Devoted mum | 

Bluebell gun victim Sinead Connolly's only thought was for her daughter during attack

"He was focused on me. When I saw his face I knew he was going to kill me. I was hit three times so I knew I was going to die."

Victim Sinead Connolly pictured leaving the Central Criminal Court in Dublin

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Brave mum Sinead Connolly who was shot three times in a horror gun attack last year has revealed how her only thought was for her eight-year-old daughter.

Speaking for the first time since she was targeted by evil neighbour Dean McCarthy, Sinead (34) recalled how, in a bid to protect her daughter, Leah, she tried to distract him after he burst into her Dublin home and opened fire.

Following a sentencing hearing for McCarthy in the Central Criminal Court, Sinead who is now wheelchair-bound having been left permanently paralysed in the attempted murder, told how she believed she was about to die.

In an exclusive interview, Sinead told Sunday World: "I looked into his eyes and I just seen (sic) this dead look. Dean came straight over to me, he didn't even flinch.

"He was focused on me. When I saw his face I knew he was going to kill me. I was hit three times so I knew I was going to die."

Thug: Dean McCarthy

Despite the horrific violence of the shooting, Sinead's only thought was for her daughter Leah, who was hiding under a table in the kitchen.

"I wasn't thinking of anything else other than my daughter," Sinead added. "I could feel myself already fading. But the adrenaline kicked in. The door was right there and behind that door was my daughter.

"All I knew was that I needed to get Dean back onto me and away from her. I got some strength to try and reach for the phone or the remote control that was on the couch beside me, to throw it at him, to distract him so he wouldn't go after Leah.

Gardaí at the Bernard Curtis House apartments in Bluebell, Dublin after the shooting

"But then, and I know this sounds crazy, but I felt some peace. All my grannies and granddads have passed away but I felt one of them there beside me and I felt calm."

Sinead was recalling the moment when she stared death in the face as McCarthy pumped three bullets into her at point blank range.

McCarthy (33), with an address at Bernard Curtis House, Bluebell Road, Dublin 12, appeared in the Central Criminal Court on Thursday for his sentence hearing, having pleaded guilty last January to her attempted murder on March 6, 2021.

The court heard that in the lead-up to the shooting, McCarthy - a man Sinead had known since childhood - had subjected her to a campaign of abuse where he regularly called her a "whore" and had grabbed her by the throat and spat in her face. McCarthy also told her he was going to "leave her in a body bag".

The sentence hearing was told McCarthy "burst into" Sinead's home with a gun and repeatedly shot her while her daughter hid under the kitchen table.

The sentencing also heard that McCarthy was accidentally shot and seriously injured when receiving the firearm he tried to murder Sinead with.

Leah escaped unharmed from the shooting, as McCarthy fled the flat. But the effects on Sinead, her daughter Leah and the wider Connolly family were outlined in the powerful victim impact statement that Sinead read out to the court.

Sinead Connolly is visited in hospital by her daughter in a photo shown in court as she gave her victim impact statement

With her sister Orla rubbing her back, Sinead was wheeled to the stand, where she took out a picture of herself and Leah taken when she finally woke up in hospital after the shooting and showed it to the court.

As she held up the picture one of Sinead's supporters shouted at McCarthy in the dock: "Are you looking at that there?" as he bowed his head.

Sinead told the Sunday World after the hearing that seeing McCarthy for the first time since the shooting had raised great anger in her.

"I was a bit taken aback at first," she said. "There he was, sitting right beside me for the first time since that day. Obviously, I was angry because he could have killed my child.

"But I look at that photograph (that I held up) and I think that's the way I was last year. I wasn't able to eat, I wasn't able to speak, I wasn't able to drink, I wasn't able to walk, I was barely able to move. I wasn't able to pick up a pen, sign my name. I wasn't able to do anything like that.

"So looking at that photograph and I compare it to how I am now. I had to force myself to get better, to recover, as much as possible, for Leah.

"And I also thought, at least I'm getting an opportunity now to have my say. I found strength to speak out for Leah and for any woman that has been intimidated or bullied.

Sinead Connolly before the shooting

"I was thinking of all the other women who have died in violent circumstances and never had the chance to be heard. When I was up there I felt like I was speaking for those women that have been murdered because, basically that's what he tried to do to me."

CCTV footage of four masked men outside McCarthy's flat moments before the shooting was shown to the court. One man can be seen holding up his fingers "like a pistol or a gun sign", the court heard.

Defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC read a letter of apology to the court on behalf of his client, saying: "Things got out of hand quickly and although four masked men tried to force entry to my home that morning to bring me harm, you did not deserve to be hurt like that. I sincerely hope you and your daughter fully recover and I wish you both the very best".

When asked about his apology, Sinead said: "I wouldn't be taking any of that because the way he looked me, the way he looked straight at me, it was like, 'I'm going to effing kill you. You're dead now'.

"In court it was made out almost like it was an accident; that he didn't mean it. But because of the intimidation and the bullying that was going on for so long, I knew he meant me harm. He had said to me about five to six times that he was going to leave me in a body bag.

"And he had said it to me again just a week or so before the shooting, so as far as I'm concerned, he wanted to kill me."

Asked about the four "masked men" who had gone to McCarthy's door in the lead up to the shooting, Sinead said: "It wasn't like that at all. They knocked in, just to have a talk and say, 'Look it, will you leave her alone'.

"Because as I said, it had been going on so long. The last time I seen Dean he had smacked a shopping bag across my legs when I was washing the window. He went straight to his hall door, turned around and was like, 'see you, you f***in' tramp, I'm gonna leave you in a body bag'."

Little Leah, who witnessed the shooting of her mum Sinead

Mr Justice Paul McDermott remanded McCarthy in custody until April 26, when he will be sentenced.

For Sinead, her hope is that when she recovers, she can become an advocate for women who have been the victims of violence.

"In the future, when I can, I'd like to be there for other women. I'd like to be somebody they could turn to if they didn't want to go to the guards. I want to be a voice for those women. As well as Leah, that's what I want to focus on."

Sinead also wanted to thank everyone who has donated to a GoFundMe appeal that was set up to raise funds so she can set up a new life for herself and Leah.

"I also want to thank those people who have written to me, including one woman whose name is Kate, who has been following my story and who sends these lovely letters and gifts. It really means a lot to me."

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