It got to the stage where Sergeant John Hynes could not get the nightmare the children had suffered out of his mind.

It was an investigation that shocked the nation, brought jury members to tears, and led to a State investigation into how it could have happened.

For now retired Sergeant Hynes, ‘The House of Horrors’ case will never leave him, but he draws some solace at how the children have had the strength to live their lives.

Writing in an official centenary book of An Garda Síochána, entitled The Guardians (O’Brien Press), Mr Hynes writes that since the age of four he wanted to be a garda.

In October 1982, he joined and in 1993 served in Keadue station, Co Roscommon.

“It was a lovely quiet station — too quiet for me,” he said, and transferred to Castlerea nine months later.

Retired Garda Sergeant John Hynes recently wrote a book on the centenary of An Garda Síochána

In November 2004, he received a file from the superintendent’s office following a referral from the then Western Health Board.

A 15-year-old boy, the eldest of six children, had alleged his father had systematically and physically abused him for years. All six children had been taken into care.

Mr Hynes called a case conference with all those involved.

“As the meeting went on, a horrendous picture emerged,” he said, “of heavy drinking, squalid living conditions, neglect and cruelty, prostitution by the mother with children present… and the allegation of sexual abuse by the father.”

He noted that four years previously, the Western Health Board (WHB), on the basis of “terrible living conditions” and the lack of co-operation by the parents, drew up a shared parenting plan, which the agreement of the parents.

'The Guardians: 100 Years of An Garda Síochána 1922-2022' is compiled by Garda Stephen Moore.
‘The Guardians: 100 Years of An Garda Síochána 1922-2022’ is compiled by Garda Stephen Moore.

But within 24 hours, the mother had obtained an ex-parte order (where the other party is not informed or present in the court) claiming that the plan had been forced on her.

“The order restrained the WHB from removing the children from the parents’ custody,” Mr Hynes said. 

It transpired that the parents had been assisted and advised by a Dublin-based religious group.” 

He said the Western Health Board did not challenge the order.

Mr Hynes noted that the eldest boy stated in September and October 2004 that the abuse and assaults at the hands of his father had been over the three previous years — after the court order.

Butcher’s knife 

Mr Hynes was assisted by two Western Health Board childcare workers in interviewing the four eldest children, as the other two children were too young.

In interviewing the eldest boy, he established that the rapes took place between September 2001 and June 2004.

“He said that he was in such fear of his father that he slept with a butcher’s knife under his mattress,” Mr Hynes said.

“He painted a horrific picture of the place he called home — a house that was always cold, dirty and overrun with rats and mice.” 

He said the children seldom got a cooked meal and typically had to do with stale bread and sour milk. They slept on urine-soaked mattresses.

“Every evening, the boy was forced to get what meals he could for the other children while his parents went to the pub,” Mr Hynes said.

Mayhem would invariably break out when the parents returned home drunk, and he was subjected to constant beatings.” 

Mr Hynes said he was joined in his investigation by the late Detective Garda Colm Horkan, who was fatally wounded after he was shot by a man who overpowered him, and took his official firearm, on the streets of Castlerea on June 17, 2020.

Detective Garda Colm Horkan, who was fatally shot in 2020, was involved in the investigation with John Hynes.
Detective Garda Colm Horkan, who was fatally shot in 2020, was involved in the investigation with John Hynes.

He said of Det Gda Horkan: “Had it not been for Colm’s dedication in leaving no stone unturned, convictions — including the one in this case — would not have been achieved as frequently as they were.” 

In December 2004, having arrested the father, the two gardaí interviewed him. He denied all the allegations.

“On leaving the station, he said to me, ‘You have nothing.’ His arrogance beggared belief.” 

In February 2005, in an unexpected twist, the mother called to the station and, after a long discussion with sergeant Hynes, gave a statement corroborating her eldest son’s allegations.

Image from 'The Guardians: 100 Years of An Garda Síochána 1922-2022', a seizure of illicit equipment.
Image from ‘The Guardians: 100 Years of An Garda Síochána 1922-2022’, a seizure of illicit equipment.

Iron fist

In May, in the presence of a social worker, Mr Hynes interviewed the mother further.

“She made the most extraordinary statement that told of living in the most appalling squalor, in a house that her husband ruled with an iron fist, instilling fear into every member of the family.”

As well as the rapes, she detailed physical assaults on her eldest, including one case where a teacher brought the boy home after he broke his two wrists in a fall: “When the teacher left, the father grabbed the boy by his wrists, twisted and bent them, before firing the child across the kitchen floor, leaving his in excruciating pain.

“Both of his parents stopped for drinks in a pub before bringing their son to the hospital for surgery.” 

He said the mother stated she was forced by her husband to have sex with men in the locality, sometimes with the children present.

He said she gave a more detailed description of the house: “She described how rubbish was piled up everywhere except in the hall and sitting room — the only places the social workers would see when they visited. 

The children were never washed, except when home help visited.”

Giving an insight into the nature of these investigations, Mr Hynes said he had to gradually gain the trust of the children and that, initially, progress was very slow.

He discovered that, though they were in care, the children had been given mobile phones in order to speak to their parents. 

Believing the children would not open up to him until contact with parents was ended, Mr Hynes sought an application from the district court to have all parental access terminated, which was granted.

“It would later transpire that the parents had been threatening the children during phone calls,” he said.

Between May and December 2005, assisted by Western Health Board childcare workers, he interviewed the four eldest children.

“All four described being starved, neglected, beaten, and left on their own to fend for themselves while their parents were out drinking,” he said.

They described their home as a “scary” place especially when the parents returned, drunk.

“Beatings were regular. One child described crawling into her bed as she turned up a radio to drown out the noise. 

“They described a house that was overrun with rats and mice and spoke of head lice so big that they were crawling down their faces.” 

The investigation took its toll on the then sergeant. 

“I found interviewing the children extremely difficult. Nowadays, there are trained specialist interviewers to carry out such tasks, but no such training was available back then.

“I would go home at night exhausted and watch my own children sleeping peacefully. Our children had everything — loving parents, a beautiful home, warmth, nutritious meals and loads of friends — things every child should have.

“Unable to sleep, many nights I would mull over the things the children had told me: Their prolonged suffering; the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that they had endured.

“Their childhoods had been stolen by people who called themselves their parents. It was simply the stuff of nightmares.” 

In January 2006, he arrested the mother for an offence under Section 246 of the Children Act 2001 (Cruelty to Children), and, during questioning, she fully admitted the offences under which she had been arrested.

“She also incriminated her husband in the sexual abuse of the eldest child and told how he had pimped her out to numerous men,” Mr Hynes said.

The following month, he arrested the father for the rape of his eldest son, but he refuted all the allegations.

The father agreed to be voluntarily interviewed on another date, but again denied everything.

House of Horrors 

In March, the investigation took an unexpected turn, when Mr Hynes received a message that one of the children wanted to speak to him.

He met the boy with one of the childcare workers.

“He alleged that he had been raped by his mother,” Mr Hynes said. “It was a bombshell and I was flabbergasted.” 

He said the young boy described being raped by his mother “on four occasions” in the family home, while the other children were in the house.

“He cried as he related what had occurred. He was so upset that we had to suspend the interview, which was completed at a later date.” 

In May 2006, the mother was arrested and both himself and Det Gda Horkan interviewed her again.

“To our amazement, she admitted to the alleged offences,” Mr Hynes said.

Not only that, the mother detailed a fifth offence while the family was on holidays.

My Hynes said: “This was the woman who should have been protecting the child — the same child that she had given birth to on her kitchen floor in 1990, in such a drunken state that she did not even know she was in labour.” 

After listening to this, he put to her a question that went on to describe the case: “I said to her, ‘Wouldn’t it be a fair comment for us to say to you today that your house was a House of Horrors?’ 

She replied, ‘John, it was a House of Horrors with bells on’.

“And so, the title the media would later use to refer to this case had been coined. She also described herself as ‘the worst mother in the world’.”

By this stage, the investigating team had conducted more than 50 hours of interviews with the parents. 

They believed they had obtained as much information as they could from the children and did not want to put them through any unnecessary trauma.

Mr Hynes said he had never encountered two individuals “so manipulative” as the parents, but said that what really surprised him was the ease with which the mother admitted the serious allegations against her.

He said the Western Health Board had been involved with this family for “15 years” and held 19 case conferences on them.

“The family had dealings with countless members and sections of the WHB, yet the children had not been rescued by anyone; they had rescued themselves,” he said.


He said both himself and Det Gda Horkan put together an “airtight investigation”, resulting in the Director of Public Prosecutions directing: 

  • Four counts of rape, four counts of sexual assault, and six counts of neglect and cruelty to children against the mother;
  • 23 counts of rape and 24 counts of sexual assault against the father. 

On October 17, 2007 — some three years on from his first interviews with the children — he arrested both parents and they were charged before the district court.

In June 2008, the book of evidence was served and on January 21, 2009 the mother’s trial began.

She pleaded guilty to all charges, sparing her children from having to give evidence.

But Mr Hynes spent all day in the witness box relating the “horrific details” of the case. He could see the distressing effect on all those around, except for the mother, who “sat motionless”.

He said senior Western Health Board workers were called to give evidence as to how this could have happened.

In her summing up the following day, Ms Justice Miriam Reynolds asked why nothing was done to save the six children. 

She said: “No right-thinking person could or should stand idly by and watch, without doing anything.

Any possibility of having a normal life has been stolen from them by this woman who calls herself their mother.” 

She was also critical of the legislators. While a male abuser could receive a life sentence, the harshest sentence for a female was seven years.

Mr Hynes said that the mother was the first woman in the history of the State to be both charged and convicted of incest and the first woman on the sex offenders’ register (and for life).

The father’s case took place in February 2010. He pleaded not guilty to all 47 charges, thereby, Mr Hynes said, “forcing his son to spend almost two days in the witness box”.

The mother gave evidence against him and on February 15, he was found guilty on all counts.

“For the first time in my career, I cried as a verdict was given; some of the jury wept openly,” Mr Hynes said.

“At the conclusion of proceedings, the man’s son came over and hugged and thanked Colm and me. It was the first time I saw members of a jury hug and converse with an injured party.” 

He said the young man was back on March 5 and gave a “powerful impact statement”.

The dad received a 14-year jail term, with the various sentences running concurrently (together), and 18 months were suspended. He was put on the sex offenders register for life.

Mr Hynes, who received an award in 2011 from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors for his work in the case, said that the State established an inquiry after into HSE management of the matter.

“Today, having completed their sentences, both parents are free to carry on with their lives,” My Hynes concluded.

“However, their children’s sentences continue, and the scars inflicted by their parents remain.” 

He added: “I hope that the intervention of An Garda Síochána and the satisfactory conclusion of this case will in some way help them to live with the memories.

“Knowing how they have moved on with their lives, I believe that some of that has been achieved.”

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