‘Five years and nothing has changed...’
#HerNameIsClodagh - Family of Clodagh and her boys continue fight for fairness and justice in their names
Five years removed from one of the most horrific incidents of familicide in Irish history, the family of Clodagh and her three boys are finally edging closer to seeing a change in how domestic homicides are reviewed in Ireland.
The Anglo-Celt has learned that independent research on Familicide and Domestic Homicide, commissioned by the Department of Justice in May 2019, and lobbied for by Clodagh’s mum Mary Coll and sister Jacqueline Connolly, is just “weeks” from finalisation.
Clodagh (39) and sons Liam (13), Niall (11), and Ryan (6) were murdered by husband and dad Alan Hawe at the Castlerahan home they shared on August 28, 2016. Alan Hawe then took his own life.
Until that fateful last day, it had appeared a comfortable home for a family concluding their summer holidays and getting ready to go back to school. But the rural red-brick dormer camouflaged a wickedness to come.
Five years on, the manicured lawns and trimmed bushes, once a point of pride for stickler dad Alan (40), appear pathetically overgrown.
The family’s cars, fastidiously polished by Alan that Sunday, among his final notable acts, decay in the driveway. His once spotless silver Kia Sportage, enveloped in weeds and streaked grimy green, inhabits the side of the house, parked out of the way to facilitate the removal of bodies the following day.
The window curtains, pulled before Alan callously first killed doting mum Clodagh on the living room sofa before his boys in each of their beds upstairs, remain drawn to the outside world.
Alan, vice principal at nearby Castlerahan National School, was due to attend work Monday morning for the new school term. Clodagh’s presence was similarly expected at Scoil Catriona Naomha in Oristown, near Kells, where she taught third class.
Eldest son Liam was about to start back at Virginia College, entering his Junior Cert year; while at her own home, Clodagh’s mum Mary was becoming increasingly anxious waiting the arrival of Niall and Ryan, not yet returned from school.
“I sat here and I waited and I watched,” Clodagh’s mum Mary recalls, pointing to a seat by the window, a clock ticking in the background. “I rang - I don’t know how many times. I rang his phone, her phone, the house phone. I text Clodagh. Nothing. Eventually I thought I’d better go.”
Mary still remembers the sick feeling building in the pit of her stomach. That dread, coupled with the superstitious sighting of magpies by the roadside, haunt Mary every time her mind slips back to that darkest of days.
It was Mary who found Hawe’s handwritten note taped to the back door warning whoever found it: ‘Do not come in. Call the gardaí.’
Mary hasn’t been back to the Barconny homestead since but daughter Jacqueline has, briefly. She attended twice with gardaí - the first time to get clothes for burial, picking up Niall’s glasses, and taking with her the mug Clodagh always drank from.
Clodagh’s family have lived in perpetual grief since, pulled only from that deep despair by a determination to seek justice on their loved ones’ behalfs.
Serious case review
Mary and Jacqueline still await the outcome of a serious case review first agreed to by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in March 2019. The pledge, to examine any possible flaws in how the Hawe murder-suicide investigation transpired, initially overseen by now Superintendent James O’Leary, is being headed-up by the assistant Garda Commissioner Barry O’Brien.
Up until the murders, dad Alan was widely considered to be pillar of the community - a respectable, hard-working, mass-going husband and father.
Mary and Jacqueline are still “unsure” as to what exactly pushed him over the edge, but expect that to be but one of the focuses of the review that gardaí will only say is “ongoing”.
“We had to do Claire Byrne Live to get in front [Garda Commissioner] Drew Harris,” says Jacqueline, who doubts a meeting would ever have taken place had it not been for the furore the broadcast sparked, setting the hashtag #HerNameIsClodagh to trend worldwide.
“Something has to change, but nothing has changed. We still have no answers. A serious case review was fought hard for at that meeting [with Comm Harris],” says Jacqueline. “He could tell us things we never knew abouthe case no one else told us.”
Among the information relayed was dad Alan’s suspected time of death, revised as hours after he is believed to have cruelly murdered Clodagh and their boys. Another was confirmation that Alan had been spotted alive, driving close to Castlerahan school, in the early hours of the morning the murders took place.
Like relatives of the late Celine Cawley before, Clodagh’s family are also appealling for reforms to Irish inheritance law, blocking those who kill family and relatives from profiting from the crime.
Under the Succession Act 1965, “an outdated and archaic law”, Alan’s mother and father, his next of kin, inherited everything because of the sequence in which the Cavan family died. “He was the last to survive so he inherits everything,” explains Mary.
The result has been a bitter and, as yet, still unresolved legal dispute with Stephen Hawe, appointed legal representative of his son Alan’s estate in 2019.
It was one of a number of topics discussed when Mary and Jacqueline met then Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan soon after their landmark appearance on Claire Byrne Live.
The “brick wall” they’d felt up against before that is what prompted mum and daughter to participate in the RTÉ special - their position, they feel, strengthened by opinions on the Hawe murder-suicide published by Paul Gilligan, head of Dublin’s St Patrick’s Hospital.
The independent research on Familicide and Domestic Homicide, initially chaired by the late Norah Gibbons, will soon be inherited by the office of Helen McEntee TD.
The department believe the report is an “important first step” towards legislating for the introduction of Domestic Homicide Reviews in Ireland.
Separately, Mary and Jacqueline hope lessons can yet be learned on how inquests into familicide are conducted in future, with greater supports and protection for the families of victims.
After a two-day inquest hearing at Cavan Courthouse which, at times left Mary and Jacqueline Connolly shaking with heartache, Alan Hawe was found to have unlawfully killed Clodagh wife and their three children, before dying himself by suicide.
Clodagh’s surviving family have persistently argued that a psychological autopsy should have been undertaken, reconstructing events leading up to Hawe’s death, and ascertaining other significant factors including intent. They feel an “important part” of such an assessment includes speaking to family members, something they say State appointed expert Professor Harry Kennedy, Clinical Director of the Central Mental Hospital in Dublin, did not do.
Prof Kennedy’s conclusion was Hawe suffered from depression for years, and this progressed to a more severe depressive episode prior to committing the murders.
“He was so manipulative. He only ever showed people what he wanted them to see. Only we know now how unhinged he was,” says Jacqueline. “We were told the Coroners Act only pertained to the ‘what, where, how and who’, yet the State hired Harry Kennedy to diagnose the ‘why?’. When we wanted to refute this, we were advised we’d have to seek independent expert opinion from another forensic psychiatrist in the UK, which we were not in a position to do.
“This was a complete injustice to Clodagh and the boys,” believes Jacqueline.
She also vividly still remembers the “scrum” of reporters after the inquest ended, and later, when by graveside in Castlerahan, hearing a clicking noise.
“Mam thought I was losing the plot but, no sooner did I turn around, than a man with a camera jumped out of a tree and ran towards a car outside the gate. We should have been better protected, we should have been given space and time to grieve. But we weren’t. We were laid bare.”
Closer to home, the demand for safe refuge accommodation in Cavan-Monaghan for persons escaping domestic violence continues. More than €60,000 raised in memory of Clodagh and her boys was donated to Women’s Aid and Cavan-Monaghan charity, Tearmann.
A total of 27 cases of murder-suicide have occurred in Ireland between January 2007 and February 2021. The recent inquest into the deaths of a father and two sons in Kanturk, Co Cork in October 2020 brought back harrowing memories for Clodagh’s family. They are requesting that any changes to State service policies or procedures supporting families of those who die by familicide be named ‘Clodagh’s Protocols’.
“I think of how their relatives are coping now,” notes Mary solemnly. “For Clodagh and the bys, their torture ended when he killed them, but for relatives it just goes on and on and on. We’re still living this torture he left us with. Nothing is ever going to change reality. Five years this year is 10 years further down the line. Your spirit dies when a love like that is taken from you.”
Alan Hawe’s remains were exhumed in May 2017 from the quiet of Castlerahan graveyard where Clodagh and her boys now rest alone. Mary had felt “duty bound” to bury the family together. But looking back she says the “whole horror” of the situation didn’t resonate until too late. “It was because he appeared so good, and seemed so good to Clodagh and the kids, you just couldn’t imagine he could do what he’d done.”
Liam, “so studious”, if alive today, would probably be starting college this September. “He could have been anything he put his mind to,” considers Mary, whereas Niall “so creative” and Ryan, “the rebel” at just six and already “the life of the party” would each be finding their own paths.
“They’re very much missed,” says Mary, who finds comfort knowing her family are not alone in their anguish, as displayed by the large numbers who still attend anniversary Masses, or leave trinkets by the graveside.
Before speaking to the Celt, Mary got a letter in the post. It contained a card, two sets of rosary beads and two vials of Holy oil. It was sent anonymously. She says she “hasn’t the words” to thank whoever did send it. Those gestures, of such “simple human kindness” give her the strength to carry on.
At Oristown meanwhile, Clodagh’s name resonates in a new hall named in her memory. A tree, planted by Liam’s friends at his former school, and other gestures acted away from the public eye echo just as loudly.
“I was only saying to mam the other day, I still can’t believe they’re gone,” adds Jacqueline, her voice cracking with emotion.
Ahead of the anniversary, marked by Mass at St Mary’s Church, Castlerahan this Saturday, August 28 at 6.30pm, if Clodagh was alive, says mum Mary “and something terrible had happened, she’d be the one telling us ‘you have to keep going, we have to keep at this’. Because that’s the kind she was, always positive, so we have to do this for her if nothing else.”
For anyone affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, or for domestic violence services, Tearmann on 047-72311.