A rural dream that ended in nightmare

The last time Catherine Doyle saw her daughter alive she was standing at the window of her house in Carane, Co Roscommon, waving…

The last time Catherine Doyle saw her daughter alive she was standing at the window of her house in Carane, Co Roscommon, waving and crying, begging her mother not to leave. The girl at the window was still coming to terms with the sudden death by asphyxia of her brother Richard eight weeks ago. "She was worried about me," Catherine said, recalling her last visit to the rural home of her daughter, her husband, Carl Doyle (30), and her four grandchildren on the August Bank Holiday weekend. "She said she'd see me soon."

Last Friday evening Catherine (29) phoned her mother from a phone in the local shop. The phone in her own house had been cut off recently. She and Carl had not been able to pay the enormous bill. It was those too-long calls to her mother in Dublin. It had been like that since the move four years ago.

"There was always so much to talk about," says Catherine. Catherine's sister Sarah-Jane (20) and her boyfriend were coming down to Roscommon for one of the family's regular visits. "I remember she was so thrilled," says Catherine. "She asked had Sarah-Jane caught the train. I told her she had. She said she couldn't wait to see her. She said, `I love you, Mammy'."

In the early hours of Saturday morning Carl and Catherine Doyle were stabbed to death in their home. Sarah-Jane was taken to hospital with serious head wounds. She was released yesterday. She had raised the alarm at the home of the nearest neighbours, the Hestor family. Catherine and Pat Doyle were told at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning by guards who came to their door. Sarah-Jane's boyfriend, Mark Nash, was charged with the murders last Sunday.

"Every time I close my eyes I see their faces," says Pat Doyle, sitting in his home in Clonsilla, west Dublin. He searches for the right words. They are in his head, he tells you, but when he tries they won't come out. He clears his throat. "They were dynamite people, both of them. So much in love. Inseparable."

Catherine Doyle met Carl Doyle at school in Kilbarrack when they were both in their midteens. They became boyfriend and girlfriend some time later and Catherine became pregnant at the age of 21. "They said it was not planned," says Pat, smiling. "But you know, I think they just wanted us to think that."

They got married soon after the birth in a civil ceremony in Molesworth Street in Dublin. The couple's first child, Jesse, now seven, was named after the legendary cowboy, Jesse James. Their second son, born two years later, was named after the cowboy's brother and sidekick, Frank.

For a while the couple lived with Catherine's parents in Clonsilla. With seven children of their own living at home, the Doyles' house was crowded, but "Carl was like one of the family," says Pat. "Just another son."

The sequence of events which led Catherine and Carl to embrace rural life in Co Roscommon began when they were housed by the council in Darndale in north county Dublin. "Catherine was such a good mother. Her kids and Carl were always her life. She used to say to me she didn't want to bring her children up in the city. She didn't think the environment was good for them. So they started looking into ways to move to the countryside," says Catherine.

They discovered an initiative called Rural Resettlement Ireland and in 1993 were offered a house in Castleteehan, Co Roscommon. It was rented accommodation, the first step towards getting permanently housed in the safe and secure environment the couple craved for their children.

"They saved every penny. Every penny for a mortgage," says Pat.

One day Catherine got a phone call from her daughter, who had been house hunting in the Roscommon locality that afternoon. "I've found my dream home," her excited daughter said. Catherine sits clutching photographs of her daughter and son-in-law and repeats as if she doesn't quite believe it, "I've found my dream home."

The dream home was a rambling two-storey farmhouse in the tiny Roscommon village of Carane. It had three bedrooms and a solid fuel cooker. Carane is a peaceful and tranquil area with a population of around 60 who live in 25 houses along a curving country lane.

"She fell in love with it immediately. She knew she wanted to bring the kids up there," says Catherine.

The couple had two more children over the next three years, Heather (now 3), and baby Holly, both named, says her mother, because of Catherine's love of flowers and plants. They grew familiar with local haunts and learned the names of their neighbours. Jesse and Frank were enrolled at the local school in Enfield.

Carl got a job as a butcher in the Avonmore meat factory in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo. His hours at the factory had just been increased. Catherine looked after the children, and, says her mother, "had never been happier or more content".

They loved it in Roscommon, they say again and again. They travelled all over the county "as the mood took them". They watched football in Kenny's pub in nearby Ballintubber. Bought their groceries at Farrell's shop. Went into Castlerea or Roscommon town "just for a change". "They loved it," says Pat. "They were so happy."

As they weep for their children they remember these happy times, such as "when they tried to rear chickens in the yard but the fox got them," laughs Catherine. "Their next venture was to be pigs," adds Pat. Happy days. When all four of them used to sit drinking beer making plans to convert a couple of barges and spend the rest of their lives fishing on rivers around the country.

"Pat and the kids would have been gone like a light," says Catherine. "But I always told them I'm keeping my feet on dry land."

"Cathy loved cooking", adds Pat. "I sent her a wok and a cookbook last week. She was delighted with it," says Catherine.

Along with the happy memories come the inevitable shattered dreams. The couple was planning to get remarried in the local church in Ballintubber just three miles from Carane. They had set a date, November 25th, and the parish priest, Father Seamus Cox, had visited them to discuss the arrangements.

Catherine had already decided what she was going to wear. "She wanted a purple Chinese dress, not the traditional wedding gear," says Catherine. "And Carl wanted top hat and tails, the whole lot."

"She knew exactly what she wanted," says Pat. "I was going to give her away and she insisted I also be best man."

"They wanted to stay in the country until the children were reared at least. Then the plan was that we would go to live with her, or they would come to us. There was nothing concrete. But I cannot tell you how happy they were. They didn't need anybody. It was Carl, Catherine, and the kids. That was their world," says Catherine.

On June 21st Catherine's brother Richard died. Catherine and Pat say they don't want to go into details, saying they are waiting for the coroner's report.

Catherine travelled with Carl from Roscommon. "They were so close. My wife was in bits. Catherine sat here where I'm sitting now and said, "I will take care of everything, Mammy." "And she did," says Pat. "She was brilliant."

In Carane, the close-knit community are all talked out. When the tragedy occurred they answered media queries on auto-pilot, operating with the numbed shock of a village which, a local garda now living in Dublin says, "has never experienced any trouble in living memory".

A shopkeeper told how when Catherine phoned her mother that Friday evening she was "happy as the flowers of May". Others confirmed that the couple was "warm and friendly" and had made a wonderful life for themselves and their children.

Since these remarks were made a shield of silence has surrounded the picturesque boreen where the unspeakable events of last Saturday morning took place. Neighbours have said their piece to the newspapers and radio stations and need time to recover. "But it is going to take years," according to one.

In Clonsilla, Catherine and Pat Doyle attempt to describe what was "so, so special" about their daughter Catherine and son-inlaw Carl. They loved music but none of "that modern stuff", says Pat. They liked Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. Hippies at heart.

Pat recalls their "free spirits, their openness, their warmth, their humour". Catherine was colouring her hair blonde again. She had seen the Pamela Anderson movie, Barb Wire, recently. Every time she rang home she mimicked the very blonde Anderson's catch phrase and yelled, "Don't call me babe."

Are they angry? "No," says Catherine. "I was at first," says Pat. "But now it's gone. I decided I didn't want to let anger interfere with my love for them. I keep saying, why? How could it happen? Did I do something, or not do something? But I know that it was out of my control."

Through tears his wife repeats like a mantra, "Catherine was my rock. Catherine and Carl and Richard were my rocks." They are like "three shining stars looking down on us," she says. "They will help us through it. They will give us strength. I was in the church and I thought of Our Lady who watched her son being crucified on the cross. It was as if she was saying, "Now you know how I felt."

"Goodness will prevail," she says, as though this thought is the only one worth holding on to. "Goodness will prevail."