THE murder of Jonathan O’Reilly by Brian Kenny and Thomas Hinchon outside Cloverhill Prison in 2004 was the turning point for Joey ‘The Lips’ O’Callaghan. The terrifying events that followed would change his life for good and turn him into The Witness.
was barely able to press the buttons on the remote control as I desperately looked for news of the shooting.
The smell of the smack and petrol was making me feel nauseous, my knees were buckling and my hands were shaking like crazy.
In the kitchen there was pandemonium. “What if he isn’t fuckin’ dead?” I heard Brian shout. “We’re absolutely fucked,” replied Hinchon. From Brian’s bedroom I could hear them pacing, sucking and sniffing.
They were getting very agitated and repeatedly trying to ring “Robbie” and “Richie”. The headlines were confusing. There had been a shooting outside Cloverhill Prison.
Someone was injured. Later it said on teletext on another channel that, “A man has died after being shot…”
“He’s after dyin’,” I shouted into the kitchen. There were whoops and shouts of jubilation. My stomach lurched and it was all I could do to swallow the vomit in my mouth.
The next few hours are still frames in my memory as if I was watching on from a distance: the chinking glasses, the lines of coke, the high fives.
“He was a big fella,” Brian kept repeating.
“He jumped around as I pumped him.”
He’d make his body wobble like a fish and Hinchon would collapse into laughter.
“This is my playground now, Kenny… All mine, ha, ha, ha, ha.”
I tried to stay quiet, to disappear into the ground but every so often they’d look over and turn their attention to me.
“I’ve done it once. I’ve no problem doing it again, The Lips. I’ll do yer family too.”
My head raced. Brian had done some bad things but murdering another human being was so far outside my moral code that I couldn’t even process it.
Through their drug haze they noticed my distress.
“Sit down there, The Lips,” Brian said. His eyes were wild.
“Me and Thomas trust you. You know we do. I know you won’t say anything because… Well you know that I would happily blow your fuckin’ head off, don’t you?”
I could smell the whiskey on his breath and see the track marks up his arms.
They both smiled; Hinchon then slammed his fist down on the table and told me that if I ever breathed a word he wouldn’t rest until me, my family and my baby daughter were all in their graves.
I nodded and heard myself promise them that I would never open my mouth.
The reality of what I had done only hit me as we stepped out into the yard. It was early in the morning but it was May, and I blinked in the morning sun.
Around 30 armed gardai were gearing up for the raid. There were vans, battering rams, dogs, officers in body armour and specialist emergency response vehicles.
It was surreal. Before Toddy gave the order to head to Mitchelstown he informed the troops that he had information there were guns in the house and he told them where they were stored. I lowered my eyes. Nobody likes a rat.
As we drove up to the house I could see van loads of officers surrounding Mitchelstown Cottage…..
Outside reinforcements had been brought in to search the fields. It was raining that morning and I was soaked through but I had a lot to show them.
I think many of them felt I was leading them on a merry dance and some of them commented loud enough for me to hear that I was just a “scrote”.
I showed them first where I had left the gun under a tuft of grass. They surrounded it and placed tape around it. One officer photographed it.
I could hear all the phones going and there was a sense of excitement.
“We’ve got the gun,” they were telling their colleagues. The ones who had made the nasty comments about me were on their mobiles too.
I wondered whether their opinion of me changed. We walked back around the top field where I showed them where I’d buried the money, the smack and the coke.
Each time they hauled up another black bag full of cash or drugs they marked it, photographed it and then filed it as evidence.
We walked for hours while I pointed out the flasks and the containers hidden in the ditches, in the hedgerows and in the makeshift graves I had dug.
I directed them to the gateposts where I had stored smack in the Rubik cubes.
By the time we were finished I had handed up around €200,000 of Brian Kenny’s cash and probably the same amount again in smack and coke.
I showed them the stolen boat and the jet skis and anything else I could think of that he had stashed away.
Cold, wet, hungry and exhausted, Toddy and his men bundled me back into a car and made for Ballymun and Ma’s house.
I didn’t even realise I was going home until I got there. I had no idea I was saying goodbye. As we pulled up people seemed to come out on the street from everywhere.
Niamh met me at the door, tears streaming down her face. She embraced me and rocked me from side to side.
She’d packed me a bag with some clothes and toiletries. Ma hugged me and pushed some money into my hand.
“You’ll need a few bob, Joseph. We love you.”
As I walked back out to the cop car I remember Ma roaring at all the spectators and telling them to mind their own “fuckin’” business.
I almost laughed as it was so strange to hear Ma curse. At the end of the road, standing around the van where the women bought their groceries, some of my friends stood and watched me pass.
Familiar faces faded into the distance but I knew that soon they’d all know what I did, that I had broken an unwritten code, an omertà.
The Witness by Nicola Tallant is now available at Easons and all good bookstores.