Ann and James Ryan were convicted before Cavan District Court for breaching Covid regulations for travelling from their home in Roscommon to attend Sunday Mass in Cavan.

‘Jesus would be ashamed of you’ – defendant tells judge

Couple who drove 70km to attend mass during lockdown to appeal convictions

A Roscommon couple who drove over 70 kilometres to attend Sunday Mass, bypassing a series of garda checkpoints surrounding Mullahoran church, have been found guilty of breaching Covid laws on non-essential travel in place at the time.

James (66) and Ann Ryan (60) were each fined €300 but immediately announced their intention to appeal the conviction handed down by Judge Raymond Finnegan at Cavan District Court last Thursday.

The Ryans pleaded not guilty and contested the case against them.

Garda Barry Mulligan gave evidence that, at 11:10am on March 28, 2021, he stopped the couple’s vehicle at a checkpoint on a road near Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

He spoke to the husband and wife who gave their address as The Railway Station House, Donamon and, following that, advised the Ryans he was issuing a Fixed Charge Penalty Notice (FCPN) for being 5km from their home. He told the couple that, if the fine went unpaid, a summons would be issued.

The Ryans chose to represent themselves.

Under cross-examination by Mr Ryan, Gda Mulligan informed that, around an hour earlier, he had stopped the defendants on approach to Mullahoran church. Despite being told there was a garda “operation” in place in the area, they told the officer they were going to the “graveyard” and continued with their journey. It was put to the garda that the checkpoint at which the Ryans were stopped wasn’t the only one in the area at that time.

“That’s the one I was at,” Gda Mulligan responded, adding that Mr Ryan asked “five or six times” if he [the garda] was “acting under oath?”

Put to him that he had told the Ryans “not to go to Mass”, Gda Mulligan said he was “unaware” the defendants had attended the Sunday service until he read an official report later that day.

Mr Ryan took the witness stand, refusing to take the oath, and instead opting to affirm after quoting St Matthew’s gospel 5:34-35.

Mr Ryan claimed that Gda Mulligan had told him and his wife to “keep away” and that there was a “problem” at the church. He said that the checkpoint, manned by Gda Mulligan, was the second through which the couple had travelled. The witness said that, when cautioning the couple, the officer quoted the 1947 Mental Health Act.

“I was done for going to Mass,” Mr Ryan told the judge, further stating that he was “entitled” under Article 44 of the Constitution to practise his religion “in public”.

Under cross-examination by prosecuting Garda Inspector Declan McGarvey, Mr Ryan accepted that he had received the FCPN, and the summons after non-payment of the original fine.

Mr Ryan was asked three times if he was aware of the emergency health laws in place at time limiting the movement of persons. In the end, he stated he was “not aware” of the ban on persons travelling 5km outside their home address.

He went on to say that, under Article 15 of the constitution, the Oireachtas have no right to enact any law that is repugnant to the constitution, and it was his right to practise his religion uninhibited.

Mr Ryan accepted that Mullahoran church was more than 70k from the couple’s home address.

“I don’t take Mullahoran as your local church,” remarked Judge Finnegan, to which Mrs Ryan, speaking from the body of the court, said she had overcome severe illness only weeks prior. She considered it important therefore to “stand before God” and thank him.

Mrs Ryan then exclaimed: “Catholic lives matter!”

While Judge Finnegan said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with the sentiment of what Mrs Ryan was saying but it did not absolve the couple from the fact they had broken the law.

Neither had any previous convictions at the time, and Judge Finnegan fined them both €300 with three months to pay.

Fixing recognisances in the event of appeal, the judge advised the Ryans to consider getting legal representation.

“You are not a judge,” decried Mr Ryan stepping down from the witness stand. “This is a total farce.”

As he walked to his wife, Mr Ryan turned and said to Judge Finnegan: “Jesus would be ashamed of you!”