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Saturday 3 December 2016

Inside the cottage where the spy met his death

Greg Harkin in Glenties

Published 22/09/2016 | 02:30

The isolated house at Derryloughan, near Glenties where Denis Donaldson was murdered. (North West Newspix)
The isolated house at Derryloughan, near Glenties where Denis Donaldson was murdered. (North West Newspix)

As Denis Donaldson fell to his death behind the door of a run-down family cottage in Co Donegal, he reached out to the wall to his right, leaving a bloodied hand print on the whitewash.

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Two shotgun blasts through the front door of the 19th-century building in the townland of Classey, 7km from Glenties, had caught the former Sinn Féin leader and British spy in the chest and arm.

The scene inside the cottage near Glenties, 10 years after the murder of Denis Donaldson.
Photos: North West Newspix
The scene inside the cottage near Glenties, 10 years after the murder of Denis Donaldson. Photos: North West Newspix

He died within seconds, leaving another smudge of blood at the bottom of the same wall.

A representative of the Real IRA's 'army council' said Donaldson didn't try to defend himself when the killers struck.

"The look on his face wasn't even one of shock. He seemed to know what was coming," he said in a newspaper interview in 2009.

The last person to see him alive before the killer was a census agent at around 8.30pm on April 3, 2006.

The inside of the house at Derryloughan near Glenties where Denis Donaldson was murdered. (North West Newspix)
The inside of the house at Derryloughan near Glenties where Denis Donaldson was murdered. (North West Newspix)

It would be 5pm the next day before gardaí would find the body of Donaldson.

A local woman, driving past the cottage, had called the garda station in Glenties to report that the front door of the cottage had been smashed in and a window had been broken. Within an hour of the killing, dissidents in Derry were boasting of their role in the death.

The cottage is extremely hard to find. There are no neighbours to ask for directions. In 2006, it looked derelict and abandoned. A decade later, not much has changed.

Outside, weeds grow two-feet high from the guttering, the front door lies open and windows are still smashed. All three chimney pots are either missing or broken.

Bog reeds and long grass surround the cottage.

A barn for storing turf sits at the back of the building, while a stone-built outside toilet sits in what was once a garden.

The cottage was later sold by the Donaldson family. They never returned there after the murder.

Now, sheep trample through the living room of the three-roomed cottage, which locals say is more than 200 years old.

The hallway where Denis Donaldson took his last breath is now covered in sheep dung.

In the bedroom to the left, bunk beds lie twisted, with old mattresses on top. A plaque that once bore the family name crest is now broken.

A few feet away, across the tiny hallway, in the living room/kitchen, the ancient stove - with a smashed portable TV atop - has been ripped from the fireplace where it once stood. Dishes remain piled high in a basin set inside a Belfast sink.

Empty bottles of bleach sit on the drainer alongside pots and pans, above which are three shelves stacked with rusting tins of food. The best-before dates on the tin of Heinz tomato soup and the Asda own-brand pink salmon have long since disappeared.

A couple of feet further up, above the food cupboards, are two brandy glasses gathering dust.

It's like a home lost in time. The cottage has changed little from the time Denis Donaldson used it as a bolt-hole from unseen enemies on all sides in Belfast.

He lived here without running water or electricity for four months after dramatically telling a Belfast press conference he had been working as an agent of the RUC/British Intelligence.

Sporting a beard, he would make the short trip to Glenties for provisions, no-one recognising him from his notoriety just a few weeks earlier; but Denis Donaldson was no ordinary holidaymaker from the North.

Irish Independent

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