A mother of four with no previous convictions has been jailed for life after she pleaded guilty to murdering two of her children by setting fire to the car in which they were travelling.
When asked by Mr Justice Paul McDermott if psychiatric reports had been sought in relation to “a particular course of action” prior to Lynn Eagar entering her guilty plea, the 49-year-old defendant’s barrister said he had been instructed “not to put anything of that nature before you”.
In a statement to the court, the father of Thelma (5) and Mikey Dennany (2) told how money he had saved to build an extension on their home so the children could have their own room was instead spent on burying them.
“I am nothing now but an empty shell. There’s no purpose to life. I don’t belong anywhere. I am an outsider looking in,” Michael Dennany told the court.
The court heard that text messages sent by Eagar before she murdered her children showed a perception that it was in her interest and the interests of the children that, in her words, “they wouldn’t hurt any more”.
The two children died after Eagar set fire to the car in which they were sitting.
Their mother was in the passenger seat and was pulled to safety by a passerby and suffered only “minimal burns”, the court heard.
The father of both children wrote a statement for the court that was read by Det Insp Thomas Quinn. Mr Dennany, his family and their supporters wept as they heard his words: “Thelma and Mikey’s births were the two happiest days of my life. Being a daddy was something I thought I’d never experience, but holding Thelma for the first time, I was probably the most terrified but happiest man alive. I was smitten.”
When Mikey arrived 2½ years later, “Thelma was the best big sister,” he said. “She wanted to do everything for him — feed him, change him, hold him. I thought she’d lose interest but no. From the moment they met, they were stuck together like glue: Fearless, mischievous partners in crime. I had so many plans, hopes and dreams for us. But all that’s gone. All I’m left with are photos and memories. What ifs and if onlys.”
When Mr Dennany left for work that day, his children were still asleep. He said: “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. I used to come home after work to a busy home. Full of noisy toys, giggles, and love. The toys are still there, but there’s no noise, no giggle, no joy; nothing but silence, heartache, and despair.
“I miss Thelma and Mikey racing to meet me. Climbing into the jeep, unclipping my seatbelt for me. Talking over each other; asking where I was and what I had been doing. Before they died, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d cried — and two of them were the days they were born. Now I am constantly crying or on the verge of it.”
The day that they died, Mr Dennany had planned to go collecting chestnuts with his children after school. “We never got to do that.”
He said he had hoped to see his children through school and “at a push to see them married, but I never thought I would bury them ...The only comfort I have is that they are together forever”.
Mr Dennany described the reminders of his children all over the house they shared. He recalled their excitement when he was preparing to build an extension to their home.
“I thought we were making memories for them, similar to the ones I have of helping my father to build our house. Little did I know I was making happy memories for me. And it’s those memories on lonely dark nights that chase the horror of their deaths away. The extension never got built. They never got their own room. The money I had saved to build it was spent on burying them.
“Thelma and Mikey were beautiful. They always had a wave and a hello for everybody. That day robbed them of growing up. It robbed them of birthdays, communions, confirmations. Robbed us all. I miss my little rascals. I’m lost here without them. I’m only biding my time until we’re together again. Given the chance to grow up, they mightn’t have changed the world but they definitely would have made it a better place.”
Eagar also wrote a letter which was read out by her barrister Sean Gillane SC. She apologised to everyone she had hurt, for the “pain, horror and suffering” she had caused to her family and to her two “gorgeous children”.
“Looking back, there were other avenues I could and should have travelled,” she wrote. “I’m full of regret.”
Eagar (49) with an address of Winetown, Rathowen, Co Westmeath, was charged with the murders of Thelma (5) and Michael Dennany (2) at Lackan, Multyfarnham on September 9th 2022. With a barely audible whisper she pleaded guilty on Thursday morning when the two charges were put to her.
Det Insp Quinn told prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC that Eagar lived with Mr Dennany, their two children and two older children Eagar has from a previous relationship. On the day of the murders, Mr Dennany left for work at about 6.30am and Eagar dropped Thelma to national school and Michael to a pre-school for toddlers.
Eagar collected Michael at 12.15pm and Thelma at 2pm and was seen on CCTV driving around the area up to about 3pm. Shortly after 3pm, Eagar sent several texts at the same time to Mr Dennany and other members of her own family and Mr Dennany’s family. She indicated later to gardaí that she wrote the texts with the phone in airplane mode so that they were all sent together when she again connected the phone to the internet.
Those messages, Det Insp Quinn said, showed Eagar’s perception of difficulties in her own life and “a perception that it was in her interest and the interests of the children that, in her words, they wouldn’t hurt any more”.
Her phone stopped operating at about 3.05pm when the detective said it appears she set fire to the car, a blue Lexus.
Various members of the public arrived at the scene and immediately contacted the emergency services and gardaí. A courier driver and a passerby tried to assist and pulled Eagar from the front passenger seat. They could see Mikey “leaning on the armrest between the two front seats, like a statue, not making a sound”.
Moments later the car, which was already burning, “burst into flames”. Thelma, who had been in a car seat in the footwell between the rear seat and passenger side front seat, was “unrecognisable” in the rear of the car, the inspector said.
There were “extensive and significant efforts to revive” Mikey but, the inspector said, “it was clear to first responders that was not going to be successful”.
Eagar was brought to hospital having received “minimal burns to 12 per cent of her body” said Det Insp Quinn.
She was arrested on September 21st and interviewed by gardaí. During those interviews she admitted that she had set the car alight, causing the deaths of her children. She said she brought a red plastic can filled with petrol from the shed of her home, placed it in the rear footwell and dropped a lit fire-lighter into it to start the blaze.
Eagar has no previous convictions and has been in custody since September 22nd last year. In December last year, she was transferred to the Central Mental Hospital.
The judge asked if psychiatric reports had been sought in relation to “a particular course of action” prior to Eagar entering her guilty plea. Mr Gillane, representing Eagar, said that this is a case “where there are sensitivities and I am instructed not to put anything of that nature before you”.
Passing sentence, the judge said that the court is “not a place where the devastation and loss and grief that is clearly caused by these offences can in any way be diminished. Life is precious and these two young lives, these two children have lost theirs, causing the utter loss and grief which has been expressed and is evident from those who knew and loved these children and engaged with them during their short lives.”
He explained that his jurisdiction is limited to the “mandatory sentence of life which I now impose. It will do little to reduce the suffering and loss of those here but that is the order of the court”. He imposed a life sentence in respect of each count of murder.
“I can only express my commiserations to everyone concerned and to all who loved and cherished Thelma and Mikey,” he concluded.
Outside court, Garda Martina Walsh read out a statement on behalf of the family which read: “Thelma and Michael were happy fun-loving children overflowing with love and mischief. Had they grown up they might have changed the world because they changed ours. “Their absence has cast a shadow on our lives. That shadow is testament to the brightness of their light. We are utterly lost without them.”
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