Castlerahan National School, where Alan Hawe was the deputy principal, has opened for the new term.

Mr Hawe murdered his wife Clodagh, 39, and their three children Liam, 13, Niall, 11, and Ryan, 6, in the early hours of Monday morning in Cavan.

Niall and Ryan were also pupils in the small national school which lies outside Ballyjamesduff.

A team of psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service visited the school on Monday and Tuesday to brief teachers on how to talk to the students about the traumatic incident.

“They go in, and it depends on the context and how critical the incident is and the level of publicity it has received, and they advise teachers how to deal with it, both in the long-term and the short-term.

Alan Hawe with his sons Ryan, 6, Liam, 13, and Niall, 11, and his wife Clodagh, inset.
Alan Hawe with his sons Ryan, 6, Liam, 13, and Niall, 11, and his wife Clodagh, inset.

“The psychologists can also have a front-facing role with parents,” a spokesperson from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said.

Castlerahan NS was due to open on Tuesday, but its reopening after the summer break was delayed until yesterday.

The teachers would have been briefed on how to create an environment where children feel safe.

Clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune, who works with children and adolescents in her practice Solamh, said young people process grief differently to adults.

“Children process grief in different ways depending on age and developmental stage. They often need to take it away, play, and come back to you later on with questions, often repeating questions over and over to try to understand the answers,” she said.

“Be aware of the language you use, avoid ambivalent phrases like ‘with the angels’, ‘passed away’, ‘taking a big sleep’, and others as this can cause confusion and lose the permanency of death. Difficult as it is, say it as it is. ‘These children are dead and they died with their mam and dad and they won’t be coming back and that is very very sad,’” she added.

Cavan murder-suicide: School where Hawe was deputy principal reopens

Ms Fortune added that it was imperative to separate the murder-suicide in Cavan from mental health.

“It is very rare that people with mental health issues are a risk to other people or hurt other people.

“When we minimise and just explain: ‘This happened because somebody had a mental health issue,’ we actually inadvertently stigmatise mental heath,” she said.

She also emphasised that children and partner victims in these cases have an absolute right to life, and that a parent’s child is never their possession.

Mary’s Church, Castlerahan, where the funerals will take place on Saturday
Mary’s Church, Castlerahan, where the funerals will take place on Saturday

Trauma advice

According to guidelines from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) creating a plan is critical to dealing with a trauma in a school.

The first three weeks following an incident is a time of vulnerability for staff and students. This can be a challenging time for the school community.

The key to managing a critical incident is planning. NEPS psychologists report that schools that have developed school policy and a Critical Incident Management Plan (CIMP) are able to cope more effectively in the aftermath of an incident.

Clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune offers concrete ways to talk to your child about traumatic incidents:

  • “Overall be truthful, encourage their questions as it’s best they process their confusion and fear with you and normalise their feelings.”
  • “Underpin there is more good than evil in the world.”
  • “Try to focus on those people who are helping in the situation.”
  • “When it is a murder/suicide perpetrated by the parent there is an added layer. You want to state this is wrong and shouldn’t have happened while framing this in an empathic way.”
  • “They need their parents to provide structure and routine at these times because this offers safety and organisation, which in turn provides needed reassurance.”

- Joyce Fegan

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