Victim’s son laments role of alcohol as man jailed for five years for beating 62-year-old father to death

A man who admitted "brutally" beating a 62-year-old former rugby captain to death has been jailed for five years, writes Eoin Reynolds.

Gary Walsh (35), with an address at The Watercourse, Orwell Park in Templeogue, had been charged with murdering Cathal Sweeney at a mutual friend’s flat in Ashdale Gardens, Terenure in Dublin. Following two trials in which juries could not agree a verdict the State accepted his plea of guilty to manslaughter.

Gary Walsh, with an address at The Watercourse, Orwell Park in Templeogue, who was jailed for 5 years for the manslaughter of Cathal Sweeney at a mutual friend’s flat in Ashdale Gardens, Terenure in Dublin. Pic: Courtpix

Passing sentence today Justice Patrick McCarthy said the appropriate penalty for the crime would be ten years, but taking into account his guilty plea he reduced that to eight. He also suspended the last three years of the sentence, saying that Walsh appeared to have rehabilitated and has a future that holds out some degree of hope.

Walsh will enter a bond to be of good behaviour for those three years and must remain under the supervision of the probation services.

Justice McCarthy said he believed Walsh’s remorse was genuine and that reports that were handed to him showed that he was making progress, had taken responsibility for the killing and had quit drinking.

The court has previously heard from the victim’s son, David Sweeney, who said he cannot stop thinking of his father drowning in his own blood with nobody to help.

He noted that his father had been an alcoholic, but said he was the only father that he and his siblings had. His killing had affected every aspect of their lives.

On the day of the killing the accused and the deceased had met for the first time that morning in the flat of a mutual friend, who was also an alcoholic. They drank while watching Ireland play rugby.

The attack was prompted by an allegation of sexual impropriety against Mr Sweeney for which Justice McCarthy said there was no evidence. He said Mr Sweeney was a man of "very good character," extremely friendly and generous.

However, Mr Walsh punched the victim repeatedly until he said the victim admitted to the assault. Walsh stopped punching him because there was so much blood and then told Mr Sweeney to clean himself up.

D Sgt Joe Molloy testified that Walsh later called the paramedics after finding Mr Sweeney slumped over in the bedroom. He said that gardai found Walsh to be nervous and uneasy when they arrived. Walsh claimed that Mr Sweeney had been assaulted before arriving to the flat, but the other occupant told gardai otherwise, and Walsh then admitted beating him.

D Sgt Molloy explained that a drinking session had been going on for some time, with Walsh consuming alcohol continuously for about 24 hours. He said that a post-mortem exam found that the deceased had sustained fractures to his nasal and cheek bones, which would have compromised his ability to breathe. The resulting lack of oxygen would have caused brain injury.

The court heard that his cause of death was ‘blunt force trauma to the head and face with profuse hemorrhage on a background of coronary artery atheroma, an enlarged heart and warfarin therapy’.

The pathologist had accepted that the six or seven punches Walsh had admitted giving could have accounted for all the injuries.

The victims son, David Sweeney, speaking outside court after Gary Walsh was jailed for the manslaughter of his father Cathal Sweeney at a mutual friend’s flat in Ashdale Gardens, Terenure in Dublin. Pic: Courtpix

David Sweeney’s statement to the court was made on behalf of himself; his brother, Tim; and sister, Fiona. “Our father was an alcoholic,” he began. “We did not condone his way of life, nor the company he kept but he was our Dad. We only ever get one, and he was ours.”

He noted that alcoholism was a classless illness and that it was rare to find a family in Ireland that had not been ‘touched by the detrimental effects of alcohol in some way’.

He acknowledged that the alcohol abuse had taken its toll on his father’s health.

“However, he only needed to survive one more day to meet his third grandchild for the first time,” he said, adding that three more grandchildren had been born since then.

“They are now starting to ask about him and what happened to him. How do we ever explain that?” he asked.

He said his father had loved the grandchildren he had met and that it was important for the family for their children to know him.

“That has now been needlessly ripped away from us forever,” he said. “We can never forget or forgive that.”

He said that his father had been a good, generous man, who had been sociable to the extreme.

“It is very hard for us to accept or understand the circumstances in which he was taken from us in such a violent manner,” he said. “He was not a violent man.”

He said the effect of the killing on their lives could not be measured.

“It has affected our marriages, our careers, our social lives,” he said. “We have not been able to properly put our father to rest, and this is affecting the relationships we have with the people we love the most.”

“Nothing can prepare you for arriving home to find the Gardaí at your house and them telling you that your father has been brutally beaten to death by a man half his age,” he said. “A man younger than me.”

“The episodes haunt my mind,” he said. “I cannot stop thinking about the fear he must have experienced on that day - the fear of being helpless, the fear of dying, the fear of going alone. The thoughts of him being unable to breathe, coughing and drowning in his own blood.”

He said he had dreams of him trying to call him and his brother to help him but not being able.

“I will never be able to get those images from my mind,” he said. “These, or the images of a vicious and relentless beating being carried out on my own Dad unable to defend himself.”

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