LARISSA NOLAN in DUNGLOE SET in the wilderness of west Donegal, Dungloe is a place that local singer Daniel O'Donnell describes as heaven. But the town - famed for its international summertime Mary of Dungloe festival - is now the setting for a grisly murder hunt that has shocked locals to the core.
The peace of the coastal idyll was shattered last weekend when a well-known local bachelor was violently hacked to death with an arsenal of weapons including a crossbow, an axe and a knife.
The victim was undertaker Shaun Duffy, who lived alone in a house just outside the town in Meenacross. After returning home from a family party, he was violently killed by what gardai believe to be two men who had been lying in wait for him.
Shocked residents include broadcaster Gay Byrne who has a house in Dungloe and knew Duffy personally. He told the Sunday Independent: "I find it hard to believe that in such a close-knit town nobody saw anything to point to who did it. It's a small placewhere people's movements are easily seen."
The 36-year-old was found lying face down in a pool of blood. And with his killers still at large, fear has eaten up the area with locals talking of nothing but the killing.
Elderly people living on their own have been particularly unsettled by what has happened, checking locks and being too afraid to answer the door to callers.
A cast of characters has been mentioned as possible suspects and everyone in the once tranquil village is looking over their shoulders, wondering who could have carried out such a shockingly violent crime.
Investigating gardai have so far been unable to make an arrest, saying only that the list of possible suspects is long.
A team of 45 officers and detectives are working on the case, which is being hampered by the fact that there are many people who could have had a motive to kill Duffy, and the failure to find any of the weapons involved. A garda source said: "It's a case of too many suspects. There are a number of people who could have had a grudge against this man and wanted to kill him - he had plenty of enemies."
The crossbow used in the attack belonged to Duffy himself. He had it as an ornament, displaying it above the fireplace of his home.
A big, bulky man of about six feet, Duffy was described locally as a love-him-or-hate-him character who was mostly genial and good-natured, but had a short fuse that often got him into trouble. His bad temper often resulted in fights and over the years he had come to the attention of gardai for various episodes of violence. He was due to appear in court next month, facing charges of assault causing harm. At an earlier court sitting, he had pleaded guilty to the assaults.
His large family are still too upset to discuss what happened to Shaun, especially as it is their second tragedy in less than six months. His mother Kathleen's long-term partner Jimmy Ward diedfollowing an accident lastOctober.
All last week, rumours and theories surrounding Shaun's death circulated the community of 1,000, where everyone knows each other.
Probably because of his bachelor status, one local rumour circulating was that Shaun was targeted in an anti-gay attack. Some said Duffy, once known as a bit of a ladies' man, was actually bisexual and could have made unwelcome advances towardsanother man.
Another claim was that he fed information on local criminals to gardai and that this was a factor in his death.
What is known is that Shaun Duffy went out for a few drinks to his local on Friday, January 28 and returned to his home, just a few miles outside Dungloe, at around midnight. He then attended a party at his family home, in the neighbouring house. When he returned to his own house at around 2.30am, he was bludgeoned and hacked to death with the weapons.
Gardai have ruled out the possibility that he was killed in a botched burglary. Burglaries are extremely rare in the area and nothing was stolen from the house.
It is believed that two men were lying in wait for Duffy after making their way into his house. He was known to look out his window before answering any callers, so it is unlikely that they called at his front door. Carrying a knife, a blunt instrument and possibly an axe, they also used Duffy's crossbow in the attack.
Concern for his safety grew when he failed to answer his phone the following day and his 18-year-old brother made the grim discovery when he went to his house. A search for the weapons has not been successful, although gardai have combed the area thoroughly. The vast landscape means the hunt is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
Yesterday, gardai were stationed at Shaun Duffy's small home, located up a boreen just past a crossroads. The hearse he used for his undertaking work was still parked outside.
Gay Byrne said he knew Shaun Duffy to see over the decades he has spent in the area. "I would have known Shaun as a child growing up.
"I can only imagine the grief and the shock in the town since this happened. Certainly nothing like this has happened there before."
It was a point referred to at Duffy's well-attended funeral at St Patrick's church in Meenacross last Thursday.
Fr John Joe Duffy, a cousin of the dead man, told the congregation of about 1,000 mourners that somebody knows something and hinted that the killers might actually be present at the mass.
"Somebody wanted Shaun dead; somebody wanted to play God," he said. "I urge you to hand yourself over to the gardai. Whoever did this will not be able to live with themselves; it will eat you up and your conscience will only be cleared by a confession." He added: "There is a fearful state of mind in the town due tothe horror that took place. Donot allow fear to eat upthis community."
Marine minister and Dungloe local Pat the Cope Gallagher said that Shaun Duffy's death has left the community in a state of stunned grief. "He was a larger-than-life character who had a great presence. He was a big man in every sense of the word and his family are devastated."
A sociable sort, Shaun Duffy knew a lot of people in the greater Rosses area and was involved with a number of community groups, including the famous Mary of Dungloe festival, which he attended as an escort in the late Nineties.
In contrast with his short temper, he was kind-hearted and often visited elderly people in the town to keep them company.
One friend said: "Shaun had a finger in every pie. He was by times a bouncer, an undertaker, a car dealer. He had many interests, such as horses, cars and sport.
"Shaun was well-liked by an awful lot of people, but had just as many enemies - that was just his personality."