Noel Long to spend rest of life in jail after historic conviction for Nora Sheehan’s 1981 murder

Corkman (74) convicted of sexually motivated murder of married mother of three in watershed case for Garda and legal system after unprecedented 42-year span

Noel Long (74), from Co Cork, at the Criminal Courts of Justice. File photograph: Collins

Convicted killer Noel Long (74) is set to spend the rest of his life in jail after his historic conviction on Friday for the murder of vulnerable Cork woman Nora Sheehan 42 years ago. The conviction followed a Garda cold case review and hinged on advances in DNA and forensic evidence since the killing.

The case made Irish legal history as it was the longest span, at 42 years, between a murder being committed and a conviction being secured, which carries an automatic life sentence.

Long, a sex offender with 31 previous convictions, was a suspect from the time Ms Sheehan, a 54-year-old married mother of three, was murdered. However, a number of issues, including the death of a pathologist working on the case, meant he was not put on trial at the time.

A former British army soldier with an address at Maulbawn, Passage West, Co Cork, Long had pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Sheehan between June 6th and June 12th, 1981, at an unknown place within the State. Her naked and bruised body was found by forestry workers at the Viewing Point, Shippool Woods in Cork, 26km from where she was last seen alive and six days after she went missing.


Former State pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy was called by the defence and said the victim’s cause of death was unascertained.

In his closing speech, Michael Delaney SC, for Long, told the jury that one of the most significant issues they would have to decide is whether “what happened here was a murder at all”. He mooted the possibility Ms Sheehan may have died of a heart attack during a physical and sexual attack before her remains were disposed of.

However, the jurors found Long guilty of murder by unanimous verdict on Friday morning after five hours and 32 minutes of deliberations. They had the option of returning one of three verdicts in relation to the murder charge against the defendant, namely, guilty of murder, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter, or not guilty.

The trial, which began on July 13th, heard evidence that a partial DNA profile generated from semen found on the body of Ms Sheehan and preserved for decades had matched DNA found on a hat taken from Long in 2021.

Ireland’s oldest murder prosecution: How a conviction over Nora Sheehan’s 1981 death was finally securedOpens in new window ]

There was also evidence that Long had been in the same area as Ms Sheehan when she went missing, that fibres recovered from the victim matched those taken from the carpeting of Long’s car. Paint fragments removed from the victim’s clothing also matched paint taken from Long’s vehicle.

The dead woman’s family told the Central Criminal Court, via an emotional victim impact statement, that Long had lived without taking accountability nor “showing an ounce of remorse” for the murder and sexual assault. Katie Sheehan said her grandmother’s life was “taken from her in the cruellest way imaginable”. It was hard to convey in words “the hurt we have carried over four decades, the legacy of which carries on to new generations”.

Long had claimed, at a pretrial hearing when the jury was not present, that when he was questioned by the Garda’s murder squad in 1981 he was beaten. He also claimed he was brought into a dark room, where his head was repeatedly immersed in glass containers holding what he was told were body parts.

However, retired detective inspector Gerry O’Carroll, who was part of the murder squad team on the investigation in 1981, described those claims as “extraordinary”, “nonsense” and “beyond comprehension”.

Mr O’Carroll told The Irish Times that under the laws in 1981 gardaí did not have the power to arrest murder suspects, who could only be questioned voluntarily. He said not only was Long not beaten and mistreated but he could have “walked out” of the Garda station where he was being questioned at any time.

“If he had decided ‘look boys, I want out of here’... he could have just got up and walked out of the door. But he said ‘yeah, I want to clear my name’ and all this sort of stuff,” he said, adding he knew from the outset Long was guilty.

Speaking after the verdict, Supt Joe Moore from Macroom Garda station said the case proved historical crime could be brought to a successful conclusion, even after a prolonged period. He urged anyone with information in relation to a serious crime to come forward and assist with any other cold cases that remain unsolved.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times