Hawe family inquest 'I felt that he had done something terrible', says Clodagh's mum
AMID the silence of the courtroom, Mary Coll's voice could scarcely be heard.
But asking her to speak up would only have served as another cruelty and so, everyone strained to hear her account of the ordinary evening spent with her beloved daughter and grandchildren, which had turned out to be their last together.
On the week before Christmas, this inquest, already so intensely painful, took on an even more bitter poignancy.
On the streets of Cavan, festive music was played cosily over loudspeakers and the shops were filled with customers.
The contrast with the grieving Coll family, who supported one another as they arrived in the grim chill of Cavan Courthouse, could hardly have been starker.
There was nobody there from the Hawe family, though they were represented by a solicitor.
"This is a particularly emotive inquest," coroner Dr Mary Flanagan acknowledged as the proceedings began before the jury of six women and one man, the various legal teams first identifying themselves.
And then, Mary Coll quietly took the stand, her deposition read aloud by Superintendent Leo McGinn of Bailieboro Garda Station.
On Sunday night, August 28, 2016, her daughter Clodagh (39), son-in-law Alan Hawe (40) and children Liam (13), Niall (11) and Ryan (6) had dropped in to see her on their way back from a basketball match in which Liam had played.
The adults had tea and biscuits in the kitchen and chatted while the boys watched TV together in the sitting room.
"Everything had seemed normal," she said.
Alan had checked his Lotto numbers.
She had wished him good luck because she knew he was back at school the following day after the holidays and "he wasn't looking forward to going back".
The family left to return home at 8.40pm because Ryan had to have a bath, she said.
Clodagh said she'd see her mother in the morning at around 8.30am because she was going to drop the two younger boys off to her as Liam had school, but said not to worry if she was a bit later as there were no children that day in the school where she taught.
As they left, Alan had said: "Thanks for the goodies", with Mary later explaining that by that he had meant the biscuits they'd had in the kitchen.
"That was the last time I saw him," she said.
But by 9am the next morning, Clodagh had still not arrived at her mother's house.
"I kept watching. I knew it was unlike Clodagh", Mary later explained to the coroner. She rang Alan - but there was no answer.
She rang the house phone, but again there was no answer and so she texted Alan but received no reply.
She then rang Clodagh, but it went to message minder and then she also texted her to see if she was okay.
Mary Coll then drove to her daughter's house and saw the sitting room and bedroom curtains were closed.
When she saw the two cars in the drive, she knew "something was wrong", she said.
"I thought it could be carbon monoxide at first," she said afterwards to Dr Flanagan.
She had a key for the back door and was going to use it, but then spotted a note pinned to the door reading: "Please don't come in. Please call the gardai."
"I knew it was Alan's handwriting and something terrible had happened," she said.
It was around 10.40am. She rang 999 and went next door to the house of neighbour Edith Harrigan and the two women stood in the road until the gardai arrived.
"I told her 'I think Alan has done something terrible, that Alan had killed them all'," said Mrs Coll.
"I just had that feeling," she added, her voice breaking with emotion, as she bent forwards in the witness box.
With no further questions, Mary Coll sat back with her daughter Jacqueline and sister, Carmel and wept as they held her hand and comforted her.
Amid the frozen atmosphere of the courtroom, even professional witnesses struggled to maintain their composure, while the Coll family dissolved in tears, sitting closely together, tightly holding hands, attempting to comfort one another.