'All I have of her is a piece of hair'
THE PARENTS of a fiveyear-old girl who died in an arson attack said the inquest into her death last week was harrowing. In an exclusive interview with The Sligo Champion, mother, Teresa Keane, said: "I knew Mari was burned but I never realised how bad it was until the pathologist read out his report."
The inquest heard how the innocent little girl died in a house fire in Boyle in the early hours of October 3, 2011. Speaking after hearing the details in the inquest, Teresa said: "I felt like getting sick. I couldn't describe it. It was just unnatural the way she died. Her body was charred. There was nothing left of her."
Heartbroken Teresa, a native of Culfadda, said the inquest has not brought closure because she will never get over what happened.
"Yesterday, it was all in black and white how she died and how she was found. We heard the pathologist read out everything and I still feel like getting sick when I think what Mari went through.
"It makes you realise what she went through in her last few moments."
As for the man now serving 13 years for Mari's manslaughter, she said: "John Lynch will never realise what he done. I know the fire killed her but it was John Lynch killed her."
She added that he didn't even take a second look to check if there were children in the house.
"There were always children's toys in that house. All he had to do was look around," she said.
Teresa Keane was in Sligo General Hospital giving birth to twins on the night of the fatal fire.
What should have been the most joyful of occasions was shattered with the tragic news. That Sunday night she went to bed happy, looking forward to returning home with her twin babies. But unknown to her, fate had the utmost cruelty in store.
At 3:30 am, she got a call from Mari's aunt, Orla to say there had been a fire in Termon.
She said: "As soon as she said it, I asked where was Mari. Orla didn't answer me."
Afterwards, Teresa, in a desperate effort to get news of Mari, rang every number she could think of.
"Every time I rang, nobody would tell me," she said.
Then she called her sister, Christine, who was in Termon. Christine told Teresa there was a detective who wanted to talk to her.
She recalled: "It was about 5 o'clock in the morning. I was standing at the back of the hospital's Emergency Department. A detective told me they had found Mari's body. I just threw the phone away."
Having embraced the joy of birth, she now had to confront the horror of death. Christmas is an especially difficult time for the family. Teresa said: "Mari should be there. But all we can do is visit her grave.
"All of I have of her is a piece of her hair, a piece of her pony tail. It's a hard time. Christmas morning is horrible."
Teresa told how she was recently at a nephew's party, and she wished Mari was there too. "It's the smallest things that affect you," she said. As for Mari's two older siblings, Lauren and Naomi, she said they were "doing brilliant."
They returned to school soon after the fire, which helped restore some routine and normality in their lives, she said.
Little Mari's father, Richard Connolly, sustained serious back injuries in the fire. There were even fears he might not walk again.
He had to attend his daughter's funeral lying on a
stretcher. Teresa said that he is now "doing good."
Speaking after the inquest Richard told The Sligo Champion: "Let her Rest in Peace. This is the last of it. He is sentenced and the inquest is over."
But with Christmas coming around again, it can be difficult. "It all comes back," Richard said.
He confirmed he never believed Lynch would carry out his alleged threat to burn the house in which Mari died.
He said that he was quizzing a few people about Lynch, whom he knew was from Sligo.
Richard explained that John Lynch had been living only three doors away from Teresa Keane, Mari's mother, in Church View, in Boyle.
Richard said; "I knew him to see. I often walked by and said ' howaya' and he would say ' hello.' "As the months went by, I passed no heed." However, at about 2:30 on the night of October 3rd, 2011, Richard Connolly awoke to find his house in Termon ablaze.