Man (52) jailed for two years for role in ‘eruption of violence’ at Galway funeral

Up to 30 gardaí had to attend scene after fights broke out between members of McDonagh and Ward families

The court heard a priest, whose pleas for calm fell on 'deaf ears', had to hide behind trees to avoid injury amid scenes of 'chaos'. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A 52-year-old man has been jailed for two years for his role in an “eruption of violence” that occurred at the burial of an elderly woman in Galway.

At Galway Circuit Court, Judge Brian O’Callaghan said “fear and terror” was created when two feuding families clashed in a violent disturbance at Tuam cemetery in September 2021.

Up to 30 gardaí, from Tuam, Galway city, the armed Regional Support Unit and the Traffic Corps had to attend after fights broke out between members of the McDonagh and Ward families.

The court heard a priest, whose pleas for calm fell on “deaf ears”, had to hide behind trees to avoid injury amid scenes of “chaos”.


Details of the incident were heard at the sentencing hearing of father of nine, John “Smurf” McDonagh snr, of Weir Road, Kilbannon, Tuam, Co Galway.

Following a five-day trial earlier this month, a jury found McDonagh snr guilty by unanimous verdict of violent disorder and not guilty of assault causing harm and the production of an article during a dispute.

Garda John Kelly said a violent disturbance broke out at Tuam cemetery on September 22nd, 2021, when two separate funerals were taking place.

“There were weapons such as knives and baseball bats produced.”

Fr Ray Flaherty “described how he pleaded with all concerned to desist from their violent behaviour but his words fell on deaf ears. He himself described how he had to take refuge behind some trees to avoid being injured as large stones and rocks were being used as projectiles,” the garda said.

Seven people were hospitalised with injuries with one man airlifted to University Hospital Galway, the court was told.

Gda Kelly agreed with defence barrister, Bernard Madden SC, that none of the weapons produced on the day were produced by John McDonagh snr.

The garda also agreed with Mr Madden that mediation between the families 20 years ago “held together fairly well” before the latest “feud”.

The accused’s brother, Edward McDonagh, a boxing coach who had no involvement in events at Tuam cemetery, told the court that attempts to mediate the feud were made after the incident and “it’s progressing very well”.

In sentencing, Judge O’Callaghan said there was evidence that John McDonagh snr and another man were “leaders of the pack” and the accused was a “senior member of the cortege”.

The judge said the court took into account the accused’s five previous convictions were of some “vintage” and his last conviction was in 2001.

The judge said the court had no option but to proceed on the basis that a custodial sentence was warranted. However, he said the court would acknowledge that “some efforts had been made to keep the peace between two feuding families”.

He imposed a four and a half year prison sentence with the final two and a half years suspended, subject to conditions.