Vile heroin-hotel was once venue for showbands and weddings
From the outside, the elegant Georgian hotel in the heart of Clonmel is the picture of old-world charm – but behind the walls of the derelict building lies the tragic hallmarks of the town’s hidden heroin addiction.
Pretty hanging baskets adorn the once-listed Clonmel Arms Hotel, but shocking pictures taken by the Sunday World show how it has turned into a squalid drug den, littered with used needles and mountains of rubbish.
Showbands drew huge crowds to the hotel back in the ’50s and ’60s – now it is strewn with mounds of Linden Village cans, drug paraphernalia and even human faeces.
A picture of the late Christopher Channon is taped to a window of the disused Tipperary hotel – the only indication the tragic addict died from a heroin overdose in one of the second-floor bedrooms on May 3.
His sister Annemarie brushed away tears this week after she picked her way through the crumbling building to revisit the room where her 43-year-old brother spent his final hours in the grip of the drug which had destroyed his life.
Annemarie visits where he brother died
“It was his dream to get clean,” she says sadly, looking around the derelict room he had tried to make homely and which still houses his belongings.
“All he wanted was to get off drugs, fix himself up and be a part of his daughter’s life.”
Chunks of plaster and pieces of the ceiling litter the entrance to the two second-floor rooms which Christopher and his friend Simon occupied for a year, on and off. A bedroom further down the corridor is piled high with pharmacy-supplied citric acid and sterile water, along with sterile single-use spoons for mixing heroin.
In stark contrast, a few doors down is Christopher’s remarkably neat room, with his clothes still in the closet and his gym gear hung neatly on the towel rail in the clean bathroom.
A row of toiletries and tubes of toothpaste are lined up on the dressing table next to a book titled The Healing Journey Through Addiction and a form for gym membership.
A silver angel stuck to the wall looks down over the single bed, along with a blue sign reading ‘Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining’, while half-burned incense sticks to mask the musky smell in the room are another poignant homely touch.
All are heartbreaking signs that the Tipperary father was desperately hoping to break free of the heroin which left him at rock bottom.
“I had to help him from a distance. I couldn’t let him into my house with the family, but I used to meet him for coffee in McDonald’s most mornings. He was here for about a year,” says Annemarie.
“I have his rosary beads. I got them for his daughter. He was trying, but he got no help.”
Even though her brother was a heroin addict, he was too squeamish to inject himself.
“Who injected him? Who was with him that night,” she asks.
A few months before he died he had been arrested for shoplifting toiletries and had begged the judge to lock him up so he could get off drugs.
But just a day or two after coming out of prison – after serving his three-month sentence – he had been tracked down by local drug dealers and was back injecting heroin. Two weeks later he was found dead in his room in the Clonmel Arms Hotel.
“He was on and off it for four years. When he got out of prison he wanted to get into a treatment centre. He rang everywhere. No-one would take him,” says his sister.
They had grown up with five other siblings at their father Ted’s forge in the town, but Christopher had been plagued with learning difficulties and mental health issues since childhood.
Tragically, when her brother died Annemarie was already dealing with the grief of losing her 25-year-old daughter, Amy, in December, 2014, from an overdose of a cocktail of prescription drugs.
Four days before Christopher died on May 3, Anne-Marie had a heated conversation with him after discovering he had gone back on drugs.
“He was meant to meet me that morning to make a call about rehab, and I found out he was back on the gear. I told him to lose my number and it was the last conversation I had with him.
“His friend Simon told me on Monday that he hadn’t seen him since Saturday. We called the police and they found him.
“I go over and over our last conversation, but his death was nearly a relief. He was in hell. I knew he hadn’t long to live the way he was going. He’s not in pain anymore.”
Annemarie was horrified this week by the condition of the hotel where her brother had spent his final days, even though he had kept his own room remarkably clean.
“Someone is going to get a needle stick injury there or worse. They could fall down that staircase and there would be another body down there.
“I’m disgusted. I’m totally and utterly shocked and devastated. It should be condemned.”
She says her homeless brother had endured regular beatings from dealers over unpaid debts.
“They beat him to within an inch of his life,” she says.
And she sees it continuing today in the town, with young addicts lured into drug use and then viciously beaten for failing to pay debts.
A young girl, ‘Pauline’ – a close friend to both Annemarie’s daughter Amy and Christopher – accompanied the grieving Tipperary woman on her visit to the hotel.
Last year, while Christopher was sleeping in the hotel, the 28-year-old mum-of-four was staying in a tent while heavily pregnant.
Her six-month-old baby girl was taken into care by family members – along with her three older children – soon after the child was born.
Now, the toll of 15 years of drug use has left her feeling she has nothing to live for.
“I keep feeling there is no help. There is no other way other than ending my life. My body is destroyed. I’ve tried to kill myself about 15 times,” she tells us.
“I was found hanging this Christmas. It was actually the fella who I was buying drugs off (who) found me. It was Christmas day.”
She said her life fell apart three years ago when she was 24, when she lost two babies within a year.
“My baby was stillborn and then my other daughter lived for a day and died. It was too much. I went mad and my kids were taken off me because of addiction.
“I’m on drink and prescription medication. Sometimes I take 30 to 40 pills a day. I went off them last week and I had seizures and ended in hospital.”
She has also endured beatings after failing to pay a drug debt.
“I had my front door kicked in by three men. I had a sweeping brush broken off me and a crowbar hit straight across my back. I was told it would be worse the next time.”
Drugs have claimed the lives of a tragic list of young people in Clonmel in recent years, along with leaving dozens of addicted mothers and fathers without their kids who have been taken into care by social services.
Annemarie helped her daughter’s friend to move into a cottage with a rent of €100 a week in recent days.
“I genuinely want help. I don’t want to be living like this,” says Pauline, who didn’t want to be identified to protect her children.
“I can’t do it on my own. I want treatment. I want to get my kids back and my life back on track, but I can’t get my kids back until I get myself back.”