Clodagh Hawe - Her family's courageous search for answers
Content note: this post contains references to the crime of familicide, details of a recent criminal homicide case with references to violence that some readers may find distressing.
Links to helplines will be provided below this post.
A family struck by tragedy
There are few crimes in the history of Ireland's justice system that is as horrific as the brutal murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three young sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan at the hands of her husband, Alan Hawe in August 2016.
The town of Virginia in County Cavan was placed on the map, making headline news for a very sombre reason: the loss of an entire family, young lives cut short, and a tragedy that left so many reeling with shock.
The faces of the victims became well known through many media reports: a lady and three young boys, smiling brightly, standing together as a unit, inseparable.
Even as I sat down to begin planning this post and conduct my research in the wake of recent media coverage surrounding the crime and the legal reform implications it has inspired, the memory of reading about this story, the surrounding family circumstances and the emerging details of Alan Hawe's mental state filled me with dread at the dark horror of the crime and compassion for the surviving family.
Not long after the story was broken, questions soon began to emerge as to the possible reasons as to why and how a seemingly upstanding figure in the community could have done the unthinkable.
The 'how' was documented at the medical inquest with clinical reporting delivered by the Deputy State Pathologist Doctor Micheal Curtis, with gruesome details emerging as to the nature of the mortal injuries inflicted on the four victims and the use of bladed weapons, leaving journalists, onlookers, and family members shaken.
It was also reported that the responding officers called to the Hawe family's home were greeted by a horrifically violent scene, with Garda Aisling Walsh breaking down in tears at the inquest when delivering her statement.
The grief of the surviving family members was played out in the media following the much-reported inquest, when the faces of Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly, Clodagh Hawe's mother and sister, would become well known to the public, leaving the courthouse and standing in front of the press.
It is never pleasant to be seen grieving in front of hundreds of onlookers, as well as the many thousands who access news online and through social media.
But through their pain, both of these women found the strength to demand answers, to seek justice for their loved ones as well as for those who may suffer such horrific crime in the future.
'Tell me about your sister, your daughter, and the mother that she was...'
It has been over one year the airing of the emotional interview conducted by Claire Byrne in a televised special of her current affairs programme, where Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly told the tragic story of Clodagh and her children, of the emotional fallout upon the discovery of the crime and what they wanted those in power to do next.
They sought to appeal for changes to how family annihilation cases are treated by investigators, changes to the running of inquests, and to put in place more compassionate methods to deal with the surviving families.
The harrowing experience of hearing their story and the violent acts perpetrated against a beloved one and her innocent children has remained with me, which is often the case when the human stories behind such headlines are told by those in the very thick of the emotional fallout.
The bravery and dignity of Mary and Jacqueline as they spoke of the lady they loved so dearly and her children will forever be an emotive moment on national Irish television.
The bonds shared between mother and daughter and the two sisters were strong, with both women able to smile as they reminisced about happier memories when Clodagh was in school and in training to become a teacher, that she was quiet, gentle, and patient, 'a beautiful child', as stated by Mary.
When they spoke of the three young boys, about their various interests and unique personalities, including baking, Lego building, sports, and how they were coming into their own that summer, it was with true fondness and happiness at the memories.
Throughout the interview, which proved quite emotional and harrowing for the two women at certain points, Claire Byrne's measured tone, quiet sympathy, and attentiveness to the two women were both comforting and a credit to her career as a journalist. She brought them through the recounting of their story with calmness and empathy, something that I noticed particularly on a rewatch when researching my points for this post.
'An all-consuming relationship...'
When Alan Hawe entered the picture during Clodagh's time at college, both Mary and Jacqueline noticed changes in Clodagh's lifestyle, such as not socialising as often with friends, not drinking alcohol due to his abstaining, and that she herself had changed when she did not confide in her mother as often as before.
Jacqueline told of a time when Alan accompanied her and Clodagh to try on dresses for the wedding, she told him outright that she did not feel comfortable with him present and asked Clodagh to pick a day when they could do it just themselves.
Mary also recalled that he walked Clodagh up the aisle on their wedding day, and while she felt put out, Clodagh was happy.
The controlling behaviour appears to have been quite subtle, as neither Mary nor Jacqueline ever saw Alan physically raise a hand to the boys or raise his voice, but that he was always a silent, firm presence, always in the background or nearby.
It was always the five of them together, and Mary rarely had a moment alone with her daughter without him, until one of the last conversations she had when Clodagh confided about Hawe's addiction to pornography and that he was attending counselling.
In the months leading up to August 2016, further details came to light of a possible disciplinary action at the Castlerahan National School where Hawe was a vice-principal. It was with that knowledge firmly in mind that he began planning the end.
On the 28th August 2016, the family met at Mary's house, and she recalled that it was quite normal, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea, with the children in the room next door, and no indication that anything was the matter. Hawe was due back at work the next day and according to Mary, he did not want to go.
Later that evening, they said their goodbyes, hugged each other and Hawe thanked Mary before the five of them drove away.
It would be the last time that Mary would see her daughter and grandchildren alive.
The next morning, Clodagh was due to come to Mary's house on her way to work to drop off Niall and Ryan who were not attending a school that day. However, as time ticked on, Mary began to become more and more worried, as she remarked with tears in her eyes, that if Clodagh was going to be five minutes late, she would have been in touch.
At this stage, the interview becomes especially heartbreaking as Mary recalls driving along the road on the journey to the family house, of seeing the two cars in the drive and the curtains were drawn, immediately getting a terrible feeling.
She reached the back door after running around the side of the house, finding the note in Hawe's handwriting, 'Don't come in, call the Gardai', and after finding her way to a neighbour's house, waiting in dread for the news.
What followed was a shattering discovery of the five bodies by the guards and no one alive in the house.
Initially, according to Jacqueline, there was no support for the family and they received more details from the media than the investigating officers, with a horrific discovery of his use of an axe to murder Clodagh.
Jacqueline recounts the inquest, the brutality with which he carried out the murders, the element of pre-meditation in his action of moving the furniture earlier that Summer so Clodagh would have her back to him as he entered, and brought the axe from the garden shed into the house beforehand.
Further details of his murder of the boys were also recounted, with Jacqueline becoming visibly emotional, that his actions were calculated, controlling and vicious.
It was in the early hours of the morning when he set out folders and documents, wrote letters and gave clear instructions on what was to be done with the accounts, cars and Clodagh's jewellery with his family lying deceased around him, before taking his own life.
A motive still unclear
While the inquest uncovered the actions of Alan Hawe on the night of the 29th August, who the victims were, how he carried out the murders and the timeline of the events, the reason as to why was still left to uncover.
One point that was raised during the interview was Hawe's fear that he had been caught red-handed doing something that he should not have been doing and that through his actions, in his own mind he was sparing his family from a life of ruin.
Whether it was a genuine grievance or a serious accusation of professional misconduct, as of the date of the broadcast, there were no clear answers from the investigation what actually occurred as the Coll family's requests for the gardai's file to their legal representative have been declined.
It later came to light following the interview broadcast in a statement by management of the Castlerahan National School, reported by Carl O'Brien in the Irish Times on 12th March 2019, that Alan Hawe was not facing disciplinary action by the school and went on to say:
“Whilst there has been a reference to Mr Hawe being caught ‘red-handed’ about some of his activities, we can state categorically that this has
absolutely nothing to do with this school and did not happen on school premises.”
Both Mary and Jacqueline remarked on Hawe's mental state as it emerged during the inquest, that he had been diagnosed with depression for the better part of a decade, which then, according to the forensic psychiatrist, Professor Harry Kennedy while being questioned, developed into psychotic symptoms which prompted him to commit the crime to wipe out his family.
As reported in the Independent by Conor Feehan and Nicola Anderson, Professor Kennedy's evidence stated as to Hawe's mental health issues:-
"He had attended the doctor on June 21 2016 complaining of
being run down and of poor sleep and had developed "new odd
somatic preoccupations", Dr Kennedy said under questioning by the coroner.
He also had ruminations or thoughts that go round and round in
your head and scruples which were typical of an insidious
worsening of major depressive illness said, Prof Kennedy.
Under questioning, he later said that, in depression, people often
seize on some item which can become distorted and blown out of proportion.
The notes showed signs of a “fixed false belief” not influenced by the
evidence of reality and a belief of some catastrophic or terrible event pending from which there is no recovery, he said."
This point was linked to the belief in Hawe's mind that he would suffer great ruin if the truth was ever found out about his seeming shameful transgression at the school, as well as the fear that his marriage would break down.
During the interview, Jacqueline remarked that what Hawe did was 'evil' and not a symptom of depression, rather that it was brutal and hateful. His moving of the furniture and the primary killing of the people most likely to stand up to him, namely Clodagh and the eldest child, Liam, spoke of an insidious pre-calculation and an undercurrent of control that had been spoken of during the relationship.
It is clear from the expert evidence and the counsellor notes presented at the inquest, that the dark place that Hawe found himself in was powerful and all-consuming, where he saw no hope in sight.
A call for legal reform
One of the main points that arose during this story was the issue of succession law, whereby a perpetrator of a murder, particularly of a spouse and children, whereby their estate would benefit after their death and pass to the next of kin.
In the instance of Alan Hawe, it came to light that on the night of the murders, he had transferred €2,500 from the family joint bank account to his account,
In this regard, those funds would be passed onto his family as survivors and beneficiaries of his estate, namely his mother and brother.
There have been calls for reform of this act by Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly, including meeting with then Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, to discuss such amendments, to ensure that such perpetrators of crimes would not be able to financially benefit.
An in-depth study was commissioned by Norah Gibbons in the wake of the interview on the 14 May 2019, with recommendations to be made within 12 months, with the research focusing on two crucial issues:-
the provision of supports to families who are victims of familicide;
international best practice in the conduct of Domestic Homicide Reviews.
The interview sparked a renewed debate in the Dail regarding the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2019, with contributions from Jim O'Callaghan, legal spokesperson for Fianna Fail, making the points below regarding the investigation and transmission of information in familicide cases:-
"In Ireland, we need to recognise that we have traditionally dealt
with these tragic events by calling them a great tragedy for the
family and suggesting there is nothing more we can do about it.
That was an understandable response which sought to protect
the privacy of the remaining, surviving family members. It also
sought to avoid embarrassing any family member by giving too
much detail and coverage of the crime. We need to recognise that is not the correct approach to this serous crime.
What usually happens in cases in which the perpetrator has killed
himself is that An Garda Síochána take statements from those people
who came upon the scene of the crime. The only reason for the Garda
statements is for the purpose of going to the Coroner's Court where the
function of the coroner is to determine how, where and when the
individuals died. That does not give us much useful information and we,
as a society and a State, need to recognise that we need to do more to
ensure we can learn from these tragic murders and events. If we do not,
we will find ourselves going from one rare, tragic event to another without learning any lessons in the interim."
I will continue to watch the progress of this reform with renewed interest.
While researching this article, the Claire Byrne Live interview formed the root of what I hoped to convey and it was challenging to divorce myself from the emotions that were brought up, despite my wanting to uncover the legal ramifications and look to the future for preventative measures to come into force.
This story has remained with me for a long time, the subject matter horrifying and the human element heartbreaking, with Mary unable to speak to her daughter and grandchildren while visiting their grave, for, in her mind, they should not be there.
As Jacqueline Connolly, herself said, "Let's get this law changed immediately. It won't be retrospective, so it won't solve our problem. Please, please stop financially rewarding the perpetrators of femicide and familicide."
As always, take care, and thank you for reading.
Claire Byrne Live, 'Her Name is Clodagh', interview with Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly, first broadcast on 25th February 2019: https://www.rte.ie/news/player/2019/0225/11007205-claire-byrne-live-her-name-is-clodagh/
Independent.ie, Conor Feehan and Nicola Anderson, 'Inquest: Alan Hawe 'was concerned at the prospect of his marriage ending' - Clodagh's family':
Irish Times Editorial, Irish Times view on familicide study: A belated first step, 17 May 2019:
Oireachtas.ie, Dail Eireann Debate, Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members], 21 May 2019: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2019-05-21/38/
Familicide Domestic Homicide review study press release, 14 May 2019: http://www.fsdhr.ie/en/FSDHR/Press%20release%20Familicide%20Domestic%20Homicide%20review%20study.pdf/Files/Press%20release%20Familicide%20Domestic%20Homicide%20review%20study.pdf
Carl O'Brien, 'Alan Hawe was not facing a disciplinary threat, the school says', Irish Times, 12th March 2019: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/alan-hawe-was-not-facing-disciplinary-threat-school-says-1.3823199
Conor Feehan, 'We were left with €50k debt and no rights ... the law must be changed', says the family of murdered mum, The Herald, 4 March 2019:
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, please feel free to contact the Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 and Pieta House on 1800 247 247.
You can also support Women's' Aid Ireland by texting ACTION to 50300 to donate €4.00