Last hours of a man shrouded in mystery

 

Sheep farmer Pat Bonar was probably one of the last people to see double agent Denis Donaldson alive.

Mr Bonar (63), and his wife Eileen are the nearest neighbours of the Donaldson hideaway cottage.

They are separated by 1.25 miles of narrow bog road, forking off another only slightly wider bog road, in the townland of Classey at the foot of the barren peak Gabhnaidh Corr in the Doochary Mountains.

It is a wildly remote area eight kilometres from Glenties on the road to Doochary. Mr Bonar believes he saw Mr Donaldson drive past in his estate car shortly before 11am yesterday on his way home, probably from a shopping trip to Glenties. He had a young man and woman staying with him.

Mr Donaldson lived in a tiny white cottage with three small windows and just one door. It is sheltered by a copse of tall trees. Inside are just two rooms either side of a kitchen.

That was where his body was found. Local gardaí were tight-lipped about the circumstances last night as they sealed off the road a mile from the cottage.

Roadblocks were set up across Co Donegal within minutes of the discovery of the body. Armed detectives with bullet-proof vests joined uniformed officers quizzing motorists.

Mr Bonar, who lives in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, but returns frequently to check sheep he owns at Classey, said he knew Mr Donaldson to see but hadn't spoken to him. He saw him drive past early on Monday afternoon.

He reckons Mr Donaldson was also at the wheel when his car drove past again yesterday.

"I know the house well. It's a very old cottage without electricity. It is heated from a large range and probably lit by tilley lamp.

"It was once owned by a family called O'Donnell, but the last of them died 25 or 30 years ago. It lay empty for a long time since and then people started visiting it and doing little repairs to it."

Mr Bonar said the visitors spoke with Belfast accents. He believed Mr Donaldson moved in since his last trip up from Nenagh six weeks ago.

There were other people in the cottage in recent days. "All I know is there was another fellow staying and there was a girl around the house. We believed she might be his daughter. She was about 17 or 18 and did a bit of running up and down the road."

Mr Bonar echoed what other locals said, Donaldson didn't mix much. The first any of them knew he was in the area was when they read it recently in a newspaper.

Conor Lally writes:

The alarm was raised at around 4.30pm yesterday when a neighbour went to his house. She found signs of a break-in before discovering his remains on the floor and calling gardaí. A window was broken and the hall door had been left open.

Gardaí are working on the theory he was probably shot at around 10.30am yesterday.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said he was "shocked" by the events.

It was a cause of "deep regret" that it would lead to suspicion on both sides of the political divide in the North. It was a "cowardly and brutal" murder.

He understood that Mr Donaldson was not under close protection but gardaí were alert to his whereabouts and he was noted moving in Glenties as late as Monday evening.