News Irish News

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Parents who feel a selfless love for their children will struggle to understand why

Grainne Cunningham

HORROR, shock, disbelief -- these are the first emotions evoked by the family tragedies in east Cork and Newcastle West yesterday.

But in the days to come, there will inevitably be anger, a need to apportion blame and that frightening question -- why?

Because filicide -- when a parent deliberately kills their child or children -- is the most unnatural of crimes. It strikes at the heart of something that we take almost for granted -- the selfless love between parent and child.

How can we hope to understand that the same person who coped with 4am feeds and toddler tantrums, who cherished, protected and even idolised, could suddenly turn violent and end the same life that they themselves had created?

While filicide is still extremely rare, it also appears to be on the increase and has been responsible for the ending of more than 20 innocent lives in this country in the past 10 years.

In many of these cases, the unfathomable scourge of depression and other mental illnesses have certainly played a role.


Diarmuid Flood, who shot his wife Lorraine (38) in the chest and smothered his two young children, Julie (5) and Mark (6) in 2008, was mentally ill and had been showing signs of anxiety and depression, coroner Sean Nixon said at the inquests.

Lynn Hutchinson, who drowned her 16-year-old daughter Ciara in the bath in 2006, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Mother and daughter had enjoyed a shopping trip together that day but Ms Hutchinson, a 47-year-old psychiatrist, was deeply worried about Ciara's symptoms of anorexia, a condition from which she had suffered herself.

Her trial concluded that she had been suffering from a severe mental disorder.

Sharon Grace, who was depressed after separating from her husband, pleaded for help from a social worker on a night in April 2005 but was turned away because there was no out-of-hours service.

A few hours later, she drowned herself, Abby (3) and Mikhala (4) on Kaat's Strand in Co Wexford.

A disturbed Eileen Murphy took her son on what, in his four-year-old mind, must have been an exciting coach trip to the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, in 2008. She held Evan to her chest and jumped off the cliff.

What haunts anyone who hears these terrible stories is what must have gone through the children's minds, particularly when the parent kills more than one. What horror did they bear as they struggled to escape the awful fate visited on their sibling or siblings?

In the case of Gregory Fox, who killed his wife Debbie and their two sons, Trevor (9) and Killian (7), at their home in Castledaly, Co Westmeath in July, 2001, those images are impossible to erase.

"Why are you killing me, Daddy" were the last words uttered by Trevor, according to the man who killed him.

His little arms bore defence wounds from his futile attempts to protect himself.

Neighbours and relatives of mother Mary Keegan were stunned when she stabbed her sons Glen (10) and Andrew (six) in the kitchen of their family home in Firhouse, Dublin, in February 2006 and then slashed her own neck and wrist. At their inquests, her husband Brian, who had been away on business at the time of the deaths, said that he had not known that his wife was depressed.

Another recent case to stun the nation was when Adrian Dunne killed his wife and children before hanging himself in their Moin Rua home in Monageer, Co Wexford in April 2007.

His wife Ciara, (24) was strangled and their two girls, Lean (5) and Shania (3), were smothered. An undertaker near their home said she had been asked by Mr and Mrs Dunne to purchase plots for all the family.


While mental illness is frequently blamed for parents who kill, whether the perpetrator is the mother or father can provoke different responses.

A 1969 study by Dr Phillip Resnick, who is still regarded as the leading expert in the field, found that while mothers convicted of murdering their children were hospitalised more than two-thirds of the time and imprisoned over a quarter of the time, almost three fathers in four convicted of killing their children were sentenced to prison or executed, while only 14pc were hospitalised.

But whatever the cause or outcome for the adults who commit such crimes, it is the premature loss of vulnerable children which is so heartbreakingly impossible to fathom.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News