Sunday 22 September 2019

'My mother's murder changed our lives forever'

Victim impact statements from Margot's family paint a portrait of pain suffered by those bereaved by violence, writes Alison O'Riordan

Nimah Holliday, daughter of murdered woman Margot / Margaret Seery
Nimah Holliday, daughter of murdered woman Margot / Margaret Seery

Alison O'Riordan

Victim impact statements from Margot's family paint a portrait of pain suffered by those bereaved by violence.

Ingrained in Niamh Holliday's memory is the day her mother Margot Seery was laid to rest. Just 12 years of age and an only child, she had a pain in her stomach all day as she felt so nervous and anxious at the thought of coming face to face with the body of her deceased mother, something she can only call "a surreal experience".

"I initially didn't want to see my mam lying in a box dead but eventually decided to go. The woman in there looked so different to my mam. The day of the funeral was a blur to me," said Niamh, who at the time of her mother's death was living alone with her in a flat in Kenilworth Square in Dublin 6.

This haunting image of Niamh's 48-year-old mother lying lifeless in the casket in a funeral parlour is a far cry from the woman her daughter describes as "cool, with a large circle of friends", as well as "someone who would do anything to help and protect" her in life.

While family mourned the death of the mother, wife and sister, the loss eased with the passing of time, yet an intense anger seemed to linger in the aftermath, with Margot seen as the architect of her own death. The cause of death was recorded as death by misadventure as a result of asphyxia from the inhalation of vomit through alcohol intoxication, following a night out with her friend.

Margot's brother, Pa Guinane, said in his victim impact statement to the court how they were "very angry with her" for the upset she had caused their mother and the rest of the family.

It is easy to understand how even her own daughter shared this aggrieved state and branded her mother an "irresponsible parent" who got so drunk that she was unable to control her actions.

Margot's death in October 1994 was not classed as suspicious and she was buried in Rathkeale cemetery in Limerick, where she had grown up.

The news of Margot's death was broken to her daughter by a local nun in the presence of her father John, who told her at the time that god had taken her mam. "Little did I know that god had not taken her but it was at the hands of another person. This was the day my life and my family's life changed," said Niamh.

Having just started secondary school in St Louis's in Rathmines, she relocated to Co Limerick to live with her aunt Kitty and uncle Pa. Meanwhile, her dad, who was living in Tallaght, did his best to visit his child every weekend. This was very difficult for him as he did not have a car and had to travel by public transport after finishing the night shift.

Many milestones in Niamh's life had to be celebrated without her mother. Special occasions, such as her wedding day, were overshadowed by her absence. "As we celebrated our wedding we all knew there was someone missing at that top table, just a few of the things that were taken away from me on October 8, 1994," she said.

Little did Niamh know that further torment was about to unfold when a father of two would walk into Rathmines garda station "unannounced" last summer only to confess to the murder of the bookkeeper two decades previously.

A state of "confusion" engulfed Niamh's world when Howard Kelly told gardai that he had "intentionally" strangled Margot to death with his bare hands and since then had lived with a "very heavy heart".

Suddenly the death of her mother 20 years ago was being treated as a murder of investigation. This was something Margot's family found very difficult to come to grips with.

"How after 20 years and an official inquest into her death could this be happening? My family and I were then subjected to the exhumation of her body, which was in itself a very traumatic event. I was unable to leave my life in Australia for this event and in some ways I'm happy I wasn't there," says the now 33-year-old.

Last Monday in the Central Criminal Court before Howard Kelly, an employment administrator with the HSE, was sentenced, defence counsel Remy Farrell said his client was "very remorseful" and had come forward as he could no longer live with what he had done.

Counsel for the 41-year-old said he was an adopted child, who had no previous convictions except for drink driving, and he was hospitalised in a psychiatric unit in 1997. It was also revealed he had abused drugs in the past. Pleading guilty to strangling Margot at her home in a "completely unprovoked" attack, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy sentenced Kelly to life imprisonment.

The court heard Kelly had been on a pub crawl with a friend and they were walking by the park at Kenilworth Square when two ladies approached them. "I don't remember talking for long before myself and one of the ladies started heavy petting. My friend took the arm of the woman I had been kissing and went into the park and the other woman took me up to her apartment.

"Something came over me and I felt compelled to wrestle her to the ground, put my knees on her arms and strangle her to death," Kelly said in his Garda interview.

Helping people "in whatever way she could" turned out to be Margot's downfall, according to her daughter. "I hate that I had that anger towards her for so long and none of this was her fault," Niamh said.

Sunday Independent

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