Tuesday 24 October 2017

A bubbly family woman who died in a brutal assault

Michael McDonagh and Jacqueline McDonagh
Michael McDonagh and Jacqueline McDonagh
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

She was a worrier who constantly fretted about her family - but it was her husband's threats and violence that caused her most fear.

The only time Jacqueline McDonagh ever had peace was when her husband was training for his bare-knuckle boxing fights.

Theirs was a marriage that began on film in 1997, with the now almost unbearably poignant footage of an 18-year-old blushing bride bowing her head as cheering family members throw rice and urge her young husband, Michael Quinn McDonagh, to give his beautiful new wife a kiss.

The wedding was film maker Ian Palmer's conduit into the shady world of Traveller bare-knuckle boxing - where a fight can command a 'purse' of €120,000 - dwarfing prizes in 'serious' boxing.

His subsequent documentary, 'Knuckle', was 12 years in the making and nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance.

But 15 years after her wedding day and three young children later, the life of Jacqueline McDonagh had spiralled into misery.

Her husband was a jealous man, bitterly possessive of his wife and deeply resenting her close family ties with her own kin.

Travellers are deeply private people but the Victim Impact Statement after Quinn McDonagh was sentenced to life last Monday, described him as "cruel" and "domineering".

Though she never talked to her family about any previous incidents of domestic abuse, her family knew her husband to be a violent and controlling man.

But Jacqueline always returned to him because he threatened violence against her beloved family - and those were threats she knew to take seriously.

Two videos posted on YouTube serve as unofficial and deeply unsettling 'sequels' to Knuckle.

The first shows Michael Quinn McDonagh issuing a standard long-winded 'challenge' to a fellow bare-knuckle Traveller fighter, describing himself as "the wolf of the brothers".

In it, he castigates the man's clan for targeting the home of a female relative of his, "a woman with two girls and a young boy...going down and breaking windows in the house and the woman's husband in jail".

The other video is a heart-breaking montage of cherished family photographs of Jacqueline McDonagh, set to the soundtrack of 'The Cowboy Rides Away' by the 'King of Country,' George Strait, posted by her grief-stricken family.

The shots show an ever glamorous and smiling Jacqueline at the heart of family occasions; posing happily with a floral-pattered wheelie case before heading away on holidays; showering affection on her daughters and posing proudly in the back of a pink hummer on her daughter's Holy Communion day.

Several of the photographs show Jacqueline in the company of her beloved parents, Winnie and Christy.

Tragically, it emerged that Jacqueline had made several desperate attempts to contact her father on her mobile during the vicious 80-minute long assault which resulted in her death.

Neighbours in Finglas, Dublin, recalled a polite and gentle woman whose husband was remarkable for the fact that he would help her lug in the bags of washing.

But the notorious family feuding led to the Quinn McDonaghs moving from Finglas to Dundalk.

"I've always found him to be a very respectful, mannerly and serious person to deal with," said a source close to Quinn McDonagh.

"He was a man who had grown up very much in the shadow of his stronger brother, James."

"Michael's a big lad but he's not a great fighter.

"He's got his demons but he was a nice fellow - I liked him," this man admitted.

However he revealed that Michael was 'off his face on coke and steroids' when he brutally battered his wife to death.

What triggered the event is unknown but occurred after the couple had been celebrating at a family occasion on August 29, 2012.

CCTV footage from a number of hours before the murder showed the father-of-three getting out of his car in good form and "dancing".

The court heard alcohol had been consumed.

The defence told the court the couple had been in "good form" at the party and there had been "no issues" between them.

But shortly after returning home, Michael Quinn McDonagh wearing only boxer shorts, ran screaming onto the road from their home, shouting: "She's dead, she's dead."

Neighbours alerted the police, who found Jacqueline lying on her back wearing just underwear, with her feet facing the front door.

Her body showed signs of a vicious and prolonged assault, with a gash on her forehead and stab marks to her thighs.

A large amount of blood had spattered onto the walls and ceiling.

It later emerged that she had been stabbed on the legs with a garden shears and beaten with a baseball bat. Her terrified young children, Michael (5), Nikita (10) and Chloe (14), were still in the house and were deeply distressed.

An inquest which opened and adjourned at Dundalk heard that Jacqueline had died from haemorrhage from scalp wounds and blunt force trauma to the body.

Garda Niall Smyth told the inquest that Michael Quinn McDonagh was coming down the stairs when he asked him who the woman was.

He replied "My wife Jacqueline".

Focus quickly turned to Michael as the suspect but he did not immediately own up.

It was not until his teenage daughter, Chloe, visited him in jail on the eve of his trial last Sunday and begged him to end the family's nightmare that he dramatically changed his plea.

She told him that it was time for him to stand up and do this for his family and that he should serve his time.

He gave her his word and said that he would do it for his children and for his own mother.

Quinn McDonagh's solicitor, Cahir O'Higgins, told the Irish Independent that the decision was Michael's alone to make.

"It is unusual for someone to plead guilty to murder and it speaks volumes about Michael's attitude to the case and taking responsibility for it," he said.

He said this was a tragedy for two families, particularly with young children involved.

But Michael's guilty plea was not one celebrated by Jacqueline's devastated mother, Winnie, who said that it would not bring her beloved daughter back home to her family.

Irish Independent

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