Let’s read this experience.
At 4pm today requiem Mass will be held for all five members of the Hawe family at St Mary’s Church in Castlerahan, Co Cavan. If life had continued as normal Clodagh Hawe and her eldest son, Liam, would have been at the church on Sunday morning, reading at 9am Mass.
Normality ended for the Hawes sometime in the hours of last Sunday night or Monday morning, when Alan Hawe, who was 41, killed his 39-year-old wife and their three sons – Liam, who was 15, Niall, who was 11, and Ryan, who was six – and then took his own life in the family home.
The family had been on a camping holiday last week. They were seen together in public on Sunday, at a sporting event. Alan Hawe, treasurer of Castlerahan GAA club, had been collecting for it the same day.
The first signs that something was amiss came on Monday. Alan and Clodagh, who were teachers, were due at their schools for staff meetings ahead of the start of term, the following day. Alan Hawe was deputy principal at Castlerahan National School, a five-minute drive from home. Clodagh Hawe was a teacher at Orinstown National School, near Kells, in Co Meath.
Liam (who was mistakenly reported as 13 in initial reports) was a past pupil of Castlerahan, and both Niall and Ryan were due to return there on Tuesday, for the new academic year.
Alan Hawe was usually punctual. So when he didn’t show up for his meeting a colleague repeatedly called his mobile, but got no response.
An arrangement had been made with Mary Coll, Clodagh Hawe’s mother, to mind her three grandsons on the last day of the summer holidays, while her daughter and son-in-law went to work.
Mary Coll didn’t arrive at the house until 10am. It’s unknown at this point whether the plan had been for her to arrive at that time or whether she was running more than an hour late.
Clodagh had not moved far from home when she married Alan Hawe, from Windgap, in Co Kilkenny, 15 years ago. She grew up in Clontyduffy, near the village of Mount Nugent; a drive of only 15 minutes or so separated her old home from her new one. She and the three boys are known to have spent the previous Sunday evening with her mother.
When Mary Coll, who would almost certainly have had her own keys, arrived at the house at Oakdene, Barconey, on Monday at 10am she found silence and a stark note at the back door that read: “Don’t come in. Call the guards.”
Gardaí arrived at 10.45am. The details of what had happened in the house have emerged gradually this week.
From the beginning the Garda made it clear that it was not looking for anyone else in connection with the crime. “We believe all the answers are within that house,” the force said in a statement.
What’s known is gruesome. Knives and a hatchet were recovered. Clodagh Hawe was discovered downstairs in the sitting room. The autopsies carried out this week revealed that she died from head wounds.
The three boys, still in their pyjamas, were found upstairs. Liam had his own bedroom. His two younger brothers shared a room. They were all stabbed to death in their beds, and had grievous injuries. Their father’s body was the first to be discovered when the officers entered the house. Alan Hawe was found dead in the hallway.
Some notes and an envelope were also retrieved. The contents have not been made public, and there has been no Garda statement about any discovery or evidence of what’s usually described as a suicide note.
The papers found at the scene are likely to be produced at a future inquest, and they may or may not shed light on what happened that night. Computers, phones and other objects taken from the house are also being examined. Family, colleagues, neighbours and friends will all be be interviewed as part of the investigation.
The news from Cavan has horrified the country, but the trauma and grief being experienced by the community where the Hawe family lived can scarcely be imagined. This is Ireland at its most rural, where local connections go deep, and where everyone knows almost everyone else.
The Hawes were networked in to the traditional public spaces of small communities: to schools, as teachers and pupils; to the GAA, as spectators and players; to the church, as active participants. They were members of the Castlerahan’s community development group.
They were family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, parishioners, playmates and team-mates, known to their surrounding community, in the villages of Castlerahan, Mount Nugent and Ballinacree, and in the nearby small towns of Ballyjamesduff and Virginia.
This part of rural Cavan is connected by a maze of narrow roads that wind through fields and farmland and past scattered detached houses. The roads converge now and then at crossroads that have no signposts, which suggest that most who use these roads need no directions.
There can scarcely be a household in this community unaffected by the tragedy.
“I haven’t slept since it happened,” says a woman leaving Smith’s supermarket in Mount Nugent on Wednesday afternoon. She knew the Hawe family: “I can’t stop thinking about them.”
She is one of very few people in the locality prepared to talk to The Irish Times this week; the reluctance is wholly understandable. People in Cavan are devastated. How could they be otherwise? They are stunned, uncomprehending and traumatised by a horrendous event for which there appears to be no explanation – and for which there may never be any answers.
The inevitable national media attention is perceived as invasive and hurtful to a community trying its best to protect both the extended Hawe family and those who knew the dead well. “The best thing you media could do is all to go away and leave everyone here alone,” says a man sitting outside Smith’s. He turns away in disgust at the sight of my reporter’s notebook.
It doesn’t matter how responsibly you try to report such a tragedy: by being there at all the media are a painful reminder of the inexplicable and ghastly acts perpetrated this week near Castlerahan.
Overnight, Castlerahan National School lost its vice-principal, a recent past pupil and two current pupils. The opening was delayed by a day, to allow staff to prepare themselves, their pupils and the parents. They have been offered support from the National Educational Psychological Service.
The school’s principal, Anne Foley, has put up a press statement on a noticeboard outside. It refers to the three boys as wonderful children who will be greatly missed by all who knew them. It also remembers Alan Hawe as “a valued member of our school staff and community”.
Orinstown National School, where Clodagh Hawe taught, reopened on Tuesday. In a statement its principal, Ann O’Kelly Lynch, said she “was a much loved and valued teacher in our school and will be greatly missed by all who knew her”.
St Mary’s Church at Castlerahan, which dates from 1834, overlooks the national school. The car parks of both will be full all day for the funeral, as will the roads to Castlerahan. Requiem Mass for the five members of the Hawe family will be followed by burial in the adjoining cemetery. The funeral Mass is at the unusual time of 4pm because of a wedding service in the morning.
The funeral service will be relayed outside the church, for the many mourners who are expected to gather to pay their respects. The interior of the small church is reserved for family, friends and parishioners.
It’s sadly appropriate that the community in which the Hawe family lived and died, and who are now left to struggle with their dreadful loss, should be the sole occupants of St Mary’s this afternoon.