Heroin addict jailed for attack on 80-year-old sacristan

Sacristan had eye gouged when he tried to stop David O’Donovan (41) stealing church collection box

A 41-year-old heroin addict, who attacked an 80-year-old sacristan in a church when he tried to stop him stealing the contents of the church collection box, has been jailed for three years for what a judge described as "an appalling assault".

David O'Donovan( 41), originally from Monkstown, Co Cork, with an address at Glendalough, Grenville Place, Cork, had pleaded guilty last month to assault causing harm to pensioner, Robert Duggan at St Augustine's Church in Cork on March 24th.

Det Garda Pádraig Harrington had earlier told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how O'Donovan was in the process of trying to break open a collection box in the church when Mr Duggan approached him and told him that he was in the house of God and to stop what he was doing.

Det Garda Harrington said O’Donovan responded by saying, “f**k you and f**k the church!” He then counted down 4-3-2-1 and kicked Mr Duggan in the groin area. And when the pensioner went down on one knee, O’Donovan knocked his glasses off before gouging him and punching him in the eye.


A Polish woman attending the Mass came to Mr Duggan’s assistance and O’Donovan fled the scene but she followed him from the church. She kept him under surveillance before identifying him to gardaí approximately an hour later in a local Centra shop near the church, said Det Garda Harrington.

O’Donovan was arrested and brought to the Bridewell Garda station for questioning. But questioning had to be suspended for six hours because of his state of intoxication, said Det Garda Harrington, adding that while O’Donovan had previous convictions, he had none for violent offences.

He said his main problem with O’Donovan’s actions was that if he did perceive some threat from Mr Duggan, he had seen off this threat by kicking him in the groin. Thereafter he had carried out a sustained assault by gouging Mr Duggan’s eye and punching him in the same eye.

Det Garda Harrington said that unfortunately Mr Duggan was not given any medical attention at the Mercy hospital despite waiting for seven hours after that Saturday evening Mass. He contacted Mercy CEO the next morning and she arranged to have him seen immediately which he then was.


Mr Duggan told the earlier court sitting that in many years volunteering at St Augustine’s Church on Grand Parade, Cork, he had come across people under the influence of drink and drugs. But he had never experienced anything like the assault by O’Donovan.

“Thankfully he did not have a knife. I am sure he would have used it if he had one. My glasses fell to the ground during this and he deliberately stamped on them. It knocked my confidence back. I will continue doing the position in church as long as God gives me the strength,” he said.

Nikki O’Sullivan, for O'Donovan, said her client had no recollection of the event and was surprised when it was outlined to him what he had done in the church when intoxicated. He had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and was now deeply remorseful about what he had done to Mr Duggan.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said it was an outrageous and cowardly attack on Mr Duggan in a church where he had been working in a voluntary capacity. The attack ended only when the Polish woman had intervened.

He accepted that O’Donovan had no recollection of the event and that he was now remorseful. He noted the defendant had started on a rehabilitation course since going into prison on remand for the offence in March.

He said taking the truly appalling nature of the assault into account, he believed the appropriate sentence was four years. But he would suspend the final 12 months in light of his guilty plea and remorse and the fact that he had no previous convictions for offences of violence.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times