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Katie Sheehan, grand-daughter of Nora Sheehan, speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after a jury found Noel Long guilty of Nora Sheehan's murder. Paddy Cummins/irishphotodesk.ie
victim impact

‘We hope you are at peace now’: Family of Nora Sheehan on their 42-year wait for justice

‘We never gave up hoping that one day we would get justice for you and we hope we have done you proud,’ the family of Nora Sheehan wrote.

COLD CASE KILLER Noel Long, who this afternoon has been jailed for life, has lived without taking accountability nor “showing an ounce of remorse” for the murder and sexual assault of a vulnerable woman 42 years ago, the victim’s family have told the Central Criminal Court.

“We hope you are at peace now mom. We never gave up hoping that one day we would get justice for you and we hope we have done you proud,” the family of Nora Sheehan wrote.

The oldest prosecution for murder ever brought in Ireland, which saw the jury weigh evidence that was silent on a cause of death and did not include any evidence from the accused himself or his interactions with gardai, ended this morning with a jury unanimously finding Long guilty. 

Katie Sheehan said that her grandmother’s life was “taken from her in the cruellest way imaginable” and it was hard to convey in words “the hurt we have carried over four decades, the legacy of which carries on to new generations”. 

The testimony was heard as part of an emotional victim impact statement read today to the Central Criminal Court by the chief investigating officer in the case, where 74-year-old Noel Long was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murdering Mrs Sheehan.

The sentence was backdated for a period of four weeks for the time he previously spent in custody.

Sentencing judge Mr Justice Paul McDermott said that in cases of this kind, the sentence is mandatory and despite the detailed evidence in the trial and the detailed account of the effect of the crime on the family, what he had to say on the matter was quite short.

The judge said at this stage of the case focus is brought back to the victim of the crime, who had been “eloquently described” in the statement he had received.

“Sometimes the family of the victim feels the focus is not as central as they think it should be, but of course it is all about the victim and how Nora Sheehan came to meet her death,” he said.

He sympathised with the Sheehan family and extended his condolences to them. 

The court heard today that Long has 31 previous convictions that span 50 years from 1966 to 2016; 27 of those are for offences committed in Ireland and four are in the UK.

These include six counts for common assault, four counts for burglary and a large number of road traffic convictions. 

Detective Inspector Eamonn Brady said Long received a 12-month sentence from Cork Circuit Court in December 1971 for assault with intent to ravish, attempted carnal knowledge and common assault.

He said Long’s most recent conviction was from Cork Circuit Court for assault causing harm on 11 February , 2014 in Cork city.

The court heard the four convictions in the UK were from the 1960′s, when Long served in the British Army with The Royal Irish Rangers.  

Long, with an address at Maulbawn, Passage West, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to murdering 54-year-old Mrs Sheehan between 6 June and 12 June, 1981 at an unknown place within the State.

Her naked and bruised body was found by forestry workers at The Viewing Point, Shippool Woods in Cork six days after she went missing.

Earlier, Det Insp Brady, from Macroom Garda Station, told Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that matters had commenced a long time before his involvement in the investigation when Mrs Sheehan’s body was discovered in Shippool Woods on 12 June, 1981.

He said Long became a suspect and was arrested in relation to another matter on 16 June, 1981 and questioned over the course of a number of days and subsequently on 6 July, 1981.

As a result of the directions of the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Eamonn Barnes, Long was charged with the murder of Mrs Sheehan and brought before the District Court in Cork on 7 July, 1981.

He was admitted on bail two weeks later on July 18, said the Inspector. 

The witness agreed with Mr Grehan that the pathologist who carried out the postmortem on the body of Mrs Sheehan died on 5 August, 1981.

The Inspector also agreed that as a result, the DPP decided this was an “insurmountable obstacle” in pursuing the murder charge, leading to its withdrawal on 10 November, 1981. 

Mr Grehan said due to a change in the science of DNA Long was charged again with the murder of Mrs Sheehan on 28 June, 2022 and was granted bail by the High Court on 7 July of that year. 

The barrister said that Long was married with small children in June 1981 but he and his wife later separated. Long has been in a new relationship for the past 25 years, he said. 

The trial, which began on 13 July, heard evidence that a partial DNA profile generated from semen found in the body of Nora Sheehan and preserved for decades had matched DNA found on clothing taken from Long in 2021.

There was also evidence that Long had been in the same area as Mrs Sheehan when she went missing, that fibres recovered from the victim matched those taken from the carpeting of Long’s car and that paint fragments removed from the victim’s clothing also matched paint taken from the same vehicle.

Victim impact statement 

In her victim impact statement, Katie Sheehan said Nora Sheehan was a “much loved wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. She was kind, compassionate and opinionated. She adored children and animals.

She grew up in the countryside in Crookstown in a very happy home and lived there until she fell for a Cork City man James Sheehan and moved to the big city.

“It was here she became a mother to her three precious boys Jerry, James Junior and Eugene. She was a modern woman and a bit ahead of her time and wanting to earn her own wage worked at a psychiatric hospital bringing her country charm into the lives of the vulnerable patients.”

She continued: “Those connected to Nora think about her almost every day. Unfortunately we have been unable to think about her many wonderful qualities very often and the horrendous circumstances surrounding her death is what has occupied our thoughts these past 42 years.

“So many lives have been negatively impacted by this awful crime but we would like to pay special mention to some of Nora’s loved ones.

“We remember our father who died completely heartbroken four years after she was taken from him. 

“He was affected hugely by the loss of our mother and really struggled in his final years, dying without any form of closure”.

She said: “We remember our grandfather who mom affectionately called Pop Carty who died a number of years after the loss of his little girl. No father should outlive their child or lose them in such horrific circumstances.”

She said they also think of their cousin Eugene Junior who was tasked with identifying the body: “This is an image he will never be able to wipe from his mind.”

“We think of the seven grandchildren that Nora didn’t get the chance to dote on. She would have been the fun, happy, cheeky granny every child deserves to grow up loving and her presence was greatly missed. We know this awful crime impacted their childhoods and they continue to carry the awful legacy of it with them”.

“From your three boys. To lose a mother at such young ages under any circumstances is incredibly difficult but to learn that your vulnerable mother was taken advantage of, beaten, sexually assaulted and her dead body disposed of in such a horrific manner is something we have been unable to process.

“We dealt with things as best we could individually, all trying to block out what happened to our mother in our own ways.   

She said: “Visions of how scared she must have been in the final moments, how much pain she was in and how long her violated and injured body laid in the undergrowth all alone have been the focus of many of our nightmares”. 

“Our peace of mind was taken from us. Sleep hasn’t come easy. Relationships have been strained. The happy moments these last few decades have been tainted with so much grief and sadness.

“It feels as if we just existed for the longest time trying to take things day by day while the person responsible for our dear mother’s death has lived their life never taking accountability for their actions or showing an ounce of remorse.

“We hope that we can now begin the process of dealing with what happened to our mother and go on to live the remainder of our lives at peace and begin to remember our mother for the quirky, feisty, glamorous mother she was. We hope you are at peace now mom.

“We never gave up hoping that one day we would get justice for you and we hope we have done you proud”. 

“Lastly we would like to take a moment to pray for the victims of sexual assault and those who have lost their lives by homicide. We pray for your families who live with this trauma.

“Our thoughts are also with the families of the hundreds of unsolved cold cases. We hope that this outcome gives you hope that one day you will achieve justice for your loved ones.”

At the end of today’s proceedings, Mr Michael Delaney SC, defending Long, asked for legal aid to cover his legal team “in the event that the matter goes further”. 

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after the sentence, Katie Sheehan said: “The Sheehan family wish to remember the late Dr Coakley, the pathologist.

“We would like to thank all the retired gardai in particular Garda Sergeant John B O’Sullivan, Superintendent Matthew Thorne, Detective Inspector Colm Dardis, Inspector Larry Barron and their colleagues. 

“The scientists, the staff both current and retired at Forensic Science Ireland, the investigation unit in Bandon Garda Station led by Detective Inspector Eamonn Brady, the Serious Crime Review Team.

“Senior counsel Brendan Grehan and his colleagues for prosecuting this case, every single witness who came forward with information. A very special thank you to Garda Damien White our family liaison officer.

“We thank each member of the jury. Finally, we wish to thank the people of Ballyphehane who have always supported us”. 

Author
Alison O'Riordan