Neighbour from hell Mary fears spending more time behind bars

AS NEIGHBOURS from hell go, Mary McGrath doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

For a start, she weighs less than eight stone, reaches a bare 5’4” in high heels and, at 63 years of age, is looking forward to the day not far off when her state pension will wing its way through the letterbox of her neat semi-detached home in Ballincollig, Cork.

She is also a committed member of the Legion of Mary and, when she is not tending her rose garden, likes to busy herself assisting the elderly in need.

Yet she has already this year spent six weeks in Limerick Prison and it looks like they will shortly be warming another cell for her there.

Apart from the embarrassment and worry it is sure to cause her husband, Bernard, and daughter Karen, 18, another spell of porridge is something that doesn’t particularly bother her. In fact, she says she got on well with all her neighbours in jail.

“The guards were very nice. I was mostly in the company of young girls of my daughter’s age. They were there for small offences really, mostly drugs. They were lovely girls and I got on great with them. They were crying when I was leaving.”

Though considering the prospect stoically, she still doesn’t relish the thought of going back to jail.

In fact, she is lucky not to be spending this Christmas behind bars. Just before Christmas she was due for sentencing at Cork District Court on a charge of threatening to kill her next-door neighbour, Christopher Blackham.

Instead, an attack of bronchitis meant Mrs McGrath ended up at the Mercy Hospital and the judge adjourned the case to the end of January after her solicitor, Bernard Long, told of his client’s illness.

“I suppose it was all the worry that brought it on,” she says, fingering a mesmerising array of rings on every finger and pulling her sheepskin waistcoat tighter about her tiny frame.

“My breathing is very bad these days. The whole situation is very stressful.”

Perhaps not quite as stressful as it has been for Mr Blackham and his wife, Geena, though. They told the judge how Mrs McGrath continually abused and threatened them, frightened their two young children and even, at one stage, threatened to kill them and put a bomb under his van.

She doesn’t quite see it that way and, perhaps, that’s because, as her solicitor said in court, a psychiatrist’s report shows she has a “restricted cognitive ability to understand what she is doing”.

There is no denying, though, the upset this whole sorry saga has caused and, as she speaks of the effect it has had on Karen, her deep, coal-black eyes fill with tears. “It has been very tough on her. She is studying computers and I know that people have told her about her mother’s case in the paper. It’s been very embarrassing.”

Mrs McGrath says she and her family have lived in the same house in Innishmore, Ballincollig, for the past 18 years. The Blackhams moved in two years ago.

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