A MOTHER of three was stabbed in the chest and left to die on one of her young children's beds as her killer set the house on fire to hide the crime.
Family and neighbours of Olivia Dunlea-O'Brien (36) spoke yesterday of their shock at the killing, which has triggered a murder probe in Co Cork.
Gardai are investigating if a row in which Ms Dunlea-O'Brien is believed to have become em-broiled on Saturday night was started by a text message on a mobile phone.
Detectives are now trawling through the dead woman's phone records in a bid to clarify what contacts she received in the hours before her killing.
A 36-year-old man, from Passage West, is due to face court court in Cork today charged with murder.
The man, who was known to Ms Dunlea-O'Brien, was in her company on Saturday, just hours before she died at the house in Pembroke Crescent, Passage West.
Detectives are also examining CCTV security camera footage from the Rochestown Inn, the pub where the victim was socialising before her death.
The fire erupted at her house less than two hours after she returned home from the pub. Her body was found on a bed in a child's bedroom in the upper front of the two-storey semi-detached property.
Detectives have not as yet found any trace of an accelerant, but they believe a quantity of clothing and possibly papers were on the bed when the fire was started.
They also believe Ms Dunlea-O'Brien was still alive when the fire began, having been seriously injured in the assault.
She suffered at least one major stab wound to the upper chest before collapsing on to her child's bed. Traces of smoke and soot were found in her throat, indicating she was still breathing as the fire took hold.
Toxicology results will not be available for several days, but they are expected to confirm that she did not die from smoke inhalation.
The post-mortem examination was complicated by the fact that her body had been severely damaged by the fire, so much so that detectives were initially unable to determine what clothing she was wearing.
Ms Dunlea-O'Brien was spending the weekend alone at home when the fatal attack occurred.
Her children – Aaron (12), Megan (10) and Daragh (9) – were last night being cared for by their father, Adrian O'Brien, in Cork city. Mr O'Brien separated from Ms Dunlea-O'Brien about four years ago, but the couple remained good friends.
The victim's uncle, John, last night told the Irish Independent that the family were numbed by the tragedy.
"We are all devastated. It is absolutely heartbreaking, and her parents are too upset to talk about it," he said.
He was comforting Ms Dunlea-O'Brien's parents, Jimmy and Anne, who only last week were celebrating the birth of their new grandchild, Charlotte.
Pub owner Liam Bonner was one of the last people to see Ms Dunlea-O'Brien alive as she left the Rochestown Inn.
"She was so chatty and bubbly," he said. "She was in great form that night and passed me several times going outside for a cigarette. She seemed really happy. It's just so hard to believe that she would be dead a couple of hours later."
Gardai yesterday interviewed several people about reports that Ms Dunlea-O'Brien had become involved in a dispute on her way home.
Her house remained sealed off yesterday, with flowers and wreaths placed by the gate.
Pembroke Crescent resident Lorraine Lehane said the entire estate was in shock. "Our thoughts and prayers are with both families at this difficult time," she said.
"In particular, our thoughts and prayers are with those three poor children who have lost their mother."
Another neighbour, Marcia Dalton, said the tragedy was all the more shocking because the tight-knit community was such a safe place to live and raise children.