‘Why did you do it to my baby?’ Santina Cawley’s mother still seeking answers

Karen Harrington convicted on Monday of murdering toddler in Mahon, Cork in 2019

The mother of toddler Santina Cawley has said she will never get over her daughter’s death and has challenged the woman convicted of her murder to explain why she killed the girl.

Santina Cawley’s mother has said she will never get over the toddler’s death and has challenged the woman convicted of her daughter’s murder to explain why she did it.

Bridget O'Donoghue said she remained very angry towards Karen Harrington (38), of Ravensdale Road, Mahon, Cork, who a jury on Monday found guilty of murdering the two-year-old in July 2019.

"Why did you do it to my baby?" she asked during an interview with Virgin Media News. "She didn't give that answer. Why did she kill my baby? Like, what did she do to her?"

Ms O'Donoghue and Santina's father, Michael Cawley, separated in March 2018 and Mr Cawley was caring for Santina when he decided to leave her with his new partner, Ms Harrington, on the night of the child's death.


He returned almost two hours later, just after 5am, to discover Santina unresponsive with serious bruising all over body and head and laying on a blood-stained blanket. The child was taken by ambulance to Cork University Hospital (CUH) and was pronounced dead at 9.20am.

A postmortem concluded that Santina died from polytrauma including blunt force trauma to the head and upper spinal cord area and that her injuries could not have happened accidentally.

Ms O’Donoghue recalled going to CUH and meeting medics who tried to save Santina before she was permitted to see her daughter, who had suffered 53 separate injuries during the assault.

She recalled being asked if she wanted to hold Santina and attempting “to bring her back from the cold” when she did.

“I tried to warm her up. I didn’t want to believe she was dead…all I wanted was to do was take her home.”

Lovely memories

Ms O'Donoghue spoke of her anger towards Harrington, whom she accused of acting as if nothing had happened while sitting through the 14-day trial at the Central Criminal Court in Cork.

“She was playing the game, that’s the way I see it and she really upset me,” she added “We have our lovely memories and that’s the best thing we have but we will never get over what happened our little baby...I can’t believe somebody would do that to a two-year-old child.”

In her victim impact statement, read to the court by Garda Brendan Ryan before Harrington was sentenced to life imprisonment, Ms O'Donoghue recalled Santina's innocence.

“She loved her rhymes, her cartoons and Barney. She loved her trips to town with me and her Nana on Wednesdays. She would hop into the buggy and knew the routine. She was very cute for her age. She was clever and very bright,” she said.

“The day Santina passed away she took part of me with her. I am devastated. My heart is in pieces and that hurt continues every day. So many times I have wished I could turn the clock back.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times