Belfast Telegraph

Garda Tony Golden killing: Omeath a village overshadowed by a pall of dark despair

Ivan Little reports from Omeath, where locals are still reeling from a night of horror

The rays from the powerful autumn sunshine which managed to find their way through the window blinds of the tiny Garda station in Omeath cast an eerie spotlight on the smiling face of murdered police officer Tony Golden in the photograph that his grieving and shell-shocked colleagues had mounted on a wall.

But nothing could lighten the mood of dark despair that was all-pervasive inside the barracks which Garda Golden had left on Sunday evening on what he thought would be a routine call linked to a domestic abuse incident. But it ended with his death and the suicide of his cold-blooded killer Adrian Crevan Mackin who also critically injured his estranged partner Siobhan Phillips.

And as residents of the sleepy village on the shores of Carlingford Lough filed into the Garda station to sign a book of condolence for the man described by one woman as the heartbeat of Omeath, a distraught Garda chaplain said the policeman's widow had told him a short time earlier how she said goodbye to her husband on Sunday, never imagining that she wouldn't see him again.

Fr Joe Kennedy had just come from visiting the Golden family in their home in Blackrock, Co Louth and he said Nicola Golden was completely devastated as she tried to understand why her husband had been cut down by a crazed killer who was on bail on terrorist charges.

The chaplain said he was almost lost for words as he tried to comfort her and two young daughters and son, Lucy, Alex and Andrew who are all under the age of eight.

As the policeman's shattered colleagues tried their best to go about their work, Fr Kennedy said: "Nicola simply cannot believe what has happened and her children are all too young to understand. This was the last news she expected to hear and the same goes for the rest of us in the Garda family.

"I prayed with Nicola and her parents and I told her that we would support her in every way we could," he said. "It was heartbreaking in that beautiful home. Garda Golden's parents were on their way from Ballina in Co Mayo to be with their daughter-in-law and grandchildren."

Beside Fr Kennedy a wanted poster was still on display in the Garda station, offering a reward for the capture of the still-at-large killers of Detective Adrian Donohoe. He was murdered not far from Omeath during a robbery at a Credit Union in January 2013.

"It's like a nightmarish déjà vu", one Garda officer privately admitted as he looked at his friend's happy picture. "And that's just the way Tony always was - smiling and full of warmth. He was a great policeman and a wonderful colleague."

Outside the police station a cluster of wreaths sat at the front door as people in Omeath remembered the community policeman who helped local charities, including a cancer fundraising group.

A notice in a shop window said all activities in a community centre had been cancelled for the week as a mark of respect after the 'tragic' death of Garda Golden and a book of condolence was also opened there.

The murder scene a short distance away at the Mullach Alainn private development was still completely sealed off by gardai and a boarded-up window was the only outward sign of the horror which had been unleashed less than 24 hours earlier.

As the day went on more and more pieces of the tragic jigsaw were put together by investigators who had to overcome their own personal sorrow to carry out their inquiries into the murder/suicide.

They said that Siobhan Phillips had gone to Omeath Garda Station on Sunday afternoon by arrangement to make a formal written complaint about allegations of attacks on her by 24-year-old Adrian Mackin, who was out on bail on terrorist charges linked to dissident republican activity.

Garda Golden escorted Ms Philips and her father to the house she shared with Mackin in Mullach Alainn. He wanted to ensure she would be safe as she sought to retrieve personal possessions from her former home. The police officer told her father to stay outside in a car and it appears that warning may have saved his life.

For after Garda Golden and Ms Phillips entered the house, Mackin was waiting at the top of the stairs and opened fire with a 9mm Glock pistol, hitting Ms Philips in the head and the policeman was fatally wounded before his assailant turned his gun on himself.

Ms Phillips' father heard the shooting and rushed inside the house to find what gardai said was a scene of unfathomable carnage.

He then raised the alarm and Garda Golden's friends and colleagues were on the scene within minutes. Ambulance crews from north and south of the border tended to Ms Phillips' injuries and she's said to be critically ill in Beaumount Hospital in Dublin.

Adrian Mackin was originally from Newry and he was known to the PSNI as well as to gardai who had charged him with membership of Oglaigh na hEireann, the Real IRA in January. He was initially remanded in custody but was later granted bail in Dublin's High Court. It's suspected he was a bomb-maker for the terrorist organisation.

Ms Phillips had worked in a beauty salon in Newry but the shutters were down on the building in Dominic Street yesterday and phone calls went unanswered.Her Facebook page which said she was also a hairdressing student showed a photograph of the two children she had with Adrian Mackin. They're both under the age of four.

The Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan travelled to Omeath yesterday after offering her sympathy to her murdered officer's family at Blackrock.

She visited the police station and was seen going into the house where the shootings happened.

The Commissioner said that the murdered policeman was a proud family man whose death was an 'unthinkable' loss to his wife and children.

She said it was also a traumatic time for her force. "This is a very tragic event, to lose a member of An Garda Siochana and it brings into sharp focus the dangers the men and women of the force face every single day as they go about their duty in protecting the community."

Earlier at Dundalk police station the Commissioner held a case conference with the team who are investigating the shootings and it's believed an internal inquiry is under way to establish if anything more could have been done to avoid the slayings.

Garda Golden was unarmed and he wasn't accompanied by any other officers as he travelled to the house in Omeath even though Mackin's terrorist background was known to police. It's believed they didn't perceive him to pose an imminent risk to life and limb.

In Omeath yesterday prayers were offered for Garda Golden, his family and his colleagues at the village church by Magherafelt born priest Fr Christie McElwee who was called to administer the last rites on Sunday evening.

The priest said he was shocked by the horrific scene in the house. "You would need to be a strong person not to be taken aback by it," he added.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Irish President Michael D Higgins both paid tribute to Garda Golden. The local TD Gerry Adams said he was shocked by the murder of the policeman and said dissidents had no support in the area.

A Green Party councillor for Omeath, Mark Deary, who's a neighbour of Ms Phillips' family, said the village was stunned and saddened by the violence which he described as an assault on the whole community.

"It's still apparent in terms of the criminality that we are experiencing along the border that the Garda Siochana need to give serious consideration to additional policing strategies and resources for this part of the world," he said.

One man drove over 30 miles from Carrickmacross in Co Monaghan to leave a floral tribute at the murder scene. Michael McGawley said he felt compelled to make the journey. "It's a shocking loss of a young life. If you can't show solidarity for someone at a time like this, when can you?"

Local man Tom Morgan said he was appalled by the shootings. He described the murdered Garda as a friendly and approachable man who was known and liked by everyone in Omeath. "He was very helpful. Nothing was too much trouble."

One woman who didn't want to be named wept as she recalled how Garda Golden went out of his way on and off duty to assist people in Omeath.

"He was a total gentleman. I feel sickened by the futility of his killing and my heart goes out to his wife and his family," she said.

Another man said it was a dreadful irony that the killings came just as people north and south of the border were celebrating Ireland's victory over France in the rugby World Cup.

"It put that into perspective very quickly," he said.

Colleagues of the murdered policeman will attend a special religious service for him later today at Dundalk Garda station.

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