THE peace and harmony of the Aran Islands was shattered by a series of attacks on civilians and gardai by a gang of thugs, a court was told yesterday.
Islanders were living in fear and a number were so terrified to give evidence against the accused that they had begged gardai not to call them to court. In a number of cases the victims were women.
Three local fishermen were jailed for their part in the assault. The hearing took place at Kilronan District Court, the only court to be held on an offshore island.
Before the court were John O'Toole (24), Padraig Dirrane (23), Brendan Gill (23) and Paul Gill (19), all of Inis Mor, Aran. Paul Gill was described as a minor player and faced a single assault charge.
Superintendent Jim Sugrue told the court that, over the last number of weeks, a series of serious incidents had occurred on Inis Mor, the largest of the three Aran islands and on Inis Oirr, the smallest island.
A number of witnesses had contacted him personally to express their fears of going to court. A gang of men had been going around breaking into homes and carrying out assaults.
Extra gardai had to be drafted in to Inis Mor and the situation was very tense and very serious.
``The people of Inis Oirr, in particular, felt very vulnerable as there is no Garda presence on that island. They were terrorised and frightened. They wanted the peace and harmony which are the hallmarks of Aran to be restored,'' Superintendent Sugrue said.
Garda witnesses said that in the early hours of August 9, musician Fergal Murphy was struck in the head outside Halla Ronan. John O'Toole had hit him.
Mr Murphy was taken to the local doctor to receive medical attention and, as he recovered at his lodgings, a gang including O'Toole, Padraig Dirrane and Paul Gill, burst into his room and badly beat him. O'Toole broke a wine glass and gashed him seriously across the forehead.
Their intention was to threaten and intimidate Mr Murphy into not going ahead with his complaint against O'Toole.
On June 27, O'Toole had twice assaulted Detective Garda Gerry Roche in Kilronan, while a week earlier he had assaulted Garda Brendan Kinneavy and Brendan Gill had assaulted Sergeant Padear Ryan.
O'Toole also admitted throwing a full pint glass at Maura Street in a pub, after she refused to serve him.
On August 9, a ceili in the local hall on Inis Oirr broke up in chaos after Dirrane went on to the stage and threw a bodhran at a musician. He later assaulted the musician and, as he and Brendan Gill were being put out of the hall, Gill broke five windows and a door.
Both Dirrane and Gill issued frightening and abusive threats to a local woman whose husband was helping to break up the scuffle. She was pinched and badly bruised and was very frightened.
Judge Joseph Mangan described the defendants as thugs. He sympathised with the people of both islands, particularly the people of Inis Oirr who felt vulnerable because they had no Garda presence.
``I have seldom listened to a tale of such savagery and beastly behaviour. I have noted that a number of the assaults were against females,'' said Judge Mangan.
He sentenced O'Toole to a total of two years in prison. Dirrane was sentenced to 21 months; Brendan Gill received nine months and the judge adjourned sentence on Paul Gill.
Recognisances were fixed for Brendan Gill in the event of an appeal, but Judge Mangan refused an application to set recognisances for either O'Toole or Dirrane.