Jims roofing 2008

*Kirsty Donnellan. Photograph: Eamon Ward

AN EAST CLARE MOTHER has described as “pure evil” the actions of a woman who stole from and desecrated her daughter’s grave on three separate occasions.

At Killaloe District Court sitting in Ennis, Kirsty Donnellan told the court that she was “in a state of shock, anger and despair” when finding that her daughter, Scarlett’s grave had been desecrated in May 2020.

Ms Donnellan said that to have someone disturb your child’s grave and steal items from it is “the most hideous crime one could ever be a victim of”.

During the course of her victim impact statement, the mother of three told the court that eldest daughter, Scarlett (17) had died just 20 months prior to the thefts from her grave at Tulla graveyard.

Concerning the grave thefts, Mairead O’Sullivan (41) has entered 18 separate guilty pleas concerning charges of stealing goods with a combined value of €597.50 from graves at cemeteries at Drumcliffe and Templemaley outside Ennis and also from Tulla cemetery.

There are 14 victims in the case as Ms O’Sullivan of Fergus View, Cappahard, Tulla Rd, Ennis stole from the same graves on a number of occasions.

Sgt Louis Moloney told the court that four parties have made victim impact statements and handed statements into Judge Mary Larkin, stating that Ms Donnellan wished to deliver her own victim impact statement from the witness box.

Kirsty and Scarlett.

In her statement, Ms Donnellan told the court: “For any parent to bury their child, it is the most distressing, traumatic event that one could ever have to face in their life, so for someone to literally disturb the grave and to steal items from it, that are sentimental, and represent something of that person, that has meaning behind it, is extremely upsetting and the most hideous crime one could ever be a victim of.”

She added: “When a loved one dies, the only thing we can do for them is to tender to their grave. We should be able to do that without fear that items of sentimental significance will not be touched.

“These thefts have added to my anxiety, pain and huge loss, as a mother that grieves for her child, I should never have to visit my child’s grave finding it interfered with and desecrated. My daughter also deserved to rest in peace.”

Ms Donnellan stated that Scarlett “died tragically and unexpectedly in September 2018, to which I still await answers regarding the circumstances surrounding the causes that led her to her death, and as of yet, no inquest has been held due to various Gardai and other investigation”.

On discovering the first theft, Ms Donnellan recalled “still in the midst of my grieving, 20 months to the day after my daughter, Scarlett had died, I went to visit her grave.”

Ms Donnellan said: “I had planted two miniature yellow rose bushes on her grave a week or so previous as Scarlett’s favourite colour was yellow.

“However, on the day of May 16th 2020 on visiting my daughter’s grave, I was in a state of shock, anger and despair and was in tears to find two holes in her grave where Ms O’Sullivan had dug out the rose bushes from my daughter’s grave.

“This was not the only time my daughter’s grave was desecrated. Later during the Summer in July 2020, items were taken from my daughter’s grave. Again, I was left distressed, crying and my faith in humanity questioned as who, and why could someone carry out such an act of disrespect and pure evil.”

Ms Donnellan said that the thefts from Tulla graveyard continued despite the pleas she made on local and national media for them to stop.

Ms Donnellan said: “All those pleas calling for a stop to the thefts didn’t stop Ms O’Sullivan from targeting them again. My daughter Scarlett’s grave was targeted once again between April 13th and April 14th 2021.

She said: “This time, yellow flowers that were in a pot, which her friends had put on her grave a week previous to mark Scarlett’s birthday, had been pulled out of the pot.

“Again feelings of distress, anger and a fear of not being able to put anything on my daughter’s grave without it being taken or desecrated. I actually felt physically sick and could not understand how someone could do such a thing.”

Solicitor for Ms O’Sullivan, Tara Godfrey told Ms Donnellan said that her client wishes to offer her apology to her and the other victims in the case.

Judge Mary Larkin asked Ms Donnellan how the court should exercise available punishment on Ms O’Sullivan and in reply, Ms Donnellan said: “With the anger, hurt and the upset it has caused I do think an example should be made because I don’t think she should be able to get away with what she did.”

Asked by Judge Larkin does she believe that Ms O’Sullivan should go to jail, Ms Donnellan replied: “I don’t know.”

Judge Larkin said that she would adjourn the case to September 6th for a Probation Report on Ms O’Sullivan.

Judge Larkin said that she hopes the Probation Report will find out why Ms O’Sullivan committed these offences. Judge Larkin said: “They are very difficult to understand.”

Judge Larkin said: “I want to hear from the Probation Service why someone would even consider going into a grave-yard and desecrating a grave.”

Judge Larkin told Ms Donnellan “I am sorry for the distress that this has caused you.”

Ms Godfrey previously told the court that Ms O’Sullivan is a married mother and “has no history of criminality”. Ms Godfrey stated that Ms O’Sullivan “had a certain vulnerability around the time” of the thefts.

In one grave theft at Tulla cemetery on a point sometime on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2020, Ms O’Sullivan stole six ornamental barrels containing flowers valued at €90 which was the property of Edel Hanrahan.

The charges contrary to Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences Act) 2001 show that Aileen Tuohy was the victim of Ms O’Sullivan’s grave theft spree on three different occasions in 2020.

Between May 14th and May 16th, Ms O’Sullivan stole rose bushes valued at €10 which was the property of Ms Tuohy at Tulla cemetery.

On July 12th/13th, Ms O’Sullivan stole a flowerpot valued at €2.50 from Ms Tuohy at Tulla cemetery and two months later on September 3rd/4th, Ms O’Sullivan struck again and stole from Ms Tuohy two white solar lanterns valued at €100 from Tulla cemetery.

Other items stolen from graves by Ms O’Sullivan included three dahlia plants, a wicker window box, yellow flowers and flower pots.

The thefts commenced in May 2020 and continued until April 2021 before Gardai identified Ms O’Sullivan as the culprit. The charges show that the vast bulk of thefts occurred at Tulla graveyard which was struck 15 times by Ms O’Sullivan over the 11 months.

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