Monday, December 4, 2023

Irish journalist recalls mysterious double murder linked to NI loyalists

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Writing in the Sunday Independent this weekend, Liam Collins recounted the mysterious murders of Marie Murtagh (43) and Tom Taaffe (50) in the village of Aughnacliffe, Co Longford in 1986.

Ms Murtagh was a farmer and cattle dealer who also ran a small corrugated tin shop beside the parish church in the nearby hamlet of Legga.

MrTaaffe was a small farmer who was in bad health, and had moved in to live with Ms Murtagh four years earlier after his mother died.

They had “pooled their resources” and there did not appear to be any romantic link between them.

Mr Collins recalled: “Detectives investigating their execution-style killing were puzzled by the clinical way in which they were murdered. There was no row over land or a family feud and, anyway, that type of murder was usually messy.

“It was close to the Border but random murders were almost unknown in this peaceful rural landscape.”

It later emerged that around €6,000 in cash was missing from their home.

The journalist wrote how on Saturday night, November 15, 1986, Ms Murtagh in her Volkswagen van and Tom Taaffe in his Cortina car “had driven a small herd of cattle from her farm in the townland of Cloonback along the narrow country roads to land nearby in the dark”.

At about 7.45pm they called to the house of a teenager who helped in the shop to say Marie would be opening in the morning.

But as people coming from mass congregated around the shop door the next morning, Ms Murtagh never arrived.

The shop didn’t open on the Monday morning either.

“At about 7.15pm that evening, Fr Eugene Cox, the priest in Legga, called to the farmhouse to check if Marie and Tom were ill or needed assistance,” wrote Mr Collins.

“The farmyard was down a long grassy lane and when he got there the house was in darkness and the front door closed. He went around to the back. A broom handle was propped against the door on the inside, jamming it shut.

“When he forced the door open and went into the kitchen the range had gone out, but there were sausages still in the pan, a bottle of milk open on the table and the television hissing in the corner.

“Then to his horror he saw Marie and Tom lying in pools of congealed blood on the floor in a V-shape.

“She had been shot in the forehead and abdomen and he through the right eye. Both had been shot at close range in the sparse kitchen and had died almost instantly.”

Locals told Mr Collins that the killings had been linked to cattle smuggling.

He recalled one man telling him: “She got involved with some loyalists from Derry. They fell out over money and they came down to sort it out last Saturday night… she brought them in to the house, they had a row so they shot her.

“Tom was killed because he just happened to be there. He wasn’t involved, but these boys don’t leave loose ends.”

Almost a year later after the killings, in November 1987, a witness came forward and said that people from Derry had travelled to Ms Murtagh’s house on the night of the murders.

One of the people also had a property not far from where the murders were carried out and did odd jobs for Ms Murtagh.

Although no one was ever successfully convicted of the murders, one Derry man was accused of murder and conspiracy to rob Marie Murtagh.

He was found not guilty by direction of Judge Donal Barrington, who ruled that he had been unlawfully detained for three days in Mullingar garda station without access to his solicitor when he made incriminating statements to detectives.

Mr Collins recalled the events that followed the unsolved double murder: “Around the same time as the case was being heard, the terrorist Dessie O’Hare kidnapped Dublin dentist John O’Grady.

“The murders of Marie Murtagh and Tom Taaffe, brutal and cold-blooded as they were, quickly faded into the background.

“I often felt afterwards that just because they were ordinary country people and there were no eye-catching photographs of them (there were no photographs at all), we in the media quickly lost interest in the case.”

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