Friday 15 December 2017

'This is a small community . . . there's a void now'

THERE'S a gap in the fence between the pretty estate where he lived, and the GAA club which he loved.

Adrian Donohoe would slip through that gap once a week, with his two young children, seven-year old Amy and six-year old Niall, to train the most junior members of St Patrick's football club. The club – known simply as The Pats – is the beating heart and soul of the village of Lordship. Their senior side are currently Louth county champions for the second year running, and are going for the hat-trick this year.

And so the local kids come flocking, stars in their eyes. Over 60 of them signed up for the under-six teams last year. And they all looked up to their coach, in every sense of the expression. He cut quite a sight on the pitch, a towering six-foot-five house of a man, clad in white shorts and green club shirt, surrounded by a swarm of tiny boys and girls.

Sometimes, he would run late for training, and his wife Caroline would arrive with the bag of balls. Adrian would turn up, all apologies.

But nobody minded a bit. For everyone knew that the gardai worked all sorts of long and irregular hours. It went with the job.

At around 9.30pm last Friday night, parents and kids were streaming out of the club, when word began to waft in like an icy wind that there had been an incident up the road. First, it was that shots had been fired. Then that a garda was down. And finally, came the devastating news that one of their own, Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, was dead.

And the tragedy had unfolded literally up the road on the black tarmac ribbon of the R173 which runs through the village of Lordship. It is – was – a tranquil spot, wedged between the rocky hump of the Cooley mountains and the sea. It has a few shops, a church, a graveyard, Fitzpatrick's pub, a school and a credit union.

Both Amy and Niall go to the school. And right across the road is the credit union, where their daddy was gunned down in cold blood. Some of the staff of Lordship credit union have children who were coached by Adrian. The ties are tangled in this village, the bonds strong.

And so the tranquillity has been shattered on this peaceful spot along the Cooley Peninsula. The town has had its hard times before – being so close to the Border, it was touched by the Troubles more than once. There was much bitter division in the area when Thomas Oliver, a farmer from nearby Riverstown, was murdered by the IRA in 1991.

And then there were the dark days of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 which ripped through the Cooley Peninsula. A total 13,000 animals were slaughtered, wildlife on the mountains were shot, and it put an end to all competitive football that year.

And now this dreadful murder. Strictly speaking, Adrian Donohoe wasn't one of their own – he hailed from Kilnaleck, Co Cavan, and moved to Lordship in 1997 with his wife Caroline, also a garda. The couple met while in Training College.

But unlike some rural communities who confer "blow-in" status on those who hail from elsewhere, Lordship welcomed its new residents.

And Adrian became deeply involved with The Pats – he won a county medal with the club in 2003 and in the past year had become increasingly involved in youth training.

In the club yesterday, a book of condolences lay open in front of pictures of Adrian in his club kit, smiling and happy, arms around his team-mates. There were pots of tea and biscuits and sandwiches for those who came to pay their respects to the staff and to the club chairman, Alan Duffy.

Alan has only been chairman of the club for three weeks. He, too, was a "blow-in" – he arrived in Lordship the same year as Adrian. But he also put down roots. "This club is different, nobody ever felt like an outsider," he said.

"This is a very close community, we're all in a small, small space between the mountain and the sea. And there's a big black void now."

But the garda was part of a wider community too. Alan Duffy had been talking to the chairman of Adrian's former GAA club in Kilnaleck, where he was an under-21 minor player, about his funeral tomorrow. "They're coming down in busloads from Cavan," he said.

"He was a role model for the kids, and a hero. He lived here, and he died here, protecting us."

And his other family – An Garda Siochana – has rallied in numbers. Adrian's brothers, Colum and Martin, are both members of the force, stationed in Swords and Navan, and his brother-in-law Derek Deloughery, who is the twin brother of Caroline, is a garda in Limerick.

Officers from all over the country, and from these three locations in particular, have streamed to Louth, cancelling leave and holidays and offering to help hunt down his killers.

In Fitzpatrick's pub, where Adrian liked to go for a pint with some of his friends after football training, a couple of local men underlined just how important he had been to the area. "Only last week he was in the post office in the village, taking details after the place had been robbed," said one.

Outside, on the R173, a garda stood at a checkpoint in the biting wind, diverting traffic away from the scene of the crime. He had known Adrian for years. His message was simple: "His family will want for nothing."

Just visible down the road was the white silhouette of the credit union, and opposite it the school.

Over the past few days, one image of the detective garda cropped up repeatedly on the telly and in the newspapers, of Adrian talking to a group of schoolchildren who are crowding around him, hands eagerly raised in the air.

And in that photo, on a spot just over his shoulder, is the patch of ground where he died.

Irish Independent

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