Inseparable in life, Tom and Jack are together in death as town mourns
IT should have been a lovely, lazy Sunday evening in Castlebar. Locals should have been soaking up the last warm rays of the sun and discussing next week's Connacht football final when Mayo has the novel experience of playing first-time finalists London in McHale Park.
The sun was out, the red-and-green county flags and bunting were up on almost every building in the town, but a shadow had fallen over the sun-dappled streets.
At 7pm last night, the townspeople of Castlebar stood in line in a solemn guard-of-honour as two long-standing members of their community began their final journey. The shock has barely subsided since the bodies of brothers Jack and Tom Blaine were found dead in their home in New Antrim Street early last Wednesday morning.
Jack (70) and Tom (68) were severely beaten, one of the brothers was found dead in a bedroom and the body of the other was found in the backyard of the building. They were discovered by a care worker who called to their home, which is just around the corner from the Taoiseach's constituency office.
The terraced house where the frail bachelor brothers had lived for over three decades was as unembellished as can be, with its plain, unpainted concrete facade and venerable lace curtains. But not any more – a cascade of bouquets of flowers now forms a rainbow along the wall, and in the middle of them stands a table festooned with candles, religious figurines and a book of condolence. Locals turning the corner onto the quiet street come to a sudden halt at the sight of the poignant shrine.
Around the town nobody has a bad word to say about the two elderly men. Time and again words like "harmless", "childlike" and "innocent" were used to describe the pair. Everyone knew them by sight, particularly Jack – who was killed hours after he reached his 70th birthday – a small, stooped man who quietly pottered about town, dropping into Rocky's Bar for a cup of tea or glass of orange. Tom would spend much of his time sitting by the window of their little house, watching the world go by.
And their neighbours would keep an eye on the two of them, especially Rocky Moran, publican and undertaker, who had the grim task of organising their funeral.
Yesterday evening the two caskets of the slain men were placed side by side in the funeral home on Thomas Street as a steady stream of people arrived to pay their respects. Among them was junior tourism and sport minister Michael Ring.
"It's a terrible tragedy for the town, the county and the country," he said as he signed the book of condolence outside the funeral home.
It was a view shared by his colleague Michelle Mulherin. "Something reverberates around society at large when something like this happens," she said.
Local woman Rosaleen Heverin lives close to the Blaine brothers' home.
"Jack wouldn't harm a fly... The dogs in the street knew him, what's happened to him and Tom is unbelievable."
Just after 7pm, the two coffins were placed into hearses as several hundred locals lined the street or followed the cortege. As it passed, the pubs and restaurants emptied as patrons stood in silence as it passed on its way to the Church of the Holy Rosary.
The chief mourners were the brothers' cousin Paul Dunne and his partner Theresa. Neither man ever married, both Jack and Tom worked in England but returned home in the 1980s to look after their mother Delia in her final years – she lived in the same house in which the men had passed a peaceful existence until it came to a violent end.
About 400 people filed into the church for the removal where local priest Fr Michael Farragher expressed his sympathies to the Blaines' family and friends on behalf of the community.
In all the bars afterwards, the talk was of the two men. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who knew them and described their deaths as "an act of savagery", is expected to attend Requiem Mass this morning.
Inseparable in life, Jack and Tom will not be apart in death either. They'll be buried alongside their mother Delia at Castlebar New Cemetery later today.