AT the lonely graveside of slain detective Adrian Donohoe, two women embraced in tears. They were strangers with a shared grief; both their husbands had been taken from them in painfully similar circumstances.
Caroline Donohoe's husband was gunned down without warning by a gang of thieves robbing a credit union on the Cooley Peninsula on Friday, January 25. Ann McCabe's husband, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, was gunned down without warning by a gang of IRA men robbing a post office in Adare 17 years ago.
Whether thieves or the IRA, the effect is the same; two devastated mothers left widowed and bereft. As Ann has discovered in the two decades since she lost her husband, time doesn't numb the pain.
On that bleak Wednesday morning, she says she stood at Garda Donohoe's grave with her brother-in-law, Pat Kearney, feeling Caroline's loss as keenly as if she were reliving her own.
Pat encouraged her to go over and say something.
"I was very emotional, and I thought, 'What am I going to do? What am I going to say?' It's just that I know how she feels. I know exactly how she feels and what she will be feeling for a long, long time," she says. But the grief in the graveyard was unspeakable anyway. Ann and Caroline hugged each other and wept.
"I hope that sometime Caroline might find it..." says Ann, faltering. "She has a young girl, young children. They will keep her busy but the river of tears never stops."
Her voice catches and she casts her eyes downwards so her tears won't show. Ann's pain is palpable. But she isn't here to talk about her personal sorrow. She is also mindful of what the Donohoe family are going through and is wary of intruding on their grief.
The reason she has agreed – reluctantly – to be interviewed is because Gerry Adams, who has for years refused to condemn the murder of Det Garda McCabe, used the occasion of Adrian Donohoe's murder to belatedly apologise to Jerry McCabe's family for his "killing" at the hands of "republicans".
On the eve of Garda Donohoe's funeral, against a backdrop of public outrage, politicians took turns in the Dail to denounce the murder of the 41-year-old garda and father of two. When it came to Gerry Adams's turn, he expressed his shock at Garda Donohoe's "killing" and offered his condolences to his family before segueing into an apology to the McCabes: "I want to apologise to Mrs McCabe and the McCabe family, and to Garda Ben O'Sullivan and to the families of other members of the State forces who were killed by republicans in the course of the conflict. I am
very sorry for the pain and loss inflicted on those families. No words of mine can remove that hurt. Dreadful deeds cannot be undone." He finished by appealing to people with information about Garda Donohoe's killing to go to the police.
Sitting in her brother-in-law's offices in Limerick last week, Ann bristles with anger. She's angry at Adams's apology. She's angry at the hypocrisy of his appeal for people to help the police while he has made no such appeal for information on the two missing IRA suspects wanted for questioning about Jerry McCabe's murder and who are still on the run after 17 years. She's angry most of all at the timing of his apology.
"I was absolutely shocked and amazed. I was on the train to Dundalk [on her way to Det Garda Donohoe's funeral], in actual fact, when I heard it. I said, above all days, that guard was lying in his coffin at that stage, and to bring this up in the Dail – about me. It should have had nothing to do with me. Whatever he had to say should have been about Adrian Donohoe and his family who were grieving. And I can only imagine the grief they were going through," she says.
"It was totally wrong and totally disingenuous to Caroline Donohoe and her family. If he wanted to apologise for the death of Adrian Donohoe, rightly so, and to condemn his death. But not to bring Jerry, my family and Jerry's family, into it again."
Does she accept his apology? "Never. I don't want any apology from Gerry Adams or any of his ilk."
"What is the point in apologising when they won't admit that what they did was murder? If he was so sincere with his apologies, why doesn't he come along and say where are the rest of the murderers, the people who were involved in the murder of Jerry are hiding out now."
Ann has heard enough from Adams over the years to be sceptical of his motives. "I just wondered what was his reason for raising this in the Dail on the day that he raised it. As a member of the Louth constituency, which the Donohoes were part of, I don't think that Gerry Adams could have gone into the church and held his head high – or tried to hold his head high – without saying what he said," she says. "That's my belief. I don't know whether it's his thinking or not."
At Garda Donohoe's funeral mass at St Joseph's Redemptorist church in Dundalk, she saw Gerry Adams, to her right, three seats in front of her, his hollow apology still ringing in her ears. She was perturbed at first. "But then, I just switched off," she said.
She listened instead to the sermon from Fr Michael Cusack. "I have huge admiration for him and for the way he spoke. And the fact that he wouldn't ask any member of the family to forgive the killers ... I thought that was very brave of him, in his position, exceptionally brave... People took heed of what he said," she says.
Now in her early 60s, Ann is a self-deprecating and naturally retiring woman who dislikes giving interviews and hates media attention. When she married Jerry, she stayed at home raising their five children and never entertained a thought of engaging in any sort of public discourse. After his murder, she was driven to fight publicly Sinn Fein's attempts to use her dead husband's killers as barter in the peace process.
In the immediate aftermath of Garda McCabe's murder, Adams at first denied that the IRA was responsible at all and said "such killings had no part in the republican struggle".
Yet when four IRA men were convicted of his manslaughter, Adams took them back into the fold. He lobbied for their early release from Castlerea open prison, effectively making their freedom one of the conditions for peace in Northern Ireland. Public opinion was with Ann McCabe and they were not released under the Good Friday Agreement, but served their full sentences with parole for good behaviour.
Her view has always been that Jerry was deliberately murdered, not "killed". Murder charges against the IRA gang responsible were dropped and they pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
But Ann believes that the gang responsible were thieves on a solo run to line their own pockets. Yet according to Sinn Fein logic, their actions were not only above "condemnation", but merited special treatment, just because they also happened to be in the IRA.
She is struck by eerie similarities in the murders of Adrian Donohoe and of her husband. Both were gardai on duty, escorting cash in rural financial outlets, gunned down by robbers.
Adrian Donohoe was in the passenger seat, with his partner, Joe Ryan, driving. Jerry McCabe sat in the passenger seat, with his partner, Ben O'Sullivan, at the wheel.
Garda Donohoe was shot in the head without warning, seconds after he got out of his car. Garda McCabe and his partner were gunned down inside their car. Both Gardas McCabe and Donohoe died instantly.
Just as Adrian Donohoe's brother, who is also a garda, was on duty in Navan garda station when news of his death came through, Ann's son, John, was a young garda on duty in Monaghan when he heard that his father had been shot.
Ann believes fervently that anyone who kills a guard should "have the mandatory sentence of 40 years imposed" and "they should serve every year of it".
She has found consolation in the Garda Survivors Support Group, a group of mostly widows and families of gardai who have died or been killed in the course of their duties.
She says "when the time is right" for Caroline, they will be there for her if she wishes.
"It's all about Caroline now. I am 17 years down the line. It never goes away. Ever. You have the likes of Sinn Fein/IRA bringing it back to the forefront again. If they are so, so sorry and apologetic for everything, why don't they bring back the other two men who are wanted for questioning?"
Over the years, Adams has "renounced" and "repudiated" and "regretted" what happened, and last week added "I apologise" to the list. He has always refused to condemn it.
Over the years, Ann McCabe has pursued Gerry Adams with steely focus, tossing aside his political cant, challenging him to condemn her husband's murder.
Her challenge stands. "You can apologise for anything. But you must condemn a murder. Condemn is the word I want from him," she says.