McGinn said.
Acknowledging that there were many “disturbing” features and matters of public concern, McGinn’s inquiry also pointed to serious failings by gardaí in their investigation.
Despite Richard Flynn’s passing, the Molloy family continues to pursue a full commission of investigation: “We don’t believe it’s too late, the truth is still out there. Individuals with vital information relating to Fr Niall’s death are still alive and there is still new evidence emerging,” Bill Maher, a nephew of Fr Molloy’s said.
“As far as the family is concerned the case is far from over. There are too many shortcomings and glaring inconsistencies to ignore and we will continue to push for a full independent investigation,” he added
However, the McGinn report did put to bed some of the theories that abounded since the death. Frank Roe’s directed acquittal was “extraordinary”, but it was within the law.
The 109-page report also found no documentary evidence to substantiate claims that the judge, a popular figure in racing circles who passed away in 2003, was known to the Flynns, or to Fr Molloy.
Nevertheless, the outstanding questions are numerous. Why did gardaí not interview guests who attended the Flynn wedding on July 6th? Why were no door-to-door enquiries carried out?
Why was a break-in at Fr Molloy’s house not investigated? Why was Fr Molloy’s broken watch returned to his family without being investigated? Why was a medical report that could have placed “a different complexion” on the case not sought?
Why was a statement from Fr Molloy’s solicitor in relation to a land deal with the Flynn’s not included in the investigation? Thirty one years have passed, and the Molloys are closer to answers.
In July 2015, relatives of Fr Molloy met with Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to raise their concerns over the McGinn-identified shortcomings, where they shared graphic photographic evidence of injuries suffered by Fr Molloy.
The family have since taken a case against the police force for ‘neglect of duty’ in the 1985 investigation. The complaint is currently being investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
“The McGinn report and the Serious Crime Review Team identified numerous breaches of procedures in the original investigation, where many basic enquiries or checks were not carried out,” Mr Maher, a nephew of Fr Molloy’s said.
“There are still too many unanswered questions. We want a full investigation into all aspects of Fr Niall’s death, from day one onwards, including the Garda investigation or lack thereof and we will continue to push for that,” he added.