A GAA football star pleaded for his life yesterday before he was shot dead in a taxi by a love rival. James Hughes was hit by two blasts from a double-barrelled shotgun as he was dropping a female friend home after a night out.
The gunman apparently became jealous when he spotted Mr Hughes (35) socialising with Patricia Byrne (21) earlier in the night.
He was lying in wait as the couple arrived in a taxi outside Ms Byrne's home in the quiet Cluain Ard, Lis na Mara housing estate, in Dundalk, Co Louth, shortly before 4am.
Mr Hughes was in the front passenger seat while Ms Byrne was sitting between him and the taxi driver, Anthony Callan (48), when the gunman ran up and fired one shot into the Fiat Scudo.
The engine of the taxi was still running but Mr Callan managed to escape and fled as the car crashed into the wall of a nearby house.
The gunman chased after the taxi and fired a second blast through the passenger window. A shocked neighbour told how he heard Mr Hughes beg for his life seconds before the second blast.
He pleaded, "please, don't kill me", before he was shot in the neck and upper body. The gunman then made his getaway in a van.
Mr Hughes, who has three children aged up to 14 years from a previous relationship, was captain of the Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club in south Armagh and won three All Ireland club medals with them.
His family are from Crossmaglen but he had been living in nearby Keady.
Last night, a 32-year-old man from Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, was being questioned by gardai about the shooting. It is understood he is co-operating with the garda inquiries and has confessed to the shooting.
Shortly after the incident, he contacted a local garda sergeant, whom he knew, in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, and later turned up at the garda station there.
Gardai took possession of a legally held shotgun, which they believed was the murder weapon, and it was taken away for ballistic examination.
Officers later seized a van used in the getaway and will carry out detailed forensic tests on the vehicle this morning.
Meanwhile, Ms Byrne sustained facial and neck injuries while Mr Callan was struck by shotgun pellets in the face, neck and upper body.
Both were treated for their wounds at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda but were expected to be discharged after treatment was completed.
Gardai believe all three were hit by the initial blast and Mr Hughes bore the brunt of the second shot.
This was the second tragedy to strike Mr Hughes's family in eight months.
Last April, his mother, Joan (56) died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome and was buried on Easter Sunday.
On Saturday night he had attended a raffle at his local Clarnagh Maid pub. The raffle was held as part of a funding campaign to help raise awareness of the condition.
Mr Hughes' three sons, Darragh, Lee and Tiarnan, were being comforted last night by his wider family. He is also survived by his father, James senior, and his siblings, Geraldine, Rita, Christopher, John Paul, and Sean.
"It is so shocking. You couldn't say a bad word about him," said one local last night.
Armagh senior inter-county footballer Steven McDonnell tweeted: "RIP James Hughes. Such a good lad. Totally shocking."
Reacting to the news yesterday, councillor Terry Hearty said: "The community is devastated. He was well known and well liked and he came from a very respectable family. It is their second tragedy."