Sunday 18 August 2019

"When I pray I say I forgive him, but I don’t mean it"- Rachel O’Reilly’s mother Rose

Victim's mother calls for stricter jail-release rules for killers who commit premeditated murders, writes Alan O'Keeffe

SUFFERING: Rachel Callaly’s parents Jim and Rose at home last week. ‘I believe he is evil; I don’t want anyone to forget what he has done.’ Photo: Steve Humphreys
SUFFERING: Rachel Callaly’s parents Jim and Rose at home last week. ‘I believe he is evil; I don’t want anyone to forget what he has done.’ Photo: Steve Humphreys
CRIME: Rachel Callaly with her sister Ann at a family wedding in 2003
In July 2007 Joe O’Reilly was convicted of murdering his wife Rachel at their home in October 2004

Alan O'Keeffe

Rose Callaly cannot believe her own words when she tells herself she forgives Joe O'Reilly. She feels it might be good for her if she could somehow forgive him for murdering her daughter Rachel.

She knows her murder was planned and yet he claimed a burglar must have killed her.

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"When I'm saying my prayers, I say the words 'I forgive him' because I know it is wrong to not have any forgiveness. But I don't mean it - and that's hypocritical," said 77-year-old Rose.

Speaking at her home in Whitehall, Dublin, last Wednesday she has just returned from a protest outside the Dail, organised by a group named Sentencing and Victim Equality (SAVE).

She and her 79-year-old husband Jim joined 40 people in a protest against early release of prisoners and other issues.

Joe O'Reilly beat his wife Rachel to death with a blunt object in a pre-meditated attack at their home in Baldarragh, The Naul, Co Dublin, in 2004. He claimed he was working in the city centre when she was killed. But garda forensic teams tracked his mobile phone movements which proved he secretly returned home to kill the mother of his two children before he returned to work.

He was sentenced to life in prison in July 2007, 12 years ago this month.

"He has never said sorry nor asked for forgiveness. Maybe some day I will find it in myself to forgive him as it's supposed to be good for you. It's a work in progress but I feel it hasn't even started," she said.

She backs the SAVE group's efforts to make it tougher for killers to get their freedom from prison.

She also backs the campaign of the relatives of Clodagh Hawe, who was murdered with her three sons by her husband Alan in 2016. Their campaign led to the setting up of an independent study of domestic homicides in Ireland.

"My message to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is one thing: if a person is convicted of premeditated murder, there should be a designated sentence of at least 40 years," said Rose.

"In a way, murder is becoming more acceptable. It seems every day you listen to the news there is a murder and it is terrible.

"When it happens in a family, to a young woman, by somebody she knows, and when it is premeditated, then it's really horrific.

"Rachel's murder was well thought out. And he still denies it," she said.

Her killing had a devastating impact on her sister Ann, who became absolutely terrified of O'Reilly.

Rose and Jim believe Ann's terror of O'Reilly triggered her bone cancer, which eventually claimed her life. They blame him for the loss of both of their daughters.

"If I can do anything, as long as I have breath in my body, my main focus in life is that justice will be done by keeping him in prison," she said.

Two years ago, the Callalys received an official letter stating that O'Reilly was applying for parole and they could make submissions about his application.

Rose and Jim and their three sons all wrote letters objecting to his early release. He was refused. Rose thinks it "ludicrous" he can re-apply every two years. They have already written a second batch of objection letters.

"If he said sorry now and he asked for forgiveness, I would feel it was just his last shot at trying to get out of prison.

"I believe he is evil and I don't want anyone to forget what he has done.

"I'm angry at him and it hurts so much that he tried to blacken her name by accusing her of not being a good mother," she said.

"He took Rachel's life and then he tried to take her character, her good name," she said.

His trial heard evidence that O'Reilly was particularly cruel to Rose by ensuring that she was the one who found her daughter's bloodied corpse.

Hours after killing Rachel, O'Reilly telephoned the Callaly family home saying he could not contact Rachel and asked if the family knew where she was.

Rose assured him that she would travel to their house to check on her.

"He knew what I would find when I walked in. I remember finding her and kneeling down beside her. The minute I saw her I knew she had been murdered.

"She was dead. Stone cold. He had murdered her around 9am when she got back from school. I arrived in the afternoon. I don't remember screaming. But her friend who was coming up the road heard me screaming," she said.

Rose recalled a feeling of utter desolation in the house.

She could not find her own phone and tried using Rachel's to dial 999.

"I don't know who I got through to on the telephone but they must have thought I was a madwoman. I said 'Please can you get help? I think my daughter has been murdered,'" said Rose.

She said her daughter must have been attacked from behind. It appeared he was hiding behind a door and bludgeoned her from behind.

"I know Rachel would have fought back if she had a chance.

"She was a big girl and very strong and had been brilliant at athletics. The way she was lying, she was attacked from behind. He was a coward," she said.

She recalled how Rachel had been delighted and excited when she, her husband and their two little boys had moved into the house only a year or so before the murder.

It was her dream home, with a large garden and a view of Lambay Island from upstairs. She did a lot of painting and tiling in the house.

She recalled how Rachel was excited to buy her eldest child his new school uniform to start primary school.

A month later she was dead.

"She planted lots of fruit trees but never saw them bear fruit. Years later, I saw those trees and I saw the apples," she said.

She said that, despite everything, she is not angry at life.

"I never got angry at God. I have great faith and so has Jim. I feel God was very good to us. I know it is not God's fault… I'm not angry at life," she said.

She and Jim feel that Rachel and Ann are now in "a good place".

"We feel them around us all the time. I might be in a shop, thinking about buying some item, and I would hear one of their voices telling me, 'Mam, are you mad?'

"Feeling them around me is very comforting. If I thought I wasn't going to see them again it would be a completely different picture. That's my faith. I feel they are in a very good place.

"What angers me is that he wasn't happy with taking Rachel's life but he wanted to take her character by saying she wasn't a good mother," she said.

She said she and her family would continue their efforts to keep him in prison.

Rose said: "I don't mind what he does in prison but life should mean life.

"I don't mind even if they would have him sitting on a throne feeding him turkey and ham all day, as long as they don't give him his freedom."

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