When Fintan threatened to kill the children it changed everything
When Maura's husband told her he would murder their four children, then her, she finally summoned the strength to leave him
“Fintan is a perfectionist. He wanted everything – the yard, the house, me – to be perfect... With two small children, it was getting harder to have everything perfect.”
‘Fintan had threatened to kill me loads of times, but I never thought it was a genuine threat. But I knew that night if I didn’t get out with the children he would kill the whole lot of us – that he threatened to kill the children changed everything, it gave me the kick up the ass I needed to get out.”
Maura is remembering the night that her husband of 16 years locked her in a room and threatened to kill her and their children, starting with, in his words, “the favourite”, and making her watch as he killed them one by one in front of her before finally killing her.
The courts have since jailed her husband for 18 months, giving Maura respite from a relationship that had been descending into a living hell for almost 10 years.
Now, aged 44 and sitting in the kitchen of her rented home in a quiet estate in a Cork village, Maura is pondering an uncertain future but one which she now feels equipped to face.
Maura met Fintan when she was just 18 at an agricultural college they were both attending. He was around the same age.
“I fell madly in love with him from the day I met him – he was always very quiet and very deep, but when you did get a laugh out of him, it was a contagious kind of laugh. We had the same interests, farming and GAA, and we were very close – I don’t think we ever fell out when we were going out.”
In 1999, Fintan’s parents gave the couple a farm to work, which they built up.
The couple were going out for almost eight years before they got married. She believes now she did not really get to know Fintan during this period. Both were from strict Catholic upbringings, and they would meet only at weekends, occasions when his mood was always good. She never saw a negative side to him.
‘Fintan is a perfectionist’
But things began to change two years into the marriage, following the birth of their first child, a girl, in the early 2000s. Maura paid little heed at first as she recognised couples need time and space to adjust when a baby enters their lives.
“He wouldn’t be great with babies, but a lot of men aren’t, and I didn’t think there was anything alarming about it. But there was definitely a change in his behaviour after she was born. He was more likely to snap at things but I put it down to adjusting to having a child in the house.”
In 2013, she was attacked by a calving cow and was rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital
After the birth of their second child – another girl – three years later, Fintan became more demanding. This she attributed partly to her husband’s perfectionist nature.
“Fintan is a perfectionist. He wanted everything – the yard, the house, me – to be perfect. He was as hard on himself but he liked everything to be spot on. With two small children, it was getting harder to have everything perfect.
“He loved good food and it would all have to be homemade. I grew all my own vegetables, and fruit – I had an acre-and-a-half given over to growing fruit and veg – and I made jams, preserves. Everything you could make, I made.”
The birth of a son a little over 10 years ago made achieving that level of perfection even more difficult. While the farm was going well, their relationship gradually began to deteriorate. Fintan became more and more abusive until it almost became the norm.
“Four or five mornings a week he would tell me I was “a useless f**king c**t’ – I hate the word – he would tell me I was ‘a dirty b**ch’. You actually do start to believe it if you are told it often enough.
“He used to say me ‘if I had a dog, it would be more help’ and I would look at him, I couldn’t get my head around it – I actually think Fintan never loved me because you couldn’t do what he did to me to anyone you ever had any feelings for. You wouldn’t treat an animal the way he treated me.”
‘It was very gradual’
Maura calmly cites another example of his behaviour. In 2013, she was attacked by a calving cow and was rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital. “I had seven broken ribs, some broken in three or four different places – I had no skin on my lower back, skin removed off my stomach, muscle damage to my leg, and they were worried there could be heart damage because it was all down my left side.
Fintan, who had been working away from the farm, joined her as she lay on a trolley. “He put his head down and said ‘This had better be bad’. I looked at him and said ‘How do you mean it had better be bad, Fintan?’ and he said ‘All the fuss you’re after causing’.”
By then Maura had become accustomed to Fintan blaming her for everything wrong in his life – so much so that she began to feel responsible for him. She would accept not just emotional abuse but also physical assault.
“A lot of people don’t fully understand domestic violence and I don’t fully understand it, even though I lived through it, but it was very gradual. This wasn’t like he woke up one morning and turned into a monster; there was a load of mental baggage heaped on top of me before he ever raised a fist.
“He told me that he didn’t have a relationship with any of his family and I was the only one he ever felt close to, so from very early on I felt responsible for his wellbeing. He would get down over things, and it would be my responsibility to cheer him up,” she says.
He blamed Maura for his own acts of violence. “He would threaten suicide. He would go into this hole where it was all just him and it was always my fault. He would say ‘Look what you made me do to you’ – that was a regular thing.”
Following counselling, Maura recognised that Fintan’s comments were a means of controlling her. This was made easier by the fact she was at home farming while he did contract work, so she had no contact with any other adults and instead found herself alone and isolated.
That isolation, she believes in hindsight, led her to accept the physical abuse when it started, often witnessed by their eldest daughter.
“When we would be up in the yard working, if things weren’t going right, he would thump me in the shoulder and it would be a full-force blow – he would catch me by the scruff of the neck and he would pull me so hard by the clothes that I would end up with bruises around the top of my arms.
‘A ferocious hammering’
Although the physical abuse had been building, Fintan’s explosion of anger when he attacked her in the kitchen of their home in October 2012, when she had their then youngest child in her arms, shocked her.
“He took a notion from nowhere that I was leaving with the children. He came into the kitchen, roaring and screaming and started kicking my legs and punching my shoulders and back.
“I got [the child] off my hip, [and] that was when the real attack started. It left me with cuts to my face, and bruises on my arms and thighs and back.
“He gave me a ferocious hammering that night and a lot of it was witnessed by [my eldest daughter]. When it was over, he told me it was all my fault – I had made him do it to me.”
Maura remains genuinely baffled as to why she stayed with Fintan for a further three years after this. That she subjected her children, particularly the three eldest, to more years of abuse continues to haunt her.
“I do feel a sense of guilt for the three older ones, in particular – I should have left after the 2012 assault,” she says, before recounting an incident in 2015 when Fintan brought his legally held shotgun into the house and threatened to kill himself only for [my eldest daughter] to stand up to him.
‘Tonight is the night’
In October 2015, Fintan stormed home from a GAA match with their daughter and exploded in anger, threatening to kill Maura but only after he had made her watch him kill their four children.
Maura eventually managed to lock Fintan into the house and called his brother who rang gardaí
“I knew from past experience of his brutality, but this night was different – he levelled his temper at all of us that night, roaring insults, kicking toys, mimicking and mocking one of the children as she tried to calm him down,” says Maura.
“He caught me by the throat and announced he was going to kill all of us, starting with the children and leaving me to last – I could feel a scream in my throat but there was no sound, just helplessness as he singled out [our son] as the favourite and starting marching him into the sitting room.
“I remember seeing [our son’s] face through the glass door and hearing his father saying ‘I’m sorry for what I am about to do’. I managed to get between [them].
She gestured to their son to get out; the other children had managed to leave the house.
Maura eventually managed to calm Fintan down, making him a cup of tea and suggesting he might take some anti-depressants he was on at the time. He kept telling her: “Tonight is the night. Tonight is different.”
Maura eventually managed to lock Fintan into the house and called his brother who rang gardaí, who gave him a choice – either go for medical treatment or face arrest. When he refused treatment, Fintan’s brother signed him in for psychiatric treatment in hospital.
He spent a month there and fully accepted he was wrong. Fintan pledged to put everything right, making promises to both Maura and the children. However, after being discharged, he became abusive again. Maura knew she and the children had to leave.
“By the time that night came, I had given up on myself – I hated myself for accepting it and I knew at that stage that it was wrong but I had no power to fix it. I had no escape, I had four small children and no money and I knew if I left, I would lose the farm.
“Domestic abuse isn’t just about the woman, it’s about the family, and I hadn’t realised that. I had given up on myself, but when he threatened to kill the lads, it woke me up [I told myself]: ‘You are needed. They need you because if you’re not here, he will kill them’.”
After the 2015 incident, Fintan was required by Tusla, the national child and family agency, to live away from the family home with access to the children for an hour a day for a period.
He moved back home in December 2015 and Maura began planning how she would take the children and leave. “When he came out of [hospital] he would say ‘It’s you who is should be in [there], it’s you who is f**king crazy’ and I was really afraid.”
‘We put in cameras and alarms’
She left with the children in February 2016 and moved into a rented house some 20km away. She applied for a safety order, which prohibits a violent person from further violence or threats of violence, but Fintan refused to agree to it.
His refusal prompted her to make a criminal complaint against him over both the 2012 assault and the 2015 incident where he assaulted her and threatened to kill her and the children.
“We were living in a very rural area so we put in cameras and alarms. I was waiting for him to turn up – I made sure the car was always full of diesel. Every night I was convinced he would turn up and I wouldn’t actually go to sleep.”
Maura is worried about the impact that witnessing such sustained domestic violence has had on her children
Living in Co Cork, Maura was already familiar with a spate of local murder-suicides. John Butler had killed his daughters, Zoe and Ella, in Ballycotton in 2010. Martin McCarthy had killed his daughter Clarissa in Ballydehob in 2013, and Michael Greaney had killed his wife Valerie in Cobh in 2014.
She was further horrified in August 2016 when, while waiting for her own case to come to court, she heard how Alan Hawe had murdered wife Clodagh and their three children, Ryan, Liam and Niall, before killing himself at their home in Co Cavan.
In July 2017, Maura’s hope that her family’s nightmare would end was dashed. Judge Gerard O’Brien imposed a three-year jail term on Fintan but suspended it in its entirety.
The judge said he was concerned by a psychiatric report that suggested Fintan was trying to minimise the impact of the 2015 incident and that he lacked insight into the impact that his spontaneous explosive outbursts were having on his family.
But he said Fintan should be given credit for his guilty plea which spared his family a trial, the fact that he had no previous convictions, and the belief he was unlikely to reoffend. The judge suspended the sentence on condition he continue to engage with mental health services.
Maura admits she was devastated. “My biggest fear was that . . . he’s going to be even more dangerous now. I didn’t feel we got any justice that day.”
The DPP appealed the sentence on the grounds of undue leniency. In June 2018 the Court of Appeal in Dublin agreed, imposing a three-year term with the last 18 months suspended for what Mr Justice George Birmingham called “a truly awful offence”.
“I said to the detective going up to Dublin that I would be happy with a month. I needed Fintan to get something so that he would realise if he ever came near us again there would be consequences for him, so for the judges to appreciate what we went through and give him 18 months was good.”
Maura is worried about the impact that witnessing such sustained domestic violence has had on her children – particularly her eldest daughter who she believes witnessed scenes no child should ever be subjected to but who yet had the strength to make a statement to gardaí outlining what she had seen.
“If she had not been as strong as she was to make that statement to the gardaí and back up my story, I dread to think where we might be – she had to grow up fast – it’s been tough for me but it’s must be awful for [them] to get their heads around what happened.”
Maura pays tribute to her family and friends, her GP, her solicitor and the gardaí. She also points out that help is available to anyone in a similar situation. The ISPCC and the Cork women’s support group Mná Feasa were hugely helpful, she says. “Help is out there – don’t be afraid to ask for it.”
So what now for Maura and her family?
“People have said to me: ‘What about when Fintan comes out? He will be gunning for you’, but that isn’t reason enough not to look for justice. Loads of people have said to me that 18 months isn’t a lot, but I think it’s a vindication. At the end of the day, I just want Fintan to be sorry and leave us alone.”
Maura and Fintan are not their real names
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact the Women’s Aid 24-hour national freephone helpline on 1800 341 900, womensaid.ie; or Amen Abuse Against Men on 046 9023718, amen.ie