Pauline Tully: The children have nightmares about their father killing their mother
It was 11am on the morning of Christmas Eve when a knock came at the family home.
Two little boys aged seven and four stood on the stairs to see who was there - as their mother opened the door to be greeted with a punch in the face.
The look of "bewilderment and fear" etched on their small faces will be forever etched in her mind, Pauline Tully said of her sons.
For more than two-and-a half hours, the former Sinn Féin counsellor was subjected to a vicious and terrifying assault in her Cavan home at the hands of her former husband, Pearse McAuley (50), which left her in no doubt that he intended to kill her.
Ms Tully sat at the back of the courtroom in Cavan Circuit Criminal Court as her estranged husband was yesterday put behind bars for eight years.
Dressed in a purple shirt, purple jumper and grey trousers, the former IRA senior gunman, who was convicted of killing Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996, was flanked by five gardaí during the hearing.
McAuley was granted special release in 2003 to marry Ms Tully.
Judge John Aylmer said the DPP had considered the attack on Ms Tully to be at the most serious end of the scale, adding that the appropriate sentence was between seven-and-a-half years and 12 years.
"I would place this particular assault at the upper end of that scale, bordering on the most exceptional and serious category of such offences," he said.
However there were "mitigating circumstances", he said, adding that McAuley deserved credit "for what I accept is genuine remorse for his behaviour".
And he said the horror of the attack had been "courageously" set out by Ms Tully in her victim impact statement to the court last week.
Ms Tully had refused to accept a letter of apology, but the judge said he had read it and noted its contents.
He acknowledged McAuley's severe difficulty with alcohol, "while not accepting that intoxication provided any explanation or excuse or mitigation".
McAuley spent three months in residence at a treatment centre in Galway in 2014 and attacked his former wife during a relapse. He has since attended meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in prison but had a "tendency towards self-harm because of the remorse" the court heard.
However, he was said to be an "exemplary" prisoner who worked with the rehabilitation of other prisoners and Judge Aylmer noted that McAuley had used his influence to positive effect in the peace process.
McAuley was sentenced to a total of 12 years imprisonment - but with the last four years of his 12-year sentence suspended for four years upon his release.
He was also given a three-year concurrent sentence for possession of a knife, six years for false imprisonment and four years for a threat to kill Ms Tully's brother, Tommy.
McAuley had already pleaded guilty to the charges.
As prison guards took him away from the courtroom, McAuley looked up at Ms Tully before bowing his head under her gaze.
In her victim impact statement, Ms Tully described how McAuley had started rummaging in the pocket of his tracksuit bottoms after punching her in the face last Christmas Eve.
She expected him to produce a gun.
Instead, he took out a steak knife and ordering the children upstairs, dragged her into the kitchen, screaming that if he couldn't have her "no one else could".
The couple had separated 11 months previously and McAuley was convinced she was seeing another man, though Ms Tully insists she was not.
She was treated "worse than an animal" and began to pray as she thought she would die.
Ms Tully "heard air" as he punctured her lung with a stab wound and she got a tea towel and pushed it against her chest.
McAuley stabbed the mother of his children a total of 13 times and called their sons down to say goodbye to their mother.
"He wouldn't allow them to hold me. I was sure I was going to die and not see my children grow up. I'm adamant it was a clear, calculated attempt to kill me," Ms Tully said in her statement.
Eventually, she was able to raise the alarm after McAuley passed out after drinking a bottle of liqueur from the fridge.
Speaking outside the court yesterday, Ms Tully vowed to make this Christmas special for her two young sons to lessen the horrific memories of last year.
The children still have nightmares about their father killing their mother and are receiving counselling.
"I am doing as well as can be expected but I have to be strong for my two boys," she said. "I will have to create a very happy memory for the boys this Christmas. I know it will be etched in their memories but I have to try and lessen that and make this the best one ever."
This was something that should never have happened, she said.
She said she did not wish to comment on the sentence but said: "Domestic violence is totally wrong no matter who does it or where it is perpetrated."