It has only been two years, but already the annual candlelight walk in memory of Adrian Donohoe has the feel of a deeply embedded tradition.
Gardaí close off the 3km of country road to traffic and volunteer stewards dig out high-visibility vests from toolbags and training kits.
A lone piper is engaged to lead the walkers. Calls go out for sandwich makers and tea servers. Calls do not have to be made twice.
The gathering assembles outside Lordship Credit Union in the townland of Bellurgan, 11km north of Dundalk, shortly after 9pm.
They stretch their legs, exchange greetings, and watch the clock. Then as 9.30pm approaches, they light their candles, bow their heads, and remember.
It was at this spot at 9.30pm on Friday, January 25, 2013, that Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was shot dead as he guarded the credit union and its customers or, as they were to him, neighbours.
Adrian Donohoe: Killed as he
guarded his local credit union.
It was a routine assignment for the husband and father of two, though essential to the safety of those running a cash-based operation in a relatively remote area.
He got out of his patrol car to check out another vehicle that had blocked the entrance to the credit union’s car park and was shot without warning.
His killers pulled his partner, Detective Garda Joe Ryan, to the ground and warned him he would be next as they smashed the window of a credit union worker’s car and dragged a bag of cash from the seat.
They spared Joe Ryan and fled in their stolen car, later found burnt-out across the border in south Armagh.
“We’re still angry. We’re still hurting. We’re still very sad,” says Alan Duffy, a close friend of Adrian’s and chairman of St Patrick’s Gaelic Football Club where both men played and mentored.
“We came up with this idea of a candelight vigil because I suppose I was afraid that people were going to forget about Adrian and the sacrifice he made.
“He was protecting us all that night. The people from our club, the committee members, the parents of the seven and eight year olds he mentored — those were the kind of people in the credit union that night, coming out to face men with guns.
“He was murdered without warning, horrendously, horribly, evilly, given no chance. It’s still very raw.”
The fact that there have been no arrests in the case is also a sore point.
Initially close to 1,000 gardaí were investigating and thousands of lines of inquiry were pursued, but the key members of the gang fled abroad.
Although experience would suggest that sooner or later, one of them will put a foot wrong, the waiting for a breakthrough is agonisingly slow.
Nóirín O’Sullivan, the Garda commissioner, will be conscious of the frustration locally and within the force when she attends the memorial Mass for Adrian and meets his widow, Caroline, and their young son and daughter.
“We cannot understand how these people can live with themselves and what they have done, how they can be so quiet on this and pretend it never happened,” Alan says of the killers.
“This was an ordinary decent guy who gave up his time every day just to try to make better the area where he lived. That was Adrian Donohoe.
“We can’t investigate his murder. We’re ordinary people. But if meeting tonight and walking in his memory, gives a small bit of comfort to Caroline and the kids and to Adrian’s parents, that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved