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Eamon Keane: Hyland was no Tony Soprano - his violent deeds were all real...

Life imitating art? In the case of Dublin gangster Marlo Hyland, an inquest into his death heard yesterday that he was depressed around the time that he was murdered by two gunmen in a house in Finglas in December 2006.

Comparisons are now being made between his life and that of fictional TV mob boss Tony Soprano.

Soprano was a creation of David Chase, the latter day genius of American television. A feature of Tony's character was his depression and panic attacks. In the television series, he goes to see a psychiatrist as he tries to come to terms with his emotional state. Within the therapy sessions, he explores his guilt over his childhood and how it has impacted on him and his family.


But let's get real here. Soprano was a fictional character who displayed some understanding for the evil he had wrought. I am unaware of any guilt Marlo Hyland felt for the destruction he caused. He was an armed robber and was extensively involved in drug trafficking. Yes, he was depressed. However this was most likely because he knew there was a hit out on his life.

The Herald reported yesterday that Hyland's older brother William told the inquest he believed that his brother knew his life was in danger. "Martin was depressed for about six weeks before he was shot," said William Hyland.

"I think he knew it was coming."

We liked and empathised with Soprano, which is only due to the success of the writers and James Gandolfini, the actor who played him. You could have written him more graphically. In the main, his victims were other mobsters. The writers tended to stray away from showing how real life mobsters terrified and extorted money from ordinary, decent people. They are, in reality, thugs who use fear and violence to wreck havoc.

This is not to say Marlo Hyland did not have redeeming features. He was some mother's son. And yes, like Soprano, he too was troubled by childhood events. Hyland's sister Julie had been brutally murdered by her husband Michael Brady. Hyland determined to have revenge and in September 1996, he tracked Brady down outside a Dublin apartment near Elllis Street. Gardai believe he then murdered his sister's killer.

However there is always a danger when we attempt to equate television or indeed movie life with real events. We had the glorification of Martin 'The General' Cahill, whom one movie turned into Mr Ordinary Decent Criminal. People forgot how Cahill blew up Dr James Donovan, head of the Sates Forensic Science Department, and left him with crippling injuries.

Soprano lived in opulent surroundings, with a college educated daughter and son who was worried about global issues. These were well drawn characters but somehow the impression was that crime does pay. There was no such glamour attached to Hyland's life.


But the final most telling difference lies in the reality of gangland murders. In The Sopranos, for all its brilliant elements, we rarely saw a young innocent bystander being gunned down. We didn't see the immeasurable waste of a beautiful life like that of innocent plumber Anthony Campbell. Anthony was gunned down by Hyland's killers on that same day in the house in Finglas.

This was solely because, as the coroner's court was told yesterday, Campbell was a potential witness to the slaying of Hyland.

So let's be clear. Marlo Hyland was no Tony Soprano and the reality of Dublin's gangland murders is far removed from a Hollywood scriptwriter's imagination.