Border killing fields that new wave of criminals see as spiritual home
Garda Tony Golden and Siobhán Phillips were victims of the criminal and murderous culture that still exists in the ‘Bandit Country’ of South Armagh
One week ago, the names Adrian Crevan Mackin, Siobhán Philips and Tony Golden were unknown outside their network of family, friends and colleagues.
But they were about to become household names for the most horrific and unpredictable of reasons: their relatively short lives inextricably linked forever by one act of mindless, sickening violence.
One was an unhinged, psychopath who wanted to be a Republican freedom fighter. Siobhán was the mother of his two children and a victim of appalling domestic violence. The third casualty was a dedicated garda simply doing his duty.
The first indication of the terrifying story unfolding in Omeath began to circulate around 6.45pm with reports three people had been shot.
By 7.20pm the haze of confusion was lifted and the true situation was known - a garda had been shot dead by a man on bail for IRA membership who then turned the gun on himself.
The killer's unfortunate partner had been shot several times and was fighting for her life. And then we got to hear the names of those involved, and began putting human faces on the shooter and his victims.
In a society increasingly desensitised to gun crime and extreme acts of violence, the horror in Omeath last Sunday was still enough to plunge an entire nation into mourning.
And in the background looms the spectre of South Armagh, suitably dubbed Bandit Country.
This is the spiritual home of all Republican terrorists both past and present.
This enclave of rolling drumlins and boreens is deceptively peaceful to the casual observer.
But the reality is that after almost 50 years, South Armagh stands as Western Europe's equivalent of the Wild West - a place where the IRA godfathers fashioned their own alternative State.
During the Troubles, the Provos turned a pastoral landscape into killing fields where the rule of law was replaced by the iron fist of the IRA Army Council.
In this Republican enclave, crime is a way of life and the godfathers can operate with impunity behind an impenetrable wall of silence - the code of Omerta.
It has protected many killers, including those of Garda Adrian Donohoe and Paul Quinn, an innocent local lad who made the mistake of disrespecting one of the IRA dons in the 'Rafia'.
This is oil country - but it sure ain't Texas - where a multi-million euro industry has thrived for decades on the back of smuggling and illegal fuel laundering.
The leaders of the crime syndicates are powerful men, respected by the wider Republican family.
The lethal carcinogenic sludge - a by-product of fuel laundering - which the Bandit Country patriots dump on the landscape is not the only poison produced.
It stands as a sort of Republican Mecca for a new generation of criminal thugs who see the benefits of combining a perverse version of patriotism with an excuse to rob, steal and kill.
Adrian Crevan Mackin from Newry was one of those wannabes lured to the dark side of this world.
The 24-year-old hung around with the young gangs from South Armagh and liked the idea of being a dissident Republican, even though he was born around the time of the first ceasefire.
Mackin was also a sexual deviant who was convicted of possessing stomach-churning images of bestiality. Siobhán Phillips, a gentle young lady from a respectable family, somehow fell for the charms of this monster.
Her boyfriend had been making a name of sorts for himself as an up-and-coming dissident before his 21st birthday.
But his comrades in the various factions of the Real and Continuity IRA considered him too volatile and dangerous even for them.
Mackin moved Siobhán and their children to a house in Omeath. He had established a handy side-line in reactivating replica handguns which he bought over the internet.
In January it brought him to the attention of the gardaí and he was charged with membership of the IRA.
Five days later he was granted bail with the condition that he signed on twice a week at Omeath garda station where he would have certainly met Tony Golden.
Last Saturday Siobhán phoned a relation and told her she was living in terror of Mackin and wanted help to get away from him.
The night before, she had been subjected to yet another savage beating during which Mackin threatened to kill her and her family.
That night she stayed away, and the following afternoon Siobhán went with her father to make a full statement of complaint to Garda Golden.
Before she went home the young mother said she wanted to get some things from the house, and Tony Golden went with her to make sure she was safe.
By now, what happened next is painfully familiar to everyone. Mackin was inside waiting with a high-powered Glock pistol.
Later, in a search of his car, gardaí were astonished to find a second Glock handgun, 700 rounds of ammunition and cans filled with petrol.
It indicated that Adrian Crevan Mackin may have been planning on murdering Siobhán and her family - but that plan changed when she unexpectedly walked into the house with a garda.
Gardaí are now working hard to trace where he obtained the guns and ammo.
Their probe will hopefully help capture more of the dangerous Republicans for whom South Armagh is a spiritual home.