The death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, two decades on

‘Life has moved on, but Sophie’s murder is still a topic of conversation over the counter’

Sophie Toscan du Plantier: Exactly 20 years since she was murdered, the Frenchwoman is still a presence around Mizen Head. Photograph: Patrick Zimmermann/AFP/Getty Images

Sophie Toscan du Plantier: Exactly 20 years since she was murdered, the Frenchwoman is still a presence around Mizen Head. Photograph: Patrick Zimmermann/AFP/Getty Images

 

Sophie Toscan du Plantier bought a remote cottage at Drinane, near Toormore on the Mizen Head in 1993. Although a regular visitor, she kept to herself and was known only to a small handful of locals.

For many in Ireland, 1996 is remembered for the death of Det Garda Jerry McCabe at the hands of the IRA in Adare, Co Limerick, or crime journalist Veronica Guerin at the hand of gangland criminals outside Dublin.

Today, however, the shadow left by Toscan du Plantier’s brutal death on December 23rd, 1996 still lingers in the ether of west Cork.

Dermot O’Sullivan, who runs O’Sullivans Bar in Crookhaven, remembers. He served the Frenchwoman tea when she called into his pub about 4pm on Sunday, December 22nd, after a walk on Three Castles Head.

“Life has moved on, but Sophie’s murder is still a topic of conversation over the counter,” he says. “Not just at this time of the year, but reasonably often. Could people name one other murder people are speaking about 20 years on?

“Her son, Pierre Louis, comes in when he’s over. I still have a feeling that there’s a sense of shame and embarrassment and even guilt that something so awful could happen to his mother while she was visiting and staying with us.”

Huge shock

Twenty years ago, Michael Collins, now an Independent TD for Cork South West, was a farmer at Lowertown in Schull – less than 3kms as the crow flies from where Toscan du Plantier was murdered.

He still recalls the “huge shock” left by the killing.

“This was a place where you could let the key in the door and you would feel safe, and then all off a sudden we were met with the enormity of this murder,” he says. “An awful lot of elderly people were very scared afterwards. People who never had a guard in their house suddenly had investigators calling to their door.

“I suppose as times goes on, it’s not on our minds daily. But it’s still there, and every year it comes around and every time you see Sophie’s parents, elderly and frail, and still trying to get justice for their daughter and bring some finality to it all, your heart would go out to them.”

Like Dermot O’Sullivan, Yvonne Ungerer met Toscan du Plantier on the day before she died, when she called and had a glass of wine with her and her husband, artist Tomi Ungerer, at their home overlooking Dunlough Bay.

“I think people who cared at the beginning still care,” she says. “When Sophie was murdered, there was shock and incomprehension and things started to change, people started locking doors and worrying about crazy people around.

“A lot of people had come here to escape from the rat race and the pressures of urban life and all that involves, including crime. But Sophie’s murder shattered that around here. It marked the end of innocence.”