Deirdre Morley came to believe her cherished children were ‘doomed’

Nurse's mental health issues crystallised into something darker due to anxieties over motherhood

Deirdre Morley and Andrew McGinley with their children  Conor, Darragh and  Carla. A jury has found Ms Morley not guilty of murdering the three children by reason of insanity.

Deirdre Morley and Andrew McGinley with their children Conor, Darragh and Carla. A jury has found Ms Morley not guilty of murdering the three children by reason of insanity.

 

Deirdre Morley became convinced she was an inadequate mother who had irreparably damaged her children, the Central Criminal Court heard during her trial for the murder of her three children.

On Thursday, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murders of Conor (9), Darragh (7) and Carla (3) McGinley, who the trial heard were “very, very deeply loved”.

Ms Morley had a depressive illness that developed into delusions and psychosis, the court heard.

“I felt so useless,” she told a psychiatrist in Tallaght University Hospital in March of last year. She was admitted after she killed her children on January 24th, 2020 and tried to take her own life.

The court was told repeatedly that the children were cherished, cared for and loved by devoted parents, but Ms Morley came to believe they were “doomed”.

“They were broken like me because I couldn’t parent them, I couldn’t be resilient,” she told gardaí.

The first symptoms of the anxiety that would overshadow Ms Morley’s adult life emerged when she was still a student. She grew up in Dublin, the youngest of eight siblings. Her father died when she was 20 months old and she was close to her mother, maybe “a bit too close”.

She moved to Cork to study nursing in 1996 and was “ridiculously homesick”. Two years later, after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she first attended a GP with mental health concerns. Her mother died at the age of 85 in 2015, a “source of enormous stress”.

Later in her career, when she was studying to add to her nursing qualifications, Ms Morley again became very stressed and had difficulty concentrating.

But after the exams were over, things improved. There was another period when she experienced bullying at work, but again, this passed.

“I had a difficulty asserting my authority, I’m a bit of a people pleaser,” she said.

It was only after she became a mother that these stresses crystallised into something much darker.

Peaks and troughs

She met her husband Andrew McGinley in 2002, and they “slotted into each other’s lives easily from the start”.

Their marriage was a good one that had “peaks and troughs”. But looking back later, Ms Morley wondered “how much of our struggles were my struggles”.

“I never stopped loving him. He was a really good guy,” she told forensic psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright.

Psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright is pictured outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after giving evidence in the trial of Deirdre Morley. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.
Psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright is pictured outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after giving evidence in the trial of Deirdre Morley. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

The anxiety began to take hold again from early on in their marriage, though she became adept at hiding her feelings. She suffered from poor self-esteem, tearfulness, and low mood. At work, she had “an increasing fear of something happening on my watch”. Even when she was off, she would call into to work to check on the children in her care.

When she became pregnant with Conor, she was “really happy” and after his birth she was “on cloud nine” for the first four months. Her marriage was also in a very good place. Mr McGinley was “very paternal, he loves kids”.

But when Conor was four-months-old, the earlier anxieties began spiralling. She catastrophised about what were entirely normal developmental stages. She had “well beyond normal worries” that he was not in a routine, was not taking regular naps and would not take a soother.

“I was hard on myself. He was a good, happy, contented baby,” she said.

That anxiety and perfectionism became features of her parenting.

She agonised about their eating, their toilet training, why they were not yet riding a bike or swimming. She watched the clock constantly to see how much time they were spending on screens.

When Darragh was a boisterous two-year-old and went through a brief phase of hitting she thought she “was not giving him enough or the right kind of attention.”

Ms Morley was “completely distraught” when Carla started being a fussy eater. When Darragh was older and suffered from tummy aches after he changed school, she again blamed herself.

“Darragh was a great boy, he was very attached and attuned with me,” she later told doctors.

Family members tried to support and reassure her, but “when I was in the thick of it there was no talking to me,” she told Dr Wright. She later said “I can see now it’s all normal development.”

Her feelings of inadequacy as a mother became a recurring theme in her thoughts, but one she mostly concealed from her husband, sisters and friends.

Struggles at work

In March 2018, Ms Morley took 12 weeks off work with stress, and by the end of that year, “I wasn’t able to enjoy anything,” she told Dr Wright. She lost 10lbs over six weeks, and could not get through the day without a nap. She tried to go back to work, but was unable.

A GP she saw later that year noted that she was struggling to get out of bed and waking up early. She wanted to get away and felt overwhelmed looking after the children. Her records noted that she “can’t manage children at all.”

In early 2019, now back at work part-time, but still struggling with feeling overwhelmed, Ms Morley described a fantasy “that I am in apartment in Paris, no children, just me”. The notion that her mental health issues were impacting on her role as a parent and wife by now had tightened its grip on her.

By the summer, it was noted in her records, “doesn’t want to be around her children… doesn’t feel she can go back to the house.”

She was admitted to St Patrick’s Hospital on July 6th, 2019. There, she was described as “overwhelmed, low mood, poor sleep and appetite, excessive guilt, poor self-worth, early morning wakening, poor concentration”.

Some of these are symptoms of significant depressive illness, the court heard. Sometime before she was released her husband took a telephone call from the hospital. He was asked if he thought Ms Morley was a danger to herself or the children.

“He was really shocked…he honestly was stunned that this was even being suggested,” Mr Bowman told the court.

Prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor said that because Ms Morley was so medically qualified, she took control of her own treatment. The court heard that what she was going through day to day would not have been communicated in detail to her husband. Her final diagnosis ahead of her discharge from St Patrick’s was moderate depressive episodes.

In September 2019, her mood took a sudden upswing, but a GP worried it was “too high”. She was waking up at night to bake and cook and seemed elated, which can be a recognised phenomenon for some people on the wrong type of anti-depressant, the court was told. She was advised to reduce her dosage.

Last six months

The six months before the children’s deaths proved the most difficult in her marriage. She and Mr McGinley were talking less and mainly interacted around logistics, she told Dr Wright.

In November 2019, her sister contacted the GP to say Ms Morley had deteriorated significantly. She could not get up to bring the children to school and her sister had been unable to persuade her to the come to the doctor. She felt guilt, shame, worthlessness, but did not want to go back to St Patrick’s as an in-patient, so attended for a brief time as a day patient. At that time, she said, “I just want to evaporate.”

Her family, however, believed she began to improve in December and January, but she was presenting a different side to experts. Her counsellor noted in January that Ms Morley was “as bad as I have seen her”. She kept returning to the same theme: she was selfish, inadequate and had damaged the children.

Around the same time, her GP recorded Ms Morley’s view that “things are really hard at home, the boys are acting out as discipline has started to slide.”

Gardaí at the scene at Parsons Court, Newcastle, Co Dublin where the bodies of the three McGinley children were found. Photograph: Damien Eagers.
Gardaí at the scene at Parsons Court, Newcastle, Co Dublin where the bodies of the three McGinley children were found. Photograph: Damien Eagers.

The court heard repeatedly, however, that this was a “skewed” sense of the behaviour of the children. Defence barrister Michael Bowman noted that, “objectively all those that viewed them found them wonderfully engaging and delightful young children.”

This was a delusion, a manifestation of the mental illness that was gripping her.

In the final week of her children’s life, Ms Morley “started to think about a plan”. “I wanted to evaporate for a long time. I’m not sure when it became more definitive,” she said.

She thought about taking her own life, but thought “I can’t leave the children.”

In the week of January 20th, she began to have two recurring thoughts. “I had to go, I couldn’t not take them with me” and “I have ruined them by bad parenting and my mental illness. I felt they were doomed. They were going to be mentally ill and not secure.”

She told no-one about these thoughts.

On the Monday of that week, she saw her sisters, but felt “removed…less and less like myself.”

“I could only see all the positives in everyone else’s life and all the negatives in my life” and the children’s. Asked later if she had given any thought to the impact of killing the children on others, she said, “I was thinking people would be sad, but it was definitive, this had to happen...I thought it was the right thing to do, the hard thing, but the right thing.”

All she could think about was what she imagined would be their struggles for the future. Now, she told Dr Wright later in 2020, “all I can think of is what they had going for them so I can’t remember what I was worried about.”

Distressing events

Det Sgt Dara Kenny gave evidence from garda interviews on the first full day of evidence which laid out the distressing events of January 23rd and 24th, 2020.

Mr McGinley went away on a work trip on Thursday and was due back on Friday evening. The court heard he had no concern at all in relation to Ms Morley or the children. Throughout the time he was away, they were in frequent contact, and she betrayed no sign anything was wrong.

But on Thursday, she purchased rope from a hardware store with a view to making a noose. She looked up how to make a noose and searched for the N7 flyover and the Poolbeg lighthouse.

That evening, she attempted to sedate all three children and planned to suffocate them in their sleep.

Conor was having a bowl of porridge before bed, and Darragh was having Cheerios. She crushed six to eight morphine tablets to put them in the boys’ bowls, calculating that they would ingest three or four each. But the minute Conor tasted it, he said, “what’s that? That’s disgusting”, and spat it out.

She put a tablet containing codeine in Carla’s purple sippy cup, though she believed Carla had not consumed much of it.

That night, as she fell asleep in the big bed, her two boys beside her, she felt relief that it had not worked. She thought then that she would not go through with it. “I can’t do it but I don’t know how I am going to go on.”

On the children’s final morning, Darragh was off school with a cough and Carla stayed home from creche. She was playing with her dolls and toys, and asking her mother to play with her. Darragh was using his iPad and watching TV. After a while, both children watched Trolls together. Ms Morley pottered around and smoked some cigarettes outside.

At midday on Friday, there was a minor argument over screen time which “reinforced my faulty thinking” that she had damaged the children. She told Darragh he’d had enough screens and he responded that she was ruining his life.

“I knew this was another confirmation [THAT]I needed to do my plan,” she told a consulting psychiatrist in Tallaght University Hospital.

She remembered looking at the clock at about 12pm and thinking, “I just had to end our suffering.”

As she suffocated him using lengths of tape and a plastic bag, “I wanted to stop but didn’t think I could.”

At 12.39pm she got a text from her niece about wedding invites. She responded, “So exciting.”

At that stage, Darragh may already have been dead. “I’m not sure about Carla…I remember replying ‘it’s so exciting’, and thinking look what I’ve just done, or look what I’m in the process of doing,” she told gardaí.

She carried the bodies of Darragh and Carla upstairs. She realised Carla was still breathing, so she held her nose until she stopped.

She collected Conor early from school at 1.50pm, because she wanted “to make sure I was gone” before Mr McGinley got home at 4pm.

Nothing untoward

There, she exchanged brief words with another parent and the school secretary. She was texting her husband about this time about his plans for coming home, and showed no sign anything was wrong. There was “nothing untoward or strange at all” in her behaviour, Ms Lawlor noted.

They stopped on the way home so that Conor could get his favourite roll in Tesco. At this stage Ms Morley said she “was already regretting what I had done, but I didn’t think I could stop”.

While he was having his 15 minutes of screen time, she wrote a note that she would stick to a bicycle in the hall.

“Don’t go upstairs. Phone 911. I’m sorry,” it stated.

Flowers are seen outside the home of Andrew McGinley and Deirdre Morley following the deaths of their three children. Photograph: Stephen Colllins/Collins.
Flowers are seen outside the home of Andrew McGinley and Deirdre Morley following the deaths of their three children. Photograph: Stephen Colllins/Collins.

Conor’s final moments were spent with his mother, watching Jurassic World. By now, she was wavering in her plan.

“He was just being really good.”

At that stage, she told gardaí: “I’m thinking I can’t do this. This is awful…I can’t not do this because the other two are dead. How would he live with that? How would he live knowing that his mother killed his siblings?”

She persuaded him to put tape on his mouth and a bag on his head by pretending it was a game. “When I tightened it, I think he got frightened. It’s horrific, I know it’s horrific,” she said in her garda interviews four days later.

“He said ‘Mum, stop’, and I said, ‘I’m really sorry’.”

At this point, she was asked if she wanted a glass of water. “I just want them back,” she replied.

Asked later by forensic psychiatrist Dr Mary Davoren if she knew what she had done was wrong, Ms Morley replied: “I must have known it was wrong at some level because I waited for Andrew to be away to do it.”

She remembered thinking, “what if I don’t die?” and that if she survived, she would have to “spend my whole life in prison.”

After she had killed the children, she ingested at least 13 tablets, and brought a half bottle of wine with her in the car as she left the house at 4.10pm and drove to a N7 flyover bridge. She intended to end her life there.

At 5.10pm, there was another phone call with her husband, updating her on his timeline. But the drugs took hold by 5.35pm, and she crashed her car into a verge.

A woman passing in another car, nurse Deirdre Gorman, saw her slumped over the wheel and came to her assistance and brought her home. “I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in hospital on Sunday.”

When Mr McGinley arrived home after 7pm, his wife was collapsed outside the house being tended to by paramedics and members of the ambulance service, and nobody could tell him where the children were. It was he who found Conor’s body in the play tent downstairs.

The court heard that efforts were made to keep Mr McGinley out of the bedroom where Darragh and Carla’s bodies lay, but they were not successful.

“At that point, the level of distress was extraordinarily high,” the court heard.

When Ms Morley came out of her induced coma, her remorse, guilt and hopelessness at what she had done were immediate and overwhelming. On January 28th, she told a psychiatrist, “I wish I had a time machine.”

Three days later, now on an anti-psychotic drug, she was calm, but heartbroken. But she told doctors “the grief was unbearable. She wanted a magic wand to go back three weeks and ask for help.”

If you are affected by issues in this article you can call Pieta House 1800 247247 or text “HELP” to 51444, Contact Aware at 1800 80 4848 or supportmail@aware.ie or the Samaritans at 116123 or jo@samaritans.ie. You can also text “HELLO” to 50808