NewsCrime Desk

Drug-fuelled New Year's party ended in fatal row between brothers

Ailbe Lonergan
Ailbe Lonergan

"THE BASTARD stabbed me. My own brother stabbed me,” Michael ‘Drip’ Lonergan said in a shocked voice as he fell bleeding on the floor of his home.

Minutes earlier, he had been viciously stabbed through the heart with one of his own kitchen knives by his brother, Ailbe.

Michael would be rushed to hospital but died around three-and-a-half hours later at 10.30pm – just as the rest of the country prepared to ring in the New Year in 2007.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of American tourists flock to Co. Kerry for its scenic views and its picturesque, traditional rural towns and villages.

But unknown to most visitors, there is another side to Co. Kerry and the county has also suffered from the modern curse of drug addiction, violence and criminality.

By the time Michael was stabbed to death, the increasingly out-of-control party in his home had been going on for 48 hours, fuelled by heavy drug and alcohol use.

Michael (34) had been living with his wife, Yvonne, and their five kids in the Balloonagh Estate in Tralee for almost a year and a half at the time of his death.

He was known to gardaí for his involvement in drugs. However, he was also well-liked by the local community and was not regarded as either dangerous or violent.

At the time of his death, he was facing charges arising from the seizure of €9,600 worth of amphetamines and cocaine and the court was told he had a cocaine dependency.

Since Christmas Day, people had been drifting in and out of Michael’s home and a full-on party had kicked off early on December 30.

Lines of cocaine were available and people had also been drinking heavily and smoking cannabis.

However, some time on New Year’s Eve, Michael’s brother, Ailbe (31), had started to get “out of hand” and had become aggressive with some of the guests.

In court, witness Emmet Coffey said Michael Lonergan had asked Ailbe to stop being abusive to other people in the house, or else to leave.

Ailbe had refused and the brothers became involved in a shoving match.

Michael then took an ornamental sword off the wall and issued drunken threats before it was taken off him and put back on the wall.

As the night wore on, both brothers became increasingly drunk and Michael started taking cocaine and became increasingly agitated at his brother’s aggressive attitude towards his guests.

At around 7pm, he confronted Ailbe again and tried to push him towards the front door.

Another fight then broke out between the brothers in the driveway of the house. However, Michael had no way of knowing his brother had taken a knife from the kitchen and was armed.

In court, Louise O’Brien – the only witness to the murder – described how she saw the brothers fighting and throwing “three or four digs” at each other.

She also told the court she saw Ailbe throw a knife away.

She then saw Michael holding his hand to his side, which was covered in blood. There was also a lot of blood on Michael’s T-shirt.

Ms O’Brien said she heard Michael say to Emmet Coffey: “Ailbe stabbed me. The bastard stabbed me. My own brother stabbed me.”

Emmet Coffey also described how he knew Michael had been seriously injured when he saw him lying on the ground.

He said the colour had gone from his lips and they got towels to try to stop the bleeding.

“He [Michael] said to me Ailbe had stabbed him,” said Mr Coffey.

In evidence, Yvonne Lonergan said when she asked her husband what had happened, he told her it was alright and not to be upset.

She said he told her, “we’ll get that c*** when I get out”, and assumed he was referring to Ailbe.

Michael was rushed to Tralee General Hospital where a team of doctors began emergency surgery in an attempt to save his life.

Doctors worked on him for a few hours, but at 10.30pm his heart stopped pumping and he was declared dead.

Both Michael’s widow and his family read out separate victim impact statements in court.

His widow Yvonne said no words could explain the loss that she and her children, aged from five to 15, felt over Michael’s “unfair and cruel death”.

“It devastated me and it has left a huge hole in all his children’s lives, who he loved greatly,” she said.

“He was a devoted husband and father, and, to those who truly knew him, he was a friend second to none. He would go out of his way to help those less fortunate than himself.”

In a second impact statement on behalf of the parents and siblings of Michael Lonergan, his sister Susan Curran said their grief could never be put into words.

The family were now facing the first anniversary of Michael’s death, in which they would have to relive the nightmare and the pain of losing him.

“As a family, we are still trying to come to terms with this tragedy, but no amount of anger, hate or bitterness can bring Michael back to us.

“To see our brother Ailbe in this unfortunate position breaks our hearts also. Also, remember his daughter, Shania, is deprived of her father’s presence.”

The family hoped that time would allow them to forgive, so that their individual lives could move forward.

As this case concluded, there was “only heartbreak” Ms Curran said, thanking the hospital and gardaí “from the depths of our broken hearts”.

Following his conviction, Ailbe was in trouble again after he was involved in an incident behind bars in Mountjoy.

In February 2011, it was reported that he was placed in isolation in Limerick Prison after he allegedly ambushed and attacked three prison staff.

Staff claimed he set fire to the mattress in his cell in the D1 wing of the prison.

It is alleged he then lay in wait for prison warders who rushed to the cell to put out the fire and attacked them with an improvised knife understood to have been made using shards of glass from a broken TV screen.

Two of the warders were hospitalised with cuts to their faces and upper bodies. A third warder was attacked but was uninjured as he was wearing protective clothing.