Castlebar’s night of anguish

County View

County View
John Healy

Nine years after the most heinous crime ever perpetrated in the town of Castlebar, the murders of Jack and Tommy Blaine remain as repulsive and abhorrent as ever.
The TG4 reconstruction of the terrible event and its aftermath in the channel’s Marú Inár Measc documentary series, respectful as it was, served as a reminder that the communal scars have never healed. The brutal murders of two innocent, harmless, elderly brothers still strikes a chilling chord in the hearts of the many who had always watched out and cared for them.
We have come to associate violence against the elderly with those living in remote, isolated settings; the death of the Blaine brothers showed that there is nowhere safe when evil stalks the streets. Jack and Tommy Blaine lived in a terraced house on a busy Castlebar street, at the centre of the town’s nightlife area, close to pubs and discos and late bars and bustling crowds, where young and old had a friendly word or a passing greeting for two men who were part and parcel of the community.
Who could have guessed that on a balmy July night in 2013 a predator would be lurking, stalking his prey, and that before pub doors had closed for the night, the brothers would have suffered cruel, merciless deaths. Or that within an hour of their caring neighbour completing his routine of stepping across the road to deliver a favoured cup of tea, they would both be bludgeoned to death inside their own front door, their assailant further torturing them with boiling water. In the words of the trial judge when their murderer was finally brought to justice, ‘the killings were as wanton as they were savage’.
Marú Inár Measc was a retelling of that gruesome murder story, but was in its own way a tribute to the gentleness and innocence of two vulnerable people who may have lacked guile but who never wanted for kindness and warmth. They were familiar, known and respected, safe among people who always looked out for them. Or so we all thought, until the night the world turned black and it was shown that being inoffensive and trusting was no protection when malevolence is unleashed to run amok.
Central to the TG4 documentary were the two men who had been closest to Jack and Tommy Blaine, and who knew them best. Paul Dunne, their first cousin and next of kin, had known them since his childhood in London. It was to the home of his parents, Jim and Nell, that Jack – followed later by Tommy – had come in search of work in the mid ’60s. A decade later, they had returned to care for their mother in the house in which they would later meet with violent death.
With admirable composure, given all he and his family endured, Paul Dunne recalled their lives and deaths, the aftermath and the trial, and the final conviction of their killer. Poignantly, he was shown visiting the remains of the old Blaine homestead at Crimlin, with its scenic views towards Pontoon, from where the brothers’ journey first began.
Rocky Moran, their friend, was the last neighbour to see them alive, as Jack’s wave acknowledged the delivery of the routine cup of tea. It was he who, as undertaker, had led the cortege through the old familiar streets, as mourners lined the route in respect, every business house closing its doors, even as the floral tributes spilled over the footpath outside the Blaine house.
And it was outside Rocky’s premises that the town would later dedicate a memorial bench and plaque as a sign that the brothers would never be forgotten.