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A family's final hours: 'When grief comes, it leaves a calling card of darkness and disillusionment'

As news emerged of three young children found dead in Newcastle, there was a sense of horror and disbelief among local people, write Maeve Sheehan and Alan O'Keeffe

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Andrew McGinley pictured with his three children Conor (9), Carla (3) and Darragh (7), who were tragically found dead. Photo: Supplied by Garda Press Office

Andrew McGinley pictured with his three children Conor (9), Carla (3) and Darragh (7), who were tragically found dead. Photo: Supplied by Garda Press Office

TRAGEDY: The grim scene last night in Newcastle. Picture: Colin Keegan

TRAGEDY: The grim scene last night in Newcastle. Picture: Colin Keegan

Colin Keegan

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Andrew McGinley pictured with his three children Conor (9), Carla (3) and Darragh (7), who were tragically found dead. Photo: Supplied by Garda Press Office

Parsons Court is a quiet estate of neat terraced and semi-detached houses and apartments. The homes are arranged around a large, well-maintained grassy park and a playground area tucked away to the side.

It was dark last Friday evening when a woman was seen making her way past the grass park and on to the main street in Newcastle. Neighbours have reported back to gardai that she seemed distracted and upset.

At some point she turned right and walked along the main street of the town for a few hundred yards. There at Newcastle Cemetery, passing motorists noticed the woman, distressed and anguished, according to garda sources.

A taxi driver stopped and, although the precise circumstances are not clear, or whether he knew her, he helped her into his car and drove her the few hundred yards home.

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SHOCK: Flowers left outside the house at Parsons Court. All news photos: Fergal Phillips

SHOCK: Flowers left outside the house at Parsons Court. All news photos: Fergal Phillips

Fergal Phillips

According to neighbours, the woman collapsed beside the taxi. One man stood on the balcony of his apartment, alerted by the commotion outside. The neighbour, who asked not to be named, described how he saw a woman slumped on the ground, with other people attempting to support her. He didn't know at that stage what was going on.

Someone called the emergency services. An ambulance arrived at 7.45pm, just as Andrew McGinley, the children's father, drove home to his family.

He turned into Parsons Court, and drove towards their terraced house with the green front door. He saw the ambulance treating a woman on the ground, the mother of his children. He went into the house, past the handwritten note, propped conspicuously against a bicycle.

"Don't go upstairs. Call 999," the note instructed.

Mr McGinley found his children dead. One child downstairs, the other two upstairs; Conor (9) Darragh (7) and Carla (3), three adorable blonde-haired children.

They were dressed in their day clothes, according to an informed source. Gardai later established the boys had been to school that day. The two boys went to Scoil Chronain primary school in nearby Rathcoole.

The older boy had been picked up earlier than usual at lunchtime that Friday.

Gardai arrived a short time later and soon the family home became a crime scene.

According to one source, there was no sign of force or visible injuries of any kind. But that did not detract from the horror of the scene.

The children's mother, distraught and disoriented, was taken to Tallaght Hospital. The children's bodies remained in their home overnight while the specialist teams concluded their work.

The children's bodies were removed from the house yesterday morning. They were placed in waiting ambulances to be taken to the City Morgue for post-mortems to establish how each of them died.

A garda source said one line of inquiry being investigated by detectives is that the children may have been sedated, possibly by injection, and died of a lethal overdose or by suffocation.

Newcastle has a reputation as being a good place to raise a family. The houses are a little more affordable than in Dublin city centre. Housing estates and apartments shot up during the boom, but the town still has a feel of the rural village it once was.

The McGinley family were relatively recent arrivals at Parsons Court. They are believed to have moved there last year. Deirdre Morley, the children's mother, is a nurse who worked at a hospital in Dublin.

"The kids were quiet little kiddies… They were fabulous, just fabulous," said one neighbour.

Constantin, the caretaker of Parsons Court, said he saw the children playing outside the house. "I think they had a dog, a small one. I remember, because when I would brush outside of the house it would get noisy," he said.

"It's a tragedy. Today, I came here to see if this is real."

A few doors down from the McGinley home, a couple stood in their doorway, red-eyed and tearful, speaking with disbelief about the family they came to know and like.

"This is a huge loss," said the man. "We liked them straight away. They were lovely normal people and now we just can't understand what has happened."

The couple, who didn't want to be identified, have two children of their own, a boy and girl, aged 11 and nine, and Conor and Darragh often called to their home to play with them.

"Conor was nine years old, almost 10, and Darragh was seven, almost eight. They were lovely boys," she said. "Their mother liked to take walks with her little girl. She was at home a lot with the children."

They struggled with what to tell their children. They were using the Parsons Court WhatsApp Group to communicate and share their shock.

Earlier yesterday morning, they had attended a special Mass at Saint Finian's Church, organised by co-parish priest Fr Kevin Doherty.

The small old church was full and some women wept openly.

In the sacristy after Mass, Fr Doherty told The Sunday Independent that when grief comes to a family or community it can "leave a calling card of darkness and disillusionment".

The community of Newcastle was a larger family that had suffered a very tragic loss, he said. No words were adequate but the presence of the people together in the church was important, he said.

"We pray especially for all parents and children," he said.

Darkness had come "but the light is among us... each of us can be light to the other".

A book of condolences lay open at the back of the church. Many of the messages were simple, direct and poignant: 'Spread your wings, Little Angels, rest in peace,' 'Rest easy, baby girl, you were always our angel,' 'God bless you, Little Angels,' and 'RIP Little Angels. You are with God now and He will look after you.'

At the church gates afterwards, a 24-year-old man stood in the morning chill with his two adult sisters and a baby niece. The three had grown up in Newcastle and, although the tragic family had not lived long in the community, they wanted to show sympathy and solidarity.

The young man said: "I was training with Saint Finian's GAA club last night in Abbotstown when word came that three children had been found dead. I didn't really believe it. It's hard to take in."

The village is full of families, with children similar in age to Conor, Darragh and Carla.

One young mother ushered her three past the entrance to Parsons Court and along the main street, her eyes filled with tears.

She didn't want to give her name and she didn't know the family personally.

She met someone she used to work with earlier yesterday. "She was crying, and she said, 'I thought it could be you until I saw you active on Facebook,'" she said. "It makes you feel that little bit more sick. It just hits home," she added.

"I didn't sleep last night. I was thinking of the children, just thinking that at 7pm, I was sitting down watching Emmerdale, eating my dinner and there were those three babies."

She placed a hand on her child's shoulder and clutched the buggy with the other. "It's terrible, unimaginable."

The front of the two-storey terraced house where the children died was festooned with more than two dozen bouquets of flowers. A card on one of the colourful bunches stated simply: "Three little angels."

A solitary brown teddy bear sat on the windowsill above the blossoms.

At one point, three men walked up to the house carrying three bunches of flowers. They lay them beside the front door and then walked away in silence.

Earlier yesterday, gardai restricted traffic from driving into the small private estate by stretching tape across the entrance road. A woman, who lives at the entrance of the estate, carried a bunch of flowers and laid them on the wall where the garda tape was tethered.

Gardai gathered at Clondalkin garda station last night to consider the preliminary results of the post-mortems on the three children. The results have not been disclosed.

They are expected to launch an investigation into how the three young children met their deaths at home last Friday afternoon.

Sunday Independent