Dr Cassidy’s Casebook: ‘Unfortunately, it could knock on anyone’s door’

Former state pathologist was met by two gardaí and a double murder when she arrived in Ireland from Glasgow in 1997

“We’ve got a double murder,” two gardaí told Marie Cassidy on the morning in 1997 when she arrived in Ireland from Glasgow, to get a feel for the country and for the work that would be involved in helping with Dr John Harbison’s workload as state pathologist. “He said to take you to the scene.”

The scene, we learn in a gripping though upsetting first episode of a new season of Dr Cassidy’s Casebook (RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35pm), was Grangegorman, a shuttered mental hospital converted into sheltered accommodation.

It was here, at an end-of-terrace house, that the bodies of Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callinan were found. The brutality of the killings shocked even the veteran Harbison, who commented that “these injuries were outside my experience in 26 years of pathology practice”.

The murders were eventually connected to Mark Nash, who had killed two people in Roscommon that same year. But if the facts of the case were distressing, Cassidy – who decided to take the job in Ireland, going on to succeed Harbison – was quickly struck by wider attitudes towards women in Ireland.


The mid-1990s, she observed, were marked by record levels of violence against women. “There’s no let up,” she says. “It’s quite shocking actually that women are dying, and keep on dying, and mainly at the hands of men. There’s not a huge outcry.”

Such violence can only be understood in the context of women’s treatment since the State’s foundation. Those prejudices were codified – until the 1970s, women were “defined as chattel,” Dr Don Hennessy of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency explains.

Cassidy notes that violence against women differs from that perpetrated against men. “The majority of women are killed by someone known to them,” Cassidy says.

“Why do these women die at the hands of someone in their bed rather than someone under their bed? When it comes to women being killed it’s not the bogeyman, it’s someone they know.”

It makes for grim though, alas, not surprising viewing. Cassidy revisits several other cases, including the 2013 murder of the mother of three Olivia Dunlea in her home in Passage West, in Co Cork.

She had seemingly died in a fire after a night out with friends. But when Cassidy examined the body, she discovered stab wounds – the fire was intended to conceal the truth cause of death, a violent attack by her jealous partner.

The episode finishes with a chilling coda – one delivered not by Dr Cassidy but by Dunlea’s sister.

“If anyone gets anything from this series, if you have any doubt, any fear, about your own partner, about a loved one’s partner, a friend’s partner, speak out, take the risk, look for help, look for advice,” says Anne Dunlea.

“Don’t take any chances, because we were that family that thought it would never come to us, and unfortunately it could knock on anyone’s door.”