In an estate high above the town, a lone garda stood sentry outside the gates of a two-storey house where a husband and wife lost their lives in an apparent murder-suicide last Monday.
To add to the tragedy, Michelle Greaney, the 22-year-old daughter of the victims, Michael and Valerie Greaney, remains in hospital in a serious but stable condition.
Their youngest daughter, 16-year-old Sarah, is being cared for by relatives and is understood to be deeply traumatised.
On the face of it, Cobh, no more than any other town, was on a wind-down from the festivities yesterday. Christmas decorations were still in evidence, even outside the end-of-terrace Greaney home at Philip O’Neill Place, where outdoor icicle lights swung bleakly above the porch and an unlit reindeer stood in the front garden.
Valerie Greaney was a native of Cobh and her marital home was next to her childhood home. Just last month, she buried her own mother, Mary, at St Colman’s Cemetery, a stone’s throw from her doorstep. It was outside the gates of St Colman’s that Michelle was found last Monday after fleeing her home, with a stab wound to her chest.
Up the road, in the nearby Costcutter Store, the mood was sombre yesterday. Staff member Madeline Doyle said the family were regular customers.
“They were always in and out of the shop. Everyday. They seemed happy as Larry,” she said, and “a lovely family”. They were dog lovers, they had two bichons; sometimes Sarah chatted with Madeline’s daughter Amy about dogs because she had a Maltese.
Valerie and Michael “seemed such a happy couple”, Madeline said, adding that Valerie worked part-time as a secretary for her husband’s physiotherapy clinic at Sandymount in the town, and part-time at Gill’s traditional fish and chip shop. A notice on the front door of Gill’s yesterday advised customers the premises was closed for the day in a show of condolence for the Greaney family.
Just a couple of hundred metres down the road, beneath the shade of a daffodil-yellow canopy, the doors were also closed at the premises of Michael Greaney’s clinic, across the road from the imposing St Colman’s Cathedral.
Local businessman John Mansworth said Michael’s clinic “had a good name” in the town. Michael had a sporting background, particularly rowing, and had become interested in treating sports injuries.
“He seemed like a quiet type of guy. He married into a very quiet, respectable family,” John said.
Michael hadn’t attracted any negative attention until an incident in recent years where he ended up in court on charges of false imprisonment and assault, for which he was subsequently found not guilty earlier this year by reason of insanity.
People were very surprised when accounts of this incident emerged, John said adding that “There were never any signs that anything was wrong”.
Behind the cathedral, Fr John McCarthy was dealing with media queries.
The parish administrator, who was chief celebrant at the funeral in November 2010 of John Butler, who took his own life after killing his two young daughters Zoe and Ella in Ballycotton, Co Cork, said the people of Cobh were devastated.
He had met Michael Greaney, a minister of the Eucharist, on Christmas Day on the steps of the cathedral.
“He seemed fine. He was with his wife. I wished him a very Happy Christmas.”
That was his final contact with Michael, Fr McCarthy said, adding that Michael was well-known in the town.
“Somebody so well known, especially the time of year it happened, everything just adds to the complete shock and the distress. Cobh, despite being a big town, is in many respects a small close-knit community; a lot of relations and family connections, so everybody would have known Michael. The fact that his practice is only a few yards from the cathedral, such a public place, such a publicly-known figure really. So yeah, people are very upset.”
Cobh deaths: Daughter’s anti-suicide plea
Money fears led to earlier attack
Michael Greaney was so worried about the financial pressures facing him and his family that he previously attacked somebody and then tried to kill himself.
Earlier this year, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges of false imprisonment and assault.
Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard he was in fear his family would suffer because he was unable to make enough money to provide for them.
An expert witness said, although Mr Greaney knew what he was doing when he put a rag to the victim’s mouth, he did not know it was wrong and was unable to stop it.
“It was an impulse, an animal part taking over, he could not stop himself doing what he was doing,” said a statement from a consultant psychiatrist who had examined him.
The court heard that little things like one of his children asking him for €5, or seeing his roof that needed repair, made him blame himself and become over-worried.
A psychiatrist called by his defence team said he had deliberately injured himself immediately after the assault. The court was told he lost between two and four litres of blood, and gardaí found him just before he would have died.
On foot of this case that Mr Greaney was reman-ded in February for asses-sment to the Central Mental Hospital, from which he was later released.
In what had already been a very tough year for the family, Valerie Greaney’s mother Mary Hayes died passed away unexpectedly just over a month ago. She was waked in the Greaneys’ home — right next door to hers at Philip O’Neill Place — and buried in the nearby St Colman’s Cemetery at the end of November.
18 murder-suicides in past 10 years
There were two other high profile murder-suicides this year.
The most recent happened last September when two brothers were murdered in their home in Charleville, Co Cork.
Nine-year-old twins Patrick and Thomas O’Driscoll were stabbed to death. Their older brother Jonathon, 21, later took his own life.
The body of their older brother was found in Buttevant, a short distance from the family home. Gardaí had been looking for him in connection with the deaths.
The bodies of the two boys were found on Thursday evening, September 4. Two younger brothers, aged five and four, ran to a neighbour’s house and raised the alarm.
The boys were being looked after by Jonathan, while their parents, Thomas Sr and Helen, were away.
A car was seen leaving the scene a short time after the bodies of the boys were found.
The twins received multiple stab wounds in a frenzied attack and were found in separate rooms in the bungalow.
Their older brother was found dead a short time later in Buttevant, about 14km away. His body was found by three boys walking by a river and they raised the alarm. Gardaí had been looking for him in connection with the deaths.
Two brothers died in another murder-suicide in Co Sligo in July. Gardaí said there were no warning signs that tragedy was about to hit the family.
Brendan Skeffington, 9, was found dead with stab wounds by his parents at the family home in Tourlestrane, near Tubbercurry, on July 20.
The body of his brother, Shane, 20, was discovered in a shed at the back of the house.
Their parents, Shane and Carmel, made the discovery after returning home from a shopping trip with their three-year-old son.
It is understood that another child, Sharon, 15, was in the home at the time of the stabbing but was unaware of what had happened.
Deputy State pathologist, Michael Curtis, said gardaí had found no warning signs in their preliminary examinations.
There have been at least 18 murder-suicide cases in Ireland since 2004 but, like other countries, cases are rare.
The National Suicide Research Foundation has said independent in-depth investigations of each case were needed to better understand the risk factors and patterns involved, adding that enhanced risk assessment could prevent similar cases in the future.