Five hundred candles will flicker into life at a memorial service in Dublin today — one lit for each of the country’s homicide victims.
Their families will carry lovingly framed photos towards the altar, a purposeful procession to keep precious memories alive.
AdVIC, a volunteer-run organisation which advocates for victims of homicide, has organised the biennial service to create an important space where bereaved families can meet and remember.
However, the service at 2.30pm in St Anne’s Church on Dawson St in Dublin will not just be a sombre affair.
“It sounds strange but it is also a joyful day, it’s a happy day because people are not being forgotten,” says Ger Guinee, voluntary financial controller for AdVIC.
“It’s a family day out. The gathering lets people realise that they are not alone.
“The memorial service started in 2005 and this is the eighth memorial that AdVIC has run. President Higgins gave a very eloquent speech at one before. And people come from all over the country and from all walks of life.
“We’re expecting about 200 people, the journalist and author Barry Cummins is the guest speaker, and there are refreshments afterwards,” he said.
Mr Guinee, from Douglas, Cork, joined AdVIC after his “perfect” daughter Karen, a junior doctor, was killed by her boyfriend in the flat they shared in Galway just days before her 24th birthday and her graduation ceremony at UCG.
“I waved her off at 5.30pm on Saturday, June 10, 2006,” says Mr Guinee.
“She said that she was going up to Galway to get some forms for her conferring and she’d be back on Tuesday. That was the last time I saw her alive.”
Two days later, on June 12, Karen’s body was found in the apartment she shared with her partner and killer, Patrick Hogan, above his family’s pharmacy.
“It was her 24th birthday on June 18 and her conferral for medicine was June 20. It should have been such a joyful week. But instead, she was taken from us.
“It’s difficult to get your head around.
“She loved Galway university. She was very dedicated, very kind, and very academically minded. She had always wanted to help people.
“She was perfect. We were so proud of her.
“Homicide is something you have to adjust to. It’s a very tough thing to carry.
“It’s like we’ve been frozen in time since we got that call at 9am in June 2006.
“There’s a before and after. And after, you live a different existence.
“Life is never the same again. A tragedy like that changes your outlook forever.”
Mr Guinee said that he and his family speak about Karen daily. They want to keep her memory alive and AdVIC’s memorial service is one way to do that.
“I joined AdVIC in 2008. It was founded in 2005 by a group of bereaved families who found that there was absolutely no support for victims of homicide,” he said.
“Now we support people and arrange free homicide counselling for them which makes such a difference. It saves lives. Many more people would be gone, would have given up on life without AdVIC.
“Talking is very important. If you keep it all in your head you get very bitter and that bitterness will kill you.”
Mr Guinee has experienced the power of the memorial service before, but this will be Debbie McCarthy’s first time attending.
Her goddaughter, Amy McCarthy, 22, was also killed violently by her partner, and the father of her young child, in a building on Sheares St in Cork in April 2017.
Remembering that time, Ms McCarthy said: “That Sunday morning my sister’s world fell apart. We knew he [Adam O’Keeffe] was a bully. We had warned Amy away from him. I even fell out with her over it. But she loved him. She thought she could change him.
“They met when she was 17 and by 22 she was dead.
“He murdered the only person who ever loved him.”
O’Keeffe denied murder but admitted manslaughter, forcing Amy’s family to endure the agony of a trial.
But after just two hours and 14 minutes, the jury unanimously found O’Keeffe guilty of her murder.
“Sitting through the trial was heartbreaking,” said Ms McCarthy.
“It took the State pathologist one hour and 40 minutes to go through all Amy’s injuries in court. It was horrendous.
“You sank a little lower into your chair as every injury, inside and out, was read out.
“She was 5ft and about eight stone. She was tiny. She didn’t have a chance against him.
“We had welcomed him into our family at first, welcomed him into our homes. But for 12 days of the trial he kept his head down. He wasn’t even man enough to look at us. He didn’t even look up when he was found guilty.
“Now he’s appealing the case. The jury found him guilty of murder, we were very grateful to them for that, but he wants it reduced to manslaughter,” she said.
“How can you put your hands around another person’s neck and strangle them, then say it was an accident?
“He got a 15-year life sentence. That is not long enough. His ‘right’ in prison is that he can have a parole hearing after seven years. He should not have that right.”
Ms McCarthy said that the AdVIC service is an important way to keep Ireland’s homicide victims in the public consciousness.
“We don’t want her to be forgotten. We don’t want her to be another statistic. And we don’t want any other mother to go through this.
“We’re meeting other bereaved families on the train from Cork up to the service. It’s important to have that network because you get no help from anyone else.”
Ms McCarthy dreads the day that Amy’s killer will be released from prison, and she believes that changes must be made to make our criminal justice system fairer for victims and their families.
“What are we going to tell Amy’s son in years to come about what daddy did to mummy? Her death is an ongoing thing that we have to deal with forever.
“But he will get out of jail and start his life again.
“I think about him being free a lot. What if I go to her grave and he’s there, standing over her?
She adds: “It makes you think about acts of violence that you never would have before.
“He goes into prison and gets counselling. Where’s our counselling?
“Support is all on their side and that’s wrong.
“Now, we’re campaigning for tougher life sentences with the group Save. Changes to the law will not help us now, but they will hopefully help people in the future.”