Moment families feared comes to pass

All thoughts are with the Gargan and Dunne families as the moment they had long feared has come to pass.

After 30 years, the country’s most notorious prisoner, the man convicted of violently murdering their daughter and charged, but never convicted, of killing their son is back in society.

It was 30 years ago last month that Patrick Connolly, the government’s attorney general, resigned, having been summoned from his holidays in New York by then-taoiseach, Charles J Haughey.

Three days before, police had found MacArthur, who had been on the run since the end of July, having committed two murders, in Connolly’s apartment in Pilot View, Dalkey, Co Dublin.

MacArthur was born in Apr 1945, to a farming family of Scottish extraction, and grew up on a 180-acre estate near Trim, Co Meath. He studied in a number of American universities, before graduating in 1967. He didn’t work, but was known as an intellectual and eccentric in Dublin in the 1970s, and befriended Connolly.

The £70,000 MacArthur inherited in 1974, after his father’s death, ran out in 1982 while he was on holidays in the Canaries with his partner, Brenda Little, and seven-year-old son, Colm Malcolm. He left the pair and returned to Ireland. He landed in Dublin on Jul 8.

Two weeks later, Jul 22, Paddy Byrne, a gardener at the American embassy in Phoenix Park, saw MacArthur skulking around a woods, close to Chesterfield Avenue. It was 5pm.

Byrne watched as MacArthur approached 27-year-old Bridie Gargan, a nurse who was sunbathing. MacArthur shouted at her. She ran for her car, a metallic-silver Renault 5, but was grabbed by MacArthur, who battered her in the face and head.

Byrne ran towards the car, about 100 yards away, to intervene. Byrne challenged MacArthur: “What’s going on here?” MacArthur pulled a little black gun, which, unbeknownst to Byrne, was a replica, and warned him off. Gargan was in the back of the car.

Byrne was forced to take five steps back. It gave MacArthur enough space to drive off. Byrne ran to the road and tried to flag down a car before a friend spotted him and stopped.

By the time they had reached a phone and raised the alarm, MacArthur had exited the Phoenix Park. A passing ambulance driver saw the bloodied Gargan in the back of the car, and, mistaking MacArthur for a doctor, escorted them, siren blaring, to St James’s Hospital, ironically where Gargan had worked earlier that day.

MacArthur abandoned the car and Gargan, who died a few days later from her injuries.

Three days later, Jul 25, MacArthur surfaced in Edenderry, Co Offaly. He was responding to a classified advertisement posted by farmer Donal Dunne, who was selling a shotgun.

MacArthur took the gun from Dunne for inspection, turned it on him and shot him dead; he then stole his car and returned to Dublin, where he sallied around until his arrest on Aug 13.

MacArthur received a life sentence. In May 2003, he was moved from Mountjoy to an open prison, Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow. Over the last few years, he has had temporary release days, which are regarded as the first steps to freedom.

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