Last minutes of a woman tormented


Catherine Palmer drove off a pier in a car carrying both her daughters in the final act of a desperate woman. Lorna Siggins reports.

"This is hell", nine times over. "A disgusting waste of two beautiful girls - two human beings" on the reverse. These were among the last words written by Mrs Catherine Palmer, jotted on a note found in her trouser pocket by Garda Michael Harte after her death.

Hours before, on March 5th, 2000, Mrs Palmer (36), with her two daughters, Jennifer (9) and Louisa (6), had driven out to Tarrea pier near Ballinderreen, Kinvarra Bay.

A local painter and decorator, Mr Tony Jordan, was walking along the narrow road to the pier, marking one of the most stunningly beautiful inlets in south Galway.

It was a Sunday lunchtime, dry and clear with a light south-westerly breeze, when the Renault 19 passed him at speed.

As Mr Jordan related at the subsequent inquest, the car came to a halt about 10 yards from the pier head. The driver, a woman, alighted.

She walked to the water's edge, returned to the car and appeared to be checking the children sitting in the back.

"The car then revved up and shot forward," Mr Jordan said. "It travelled about 10 feet before hitting the water. Then it gradually sank."

Mr Jordan ran to a nearby house and dialled the emergency services

The call was logged at 1.17 p.m. at Gort Garda station, and diver Mr Eugene Houlihan arrived "within minutes".

He was followed by Galway inshore lifeboat, the Garda and fire brigade personnel from Galway and Gort, and an Irish Coast Guard team from Doolin, Co Clare.

Mr Houlihan took the calculated risk of diving alone to reach the vehicle and bring Mrs Palmer and one of her daughters to the service.

He was unable to reach the second child. A crane was used to pull the submerged Renault to shallower waters, from where it was raised.

Dr Peadar Joyce, a local GP, pronounced the child dead at the scene.

By then, Mrs Palmer and her other daughter were being taken by ambulance to University College Hospital, Galway.

Garda Supt Paul Mockler of Gort took the call at Tarrea at around 4 p.m. - all three, mother and two daughters, were dead. Fireman John Lally, station officer at Gort, broke down.

"I am 19 years in this service and I always hoped I would never have to deal with such a tragedy involving children," he said.

Mother and daughters were buried alongside each other in Rahoon cemetery with the girls' favourite teddies, and the large congregation was told that Jennifer had been very concerned about the flooding in Mozambique.

The collection at the service would be donated to the African state.

Father John O'Reilly, of St Mary's Church on the Claddagh, admitted to being "lost for words" in his attempt to convey the depth of "sympathy, regret and sorrow" on the part of the people of Galway, and concluded that sometimes silence was the best response to another's grief.

The cause of death at the inquest was given as asphyxia due to salt water drowning.