Gardai swooped on a pub in a popular tourist town and arrested a man suspected of murdering a baby girl, an infant boy, their mother and another young woman.
While investigations into the multiple murders in west Limerick are at an early stage, it is believed that a 31-year-old man fatally stabbed the two women and two infants at a home in Newcastle West before fleeing to Co Clare.
The prime suspect for the murder is an unemployed man from north Cork.
It is understood he had moved into the house — now a multiple murder scene — in the Hazelgrove estate in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, less than two weeks ago.
Shortly after 1.30pm yesterday, gardai were alerted to the property and found the bodies of two women downstairs and a young brother and sister upstairs.
They have been named as Sarah Hines (25), with an address at Tournafulla, Co Limerick, her son Reece (3) and daughter Amy (five months).
The other victim is Alicia Brough (20), with an address at Rockchapel, Co Cork.
Upon discovering the horrific murder scene, gardai immediately launched a massive hunt for the suspect, with officers in Limerick and Clare searching for him.
He was arrested in a pub in Kilkee, Co Clare, at around 4pm yesterday. It is believed he was drinking a pint when arrested.
The suspect was being held in Henry Street Garda station in Limerick last night.
While it is understood he has not come to the attention of the gardai for years, he has several previous convictions for theft, fraud and forgery.
It is understood that he was briefly treated in the past as an outpatient for psychiatric care.
He previously worked in the construction and manufacturing trade.
Officers are now attempting to piece together his movements from Newcastle West to Clare following the horrific murders.
Last night he was brought to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, where he was treated for a superficial stab injury to his arm. He was medically examined before being discharged back into the custody of gardai.
The scene in Newcastle West remained cordoned off last night for a preliminary post-mortem examination.
Chief Superintendent David Sheahan described the four murders as “unreal”.
“Two ladies were found in a downstairs room and both had come across a violent death,” he said. “Upstairs, in a bedroom, there were two young children who were found dead. They too came across their death very violently indeed,” he said.
One theory being investigated by officers is that the suspect fled the area in the direction of the Tarbert-Killimer ferry following the murders.
It is believed he did not have any transport and gardai are attempting to find out how he made his way to the Kerry port and onwards to Kilkee after crossing the Shannon estuary.
It is believed he contacted a friend via a phone call and told him of the murders which had just been committed.
Gardai were alerted and a major search began in the west Clare region, with all officers equipped with a description of the man. He was found in a pub in the centre of Kilkee yesterday — over two hours after the bodies were discovered.
He was immediately brought to Henry Street Garda station in Limerick for questioning.
Gardai were last night continuing their investigations in the murders.