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Urantsetseg Tserendorj’s husband: ‘Without her, everything is dark and heavy’

Married in 1997, the story of Ulambayar Surenkhor and Urantsetseg Tserendorj came to an abrupt end one night in Dublin two years ago

Ulambayar Surenkhor was 18 when he met the love of his life, Urantsetseg (Urnaa) Tserendorj. The pair were taking part in a school table tennis championship, in their home province of Khuvsgul in Mongolia.

Ms Tserendorj, who was known as Urnaa to her friends and family, was very sporty, according to her husband, although it was her smile that first caught his eye.

“We have known each other since high school. We’ve been together for nearly 30 years. It’s been a long time,” he says, with the assistance of a court-appointed interpreter.

“In school there was a table tennis championship, and we met. I was on the champion men’s side, and she was on the girls’ side. There was training we were doing, and we met. In that time, we were meeting as friends. And then afterwards, we had a conversation, and we became a couple.”


For both of them, Mr Surenkhor says, it was their first love. Sitting in a coffee shop in north Dublin, he smiles faintly at the memory. “It’s a very, very precious thing. That’s how I feel. It’s not like a second, third love. We just met and that was it.”

Married in 1997, their story came to an abrupt and unexpected end two years ago. Ms Tserendorj, who was 49 at the time, was stabbed in the neck as she walked home from Dublin’s financial district, where she worked as a cleaner, on January 20th, 2021.

She was taken to the Mater Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery and remained in a critical condition before she died on February 3rd.

She has been my soulmate and my other half because we have been together so long

—  Ulambayar Surenkhor

In November, a 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named because he is a minor, was found guilty of her murder, following a retrial at the Central Criminal Court. He was sentenced to life in prison with a review after 13 years following Government statements that legislation will provide new sentencing structures for juveniles convicted of serious crimes.

The time since his wife’s murder has been very difficult, Mr Surenkhor says, adding that he feels like he lost a part of himself when she died.

He misses her every day. The dearth of her smiling presence constantly takes him by surprise. The world feels smaller, and Ireland, a little bit darker.

“The reason I adore her, she [was] very friendly. And also, very similar to my mom as a person. Her smile, obviously; she has a cheeky smile. It really attracted me,” he says. “She has been my soulmate and my other half because we have been together so long.”

Community support

While the emotional repercussions of her passing were expected, there are also financial difficulties in her absence.

Irish people set up a GoFundMe to support the family in the aftermath of her death, but the family are beginning to feel the loss of her income. Mr Surenkhor and their daughter Suvd Ulambayar are sharing a one-bedroom apartment, due to the high cost of rent in the capital. “I have been facing so many challenges. She was working the whole time, and that loss is [also] financial,” he adds.

During the murder trial, Mr Surenkhor recalled how he had run from his house in slippers after he got a call from his wife saying she had been stabbed in the neck. When he arrived, she told him she was dying, and it felt like her head was exploding. He felt helpless. The memory haunts him.

Despite this tragedy, Mr Surenkhor tries to focus on the good things about their life in Ireland, rather than the bad.

His wife loved cappuccinos from Bewley’s coffee shop, buying one every time they passed. Weekends were spent enjoying scenic walks along Bray Head or Howth Summit. Most importantly, though, was the shared love for their two children.

The desire to allow their children to be educated and to learn English was one of the main reasons behind their decision to move to Ireland in 2006, Mr Surenkhor says.

The couple’s son Tamir Ulambayar recently graduated with a degree in accounting in Manchester, and has since moved back to Mongolia. Their daughter completed her Leaving Cert the summer before last.

One of Ms Tserendorj’s biggest dreams was for their daughter, who has been struggling with depression since her mother’s death, to study at Trinity College Dublin. She did not receive enough Leaving Cert points initially, largely due to the disruption in the wake of her mother’s murder.

In a victim impact statement, read out in court in December, their daughter said: “I lost all of my motivation, and the times I managed to make it into school, I spent 90 per cent of the time with the school counsellors. I am still paralysed by what happened.”

But Mr Surenkhor says he hopes to help her achieve the dream of attending university.

“Now it is really, really important for me to let my daughter study here and fulfil her mother’s wishes. That’s crucially important for me,” Mr Surenkhor says.

“Urnaa, her dream was for her to study in Trinity College. That is my daughter’s dream, too. I’m going to try. I will be there for her 24/7. That is my duty as her dad. But also, for her mother’s dream.”

Dublin is a small city and I can feel our Mongolian community is very nice and friendly to each other. It is very close

—  Ulambayar Surenkhor

While Ms Tserendorj was a leader in her family, she was also a figurehead in the Mongolian community in Ireland. She was a PE teacher in her home country before moving here and she decided to set up a local Mongolian volleyball league. The teams have been very successful in recent months, having placed in the European championships.

Their success, Mr Surenkhor says, is part of her legacy.

“I really think she’s watching us from the sky, and I’m sure that she is happy to hear that,” he says.

Her involvement in the Mongolian community meant they rallied around Mr Surenkhor following his wife’s death. They gathered in Smithfield square for a memorial for Urnaa soon after she died.

“Dublin is a small city and I can feel our Mongolian community is very nice and friendly to each other. It is very close,” he says.


Ms Tserendorj was connected to the Irish community, too. She worked as a cleaner for a variety of businesses, and for almost 15 years she cleaned Mary O’Brien’s house. The Irish woman says, however, that she was so much more than their cleaner.

“I was heartbroken. I lost a part of my family when Urnaa went. From almost the get go, we got on. We just hit it off,” she says. “Urnaa was so valuable to us. It’s not just that she was a cleaner. I have a son on the autistic spectrum and Urnaa could nearly get around him better than we could. She was so patient and kind.”

Every Christmas, Ms Tserendorj would arrive at Ms O’Brien’s house with a “big bag of gifts”, she adds. “She would bring these chocolates that she knew I loved, even though I never told her. She just knew.”

That kindness is one of the traits her family remembers most, according to her older sister Undrakh Tserendorj, who travelled to Ireland from the US for the trial.

Her sister was not just a sibling, but a friend. “We were very close to each other.”

There were eight brothers and sisters in the family. But now, she says, “we are just seven”.

Describing Urnaa as a “brilliant sister”, she adds that she was creative, calm and an excellent cook. “If I was cleaning, I’d like to do a little one, but she would always like to do a deep clean,” she laughs.

One of the hardest parts of losing her sister was when she travelled to be with her in the hospital before her death. Her mother had wanted to attend too, but it was during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the journey from Mongolia would have required 73 hours of travel across three countries, meaning she was unlikely to arrive in Ireland before her daughter died.

I’m happy there was justice, however my sister has passed away so I can never be really happy. I will miss her forever

—  Undrakh Tserendorj

“It was very traumatic when we had to turn off the ventilator,” her sister says, beginning to cry at the memory.

Returning to Ireland for the trial was also difficult, she adds. “I keep thinking I’m going to see her, but I can’t see her any more. She’s not here any more.”

The guilty verdict felt like justice, the family say. They thanked gardaí, the court system, the Director of Public Prosecutions and President Michael D Higgins, who met the family on the one-year anniversary of her death. They also extended thanks to the Irish people and the Mongolian community who supported them during their time of need.

During the week of the retrial, Mr Surenkhor received messages from those in Ireland saying they were “thinking of you”, while the Mongolian community gathered on the Friday evening after the verdict had been delivered to lay flowers at the IFSC in her memory.

Despite being happy the trial has concluded, they say it doesn’t bring Ms Tserendorj back.

“I’m happy there was justice, however my sister has passed away so I can never be really happy. I will miss her forever,” Undrakh says. “I hope they will do something about this kind of thing [violence] to stop it happening again.”

Mr Surenkhor echoes this sense of loss: “The whole ground of the world has turned around and landed on me. Without her, everything is dark and heavy.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times