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Murder In An Irish Town
In September 1988, John Gallagher drove to Lifford, collected a rifle from behind the wardrobe in his father’s bedroom and headed for Sligo, where he murdered his ex-girlfriend Anne Gillespie, and her mother Annie. When the case came to court John Gallagher pleaded – and was found – guilty but insane and he was remanded to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. In July 2000, Gallagher successfully escaped from Dundrum and absconded to England, before returning to Northern Ireland, where he was able to live freely, because of the unique absence of an extradition treaty for people in his position. Earlier this month, in a bizarre twist, apparently in the hope of taking advantage of a bequest from his father, Gallagher turned up at the Central Mental Hospital and handed himself in. It’s open to him to apply to the Health Review Board for release on the grounds that he does not now suffer from a mental illness. The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, has already acknowledged the possibility that he might be released within a matter of weeks. But as far back as 1991, in a special investigation carried out for Hot Press, Eamonn McCann questioned the original verdict of the court – and whether Gallagher was ever ‘insane’ within the meaning intended by the act. In the light of the growing controversy about the case, we reprint here in full the extraordinary story as it was originally published in Hot Press.
Eamonn McCann, 12 Jun 2012
“I can take her finishing with me”, John Gallagher told a relative just two days before he was to shoot Anne Gillespie and her mother dead.
“It’s the other thing I can’t take”.
The conversation happened at about 4.30am on Friday, September 16th, 1988, as Gallagher was being processed for admission as a voluntary patient to St. Conal’s mental hospital, Letterkenny.
The “other thing”, he explained, was the thought of her going out with other men.
It wasn’t that he was a jealous person, in the conventional sense of the word. It was far more than that. For three and a half years his relationship with Anne had been his sole source of self-esteem, the one thing which, in his own mind, had given him status with the people he moved among.
And now that the relationship was drifting away from him, he was inflamed with sexual jealousy. He couldn’t take it.
John Gallagher, a pudgy-faced 22-year-old van-driver, one of a family of nine from the border village of Lifford in Co. Donegal, had for a long time assumed that he would one day walk up the aisle with Anne Gillespie. It had come as a shock to him, the previous weekend, after an incident at Jackson’s Hotel, to realise that Anne wanted to end their relationship.
She’d been telling friends for months that she wanted out, or at least wanted a looser arrangement, that she believed she was too young – still at school and barely 18 – to make a life-time commitment. And, anyway, she didn’t feel a life-time’s commitment to John Gallagher. “She couldn’t find a right time to tell him,” a school friend recalls, “she knew there’d be a terrible scene.”
But what happened at Jackson’s and the following day left her with little option but to stiffen her resolve.
The two of them, along with Anne’s mother, Annie, and many of their neighbours from the Donegal Road vicinity in Ballybofey, had been to Jackson’s Hotel the previous Saturday for a wedding. By all accounts, the party went well. A photograph taken at the time shows Anne and Annie comfortable with one another as always, and plainly at ease. But shortly after the picture was taken Anne was asked out to dance by a neighbour, a fellow she’d known all her life, and she danced with him.