Second violent murder casts pall of gloom over Tralee

AROUND midnight on Saturday, Hannah O'Sullivan stopped off at the garage opposite the graveyard in Tralee to buy lucky bags for…

AROUND midnight on Saturday, Hannah O'Sullivan stopped off at the garage opposite the graveyard in Tralee to buy lucky bags for her two youngest children. She wanted to give them the presents when they called to wish her a happy 40th birthday, but she never got the chance.

Shortly after midday on Monday, her 12-year-old son Eric rang the doorbell of the flat where Hannah lived alone. He had her birthday card in his hand when a neighbour, a Mormon elder who lived in a flat below, answered the front door. The young boy ran upstairs to find his mother lying on her bed. The walls of the room were spattered with blood. Her throat had been slashed to the spinal cord.

Donny O'Sullivan, Hannah's husband, had been in Mosney for the weekend with their eight-year-old daughter, Vicky. The little girl with the flaming red hair was taking part in an all-Ireland disco dancing competition. He had travelled along with a handful of parents to support the team.

On Saturday evening he had called his wife to tell her Vicky had won. Although they had been separated for six years after 15 years of marriage, they remained good friends. Their three children, Oliver (19), Eric and Vicky lived with him but regularly saw their mother. That evening she seemed to be in good form and was delighted at her daughter's performance. She would see them when they returned to Tralee, she said.

On Monday Donny brought Vicky to the train with the rest of the children from the Instep Dancers Group and drove with another parent back to Kerry. At 4 p.m. he heard the news of the Tralee murder. The victim was a mother of three in her 40s who lived in McCowens Lane, he heard. He had no doubt that it was his wife.

As the train pulled into Tralee that evening the children, who had won over 60 medals for dancing, were in the mood to celebrate. Their instructor, Ms Joanne Barry, had Vicky in her arms. But there was no cheering from the waiting crowd, Joanne knew immediately something was wrong. Vicky's father was waiting with two detectives. The State Pathologist, Dr John Harbison, got off the train in front of her.

The murder of Hannah O'Sullivan has numbed a town which would normally have been getting into the swing of the Rose of Tralee Festival. Tourists stood in silence as hundreds of mourners followed her coffin this week. Locals despaired as they buried a second murdered woman in four months.

"We were shocked when we heard about Anne Marie Duffin and how her young son had found her. But we never thought it would come to our door," said Hannah's sister Annette.

LIKE Hannah, Anne Marie Duffin (39) was separated from her husband and living alone. She was also stabbed to death. The women led very different lives, however. Anne Marie, who was from Holland, lived with her two young sons outside the town. A fitness enthusiast, she worked in a local health shop before starting a new job as a waitress in a pub near her home.

Hannah O'Sullivan was an asthmatic, and also suffered from epileptic fits. Because she feared being trapped in the flat - unable to get help during an epileptic attack - she always left the door ajar.

"Hannah had not been dealt a good hand. She had a very tough life," a friend explained. "She was battling to overcome serious physical and emotional difficulties. But, she was brave and she was pulling through."

She had a heart of gold, according to her sister, Annette. "She tried to help everybody. She was one of the nicest people you could meet. Although she was separated from Donny, he and the children meant the world to her," Annette said.

Five months ago her first grandchiid was born. A photograph of Hannah with her son's baby, Jesse, lay on her closed coffin this week. One of 12 children, her father Christy, a Telecom worker, died last year. Her brother Jack died of a heart attack four months ago today. The latest death in the family is just too much to cope with.

"We're suffering," said her husband. "We are just going through the motions, trying to get through life," said Annette. "The family is devastated."

HANNAH grew up in Kieran's Park in Tralee. The close-knit community has known recent tragedy. Last year a local teenager, Pa Flynn, was returning from a disco in the town and got embroiled in a row with a youth from Cork. He returned home in anger and took his brother's gun. A short time later he shot the young Cork man, then turned the gun on himself.

There is growing concern in Tralee at the increase in violent deaths in the town. Last weekend two young men died at their own hands.

"Life seems to have become very cheap. The number of senseless, self-inflicted deaths has increased hugely over the last 10 years. Even murder seems to be more accepted as a part of life," Mr Pat Gleasure, a local undertaker, said. "There is a greater immunity to it."

"Hannah's death, however, has really shocked this community. It was so pointless, such a waste, and so vicious. No one can understand why anyone would want to kill Hannah O'Sullivan."

It is still not, known exactly when Hannah died. Gardai believe she was probably murdered on Sunday afternoon. A friend had driven her home on Saturday night and had stayed with her in the flat until 1.30 am.

It is clear from her wounds that she tried to fight off her attacker. Her right arm was slashed, her left was cut. It appears that a heavy knife was used but the weapon has not been found.

The O'Sullivan family has appealed to the public to do everything they can to help gardai find Hannah's killer. "We just hope that whoever did this to Hannah will be caught," says her sister, Annette. "I would like to see the same thing done to him."