Sunday 20 May 2018

Death of a family

Grief, bafflement and horror have had a crushing impact on a rural community, after the wiping out of the Hawe family

Alan Hawe with his wife Clodagh and their children Liam (15), Niall (11) and Ryan (6)
Alan Hawe with his wife Clodagh and their children Liam (15), Niall (11) and Ryan (6)
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The five new coffins were lined up in a row at Lakelands funeral home in Cavan on Friday evening. Alan Hawe and his wife, Clodagh were positioned at either side of their boys, Liam (15), Niall (11) and Ryan (6), the family together in death as in life. According to friends and neighbours who paid their last respects to the popular primary school teachers and their children, this was how their families want them to be remembered.

The crushing impact of their deaths is palpable in Castlerahan, a tiny hamlet at a t-junction where three roads meet. On one side is the national school where Alan Hawe worked every day of the school year as deputy principal. Liam, the eldest boy, had been to school there and Niall and Ryan were expecting to return there last Tuesday after the summer holidays. Across the road from the school, prayer candles flickered in St Mary's Church. Beside it is a small cemetery.

Here under a grey sky last Thursday morning, grave workers marked out the plot where Alan, Clodagh and their three boys would be laid to rest, an apparently ordinary family wiped out by the brutal and little-understood phenomenon of murder-suicide.

The reasons for it are mystifying, to family, community and gardai. Last Saturday week, Alan took the family to Windgap, his home village in Kilkenny for an anniversary Mass for his grandmother, in the parish church in the village. Rather than stay over, as the family often did, they returned to Cavan that night.

Alan told one of the locals that he had football match to go to, according to Matt Doran, a councillor. He didn't meet him that night but spoke to others who did: "There was nothing untoward or unusual about him that night in any shape or form," he said.

On Sunday, the family was back at Oakdene, their home in Barconey, near Castlerahan and outside Ballyjamesduff. At 1pm, Alan Hawe collected the admission fees to the Castlerahan versus Kingscourt football league game in the village. He went to a basketball game in Virginia that evening with his son, Liam, while Clodagh took the younger boys to visit her mother, Mary Coll. Mary had agreed to mind the boys the next morning.

When she arrived at the Hawes' back door, at around 10.45am that Monday morning, she found a note pinned there. In Alan's handwriting, it said: "Do not enter" and "call the gardai".

Gardai arrived at around 11.20am, and were first to enter the house. The first body they came upon in the hallway was Alan Hawe's, then Clodagh's. The severe defensive wounds she suffered suggested to gardai that she had tried to fight off her husband, a source said.

The bodies of the three boys were in their bedrooms upstairs, all three in their pyjamas. The two eldest, Liam and Niall, were found together in the bedroom they shared. Both suffered horrific injuries. But the youngest, Ryan, who was in a bedroom on his own, sustained the worst injuries in the attack, according to the source. The injuries suggested that Ryan may have woken up during the attack and tried to fight off his father.

"She was trying to prevent it happening. The kids were certainly trying to defend themselves," said one source. Gardai found knives and a hatchet inside the house, the suspected murder weapons, and three notes, including the one pinned to the back door.

According to one source, the warning note pinned to the back door appeared to have been written after the attack.

It suggested that having murdered his family, his concerns were for any potential callers who might walk in on the carnage.

A second blood-spattered note was also written after the attack. The third was in a sealed envelope addressed to a relative which contained a letter believed to run to more than one page.

Unlike the other notes, there was no blood on the envelope, as gardai would have expected had it been written after the attack. They suspect that he wrote this letter some time before he killed his wife and children.

Rather than a sudden breakdown, the letter suggests that he had been planned at least his own suicide, perhaps for days or even longer.

The contents of this letter have not been divulged, and may never be. But according to sources familiar with the investigation, the thrust of his thinking was that his family would not survive without him, and so he killed them.

"You cannot rationalise the irrational mind," said one source.

The scene was of a mass murder of a kind that would push boundaries in an x-rated horror movie, but which occurred in a ordinary family home in provincial Ireland, perpetrated by a man whom gardai suspect suffered a rapid deterioration in his mental health.

Mr Doran, a Fianna Fail councillor, grew up with Alan and his two brothers in Windgap in Co Kilkenny. He lost touch with Alan Hawe once they finished school but he remembers the Hawe family well.

Stephen and Olive Hawe and their three boys, lived on a dairy farm a mile outside the village. Alan was the eldest. He, PJ and Enda went to the local national school and to secondary school in Callan.

"They were really good lads, really respectful, never caused the parents any difficulty, even as teenagers, which the rest of us would have. They were good guys," said Mr Doran. They were a sporty family, involved in handball and the GAA. Alan won many provincial titles including the Leinster Junior Colleges Handball championship. Alan and PJ became teachers and Enda became a successful dairy farmer in New Zealand. He won the prestigious award of Sharemilker of the Year in 2012.

Alan met Clodagh Coll when they were trainee teachers and they married in 2000 in Dublin. Clodagh was the quieter person in their relationship, according one local man who knows her family well. She is a daughter of Mary and Pat Coll and grew up in Clontyduff, between Mountnugent and Ballinacree in Cavan. After she married Alan, they moved to Cavan. She taught in national schools in Navan and Lismullen and latterly in Oristown, just outside Kells, where she was due to return after the summer break last week.

Alan and Clodagh both knew the devastation caused by suicide because of the traumatic impact it had on her own family.

Clodagh's only brother, Tadgh Coll, took his own life in 2010. The death had a huge impact on the whole family, not least Clodagh who loved him dearly. Three years later, in 2013, Clodagh's sister Jacqueline, lost her husband, Richard Connolly, who died tragically just a year after they married.

Alan Hawe was a "like a rock" to the Coll family after both deaths, according to a local person. His mother-in-law, in particular, relied on his strength, and he was the stalwart of his wife's extended family.

"Mary adored Alan. She thought he was a fantastic son-in-law," said one local neighbour.

In the days after the tragedy, friends and neighbours struggling to comprehend what had happened were at pains to point out to various media that they seemed a loving and normal couple.

One friend and neighbour, Larry McGinn, told a newspaper:

"You could say 'Alan, the pitch needs to be marked up there or a gate opened. He was very committed. He was the sole person who would do anything for anybody at any time of day or night. He was very obliging'."

If Hawe was suffering, there was no evidence that he sought help for it. According to reports during the week, there was no evidence that he was on medication or attending his doctor.

Garda are gathering the facts for the coroner in advance the inquest into their deaths and family, close friends and work colleagues of the Hawe family will likely be interviewed by gardai searching for clues as to his state of mind.

It is notable than also in the tiny Castlerahan cemetery is the grave of Thomas Reilly. He emigrated to America, did well, married and had two daughters, Meghan (6) and Kelly (5). In 2007, his daughters drowned and he took his own life, aged 46, in a suspected murder suicide. He was reportedly suffering from depression.

Experts say that murder-suicide is rare. In a briefing document, the National Suicide Research Foundation says people involved in murder-suicide are most commonly men, aged on average between 40 and 50 years. In 80pc of cases, perpetrators have a history of psychiatric disorders, particularly depression.

Una Butler, one of the few to experience the unique pain of losing an entire family to murder-suicide believes there is not enough research into the phenomenon. Her husband, John, who suffered from depression, killed her two daughters, Ella and Zoe, before killing himself in the small coastal town of Ballycotton, Cork.

Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio 1 last week, she said: "I don't believe there is enough research going into murder-suicide cases in Ireland. No more investigation is carried out because the person who did it is dead."

There are some survivors of intended murder-suicide. One such survivor is Sanjeev Chada, who is serving a life sentence. One Sunday in 2013, Chada killed his children, Eoghan (10) and Ruairi (5), then crashed the car into a wall intending to take his own life. He suffered minor injuries. Chada went on trial for murdering his sons and pleaded guilty. His trial heard he had embezzled funds and he wanted to spare them from the shame.

Had Alan Hawe survived, he too could face multiple murder charges.

The apparent focus on Alan Hawe in the aftermath of the murders and his own suicide has generated debate as to how a man who killed his own wife and children in such a violent manner can be forgiven and even celebrated for the good things he did in his life.

On social media, a blogger protested that Clodagh had become the "invisible woman" in media coverage, inspiring the hashtag #HerNameWasClodagh.

How he should be remembered is the prerogative of Alan and Clodagh's families and they chose to remember him as they knew him, a man who loved his wife and children.

In this, Clodagh's mother, Mary, and her sister, Jacqueline, have led the way. Jacqueline Coll demonstrated her compassion by posting messages on her Facebook page.

"RIP our wonderful Alan, Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan we love you all our angels xxxxxxxx." She posted photographs from her wedding day in 2012, including one of Alan and Clodagh, smiling beside Jacqueline and the man she married, Richard Connolly. Jacqueline is the only survivor of that happy family group of four: "Remembering my little brother Tadgh today, always the life and soul. May he and Richie look after our much loved Alan, Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan RIP."

Clodagh's mother Mary and Alan's parents have asked that they be laid to rest together. Both families have asked mourners to donate to a suicide charity, Pieta House, in lieu of flowers.

Alan, Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan were buried yesterday at Castlerahan cemetery. There will be a Mass for the Hawes family at St Nicholas Church in Windgap on Tuesday evening.

Sunday Independent

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