Northern Ireland

Pearse McAuley: IRA Garda killer who knifed his wife in front of their children and spent his last years in near isolation

Pearse McAuley (59) kept a low profile in his home town of Strabane following his release less than two years from his last prison sentence

Pearse McAuley and former Sinn Fein councillor Pauline Tully at their 2003 wedding
Pearse McAuley and Pauline Tully at their 2003 wedding, when he was serving a sentence for killing Detective Garda Jerry McCabe

Pearse McAuley spent the last less than two years of his life living as quietly as possible in his home town of Strabane.

The 59-year-old, whose death was reported on Monday, avoided developing a presence around the west Tyrone town since he was released from his last stint in prison in June, 2022.

McAuley could count on family members and some friends, according to local people who knew him. He was living in a flat close to the centre of the town.

However, he never made any public appearances, and certainly never attended any Sinn Fein or republican-organised events.

“Police are examining the circumstances surrounding the death of a man at a property in Abercorn Square in Strabane on Monday, 18 March,” a PSNI spokesperson said.

“At present, the death is not believed to be suspicious.”

McAuley may have been dead for a number of days before his body was found.

It was Christmas Eve, 2014, and Pearse McAuley had arrived at the home of his estranged wife, Pauline Tully, a former local councillor and now a Sinn Féin TD for Cavan-Monaghan.

Pauline Tully who survived an attempt on her life is to stand in the next Dáil election.
Pauline Tully announcing she would stand in the 2020 election as a Sinn Fein candidate in Cavan/Monaghan

The couple were legally separated since the summer following a series of assaults carried out by McAuley, including a reported attempted strangulation at a public Valentine’s Day event.

But Ms Tully, in interviews, said she believed he was dealing with a serious drinking problem in the months leading up to the day, mentioning he had even enrolled in a rehabilitation programme for a time.

On arriving at 11am in the morning, she opened the door and he immediately punched her. Then over the next four hours he inflicted 13 stab wounds with a steak knife. This was carried out at least in part in front of their two children, then aged seven and four.

As McAuley nodded off his drunkenness and Ms Tully made the decision to escape from the house. He roused and followed her and had a rock above his head ready to smash a window when help arrived and she was saved from further harm.

A judge described it happening in the presence of their children as adding an “extra dimension of brutality and horror”.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with the final four suspended, later increased to two. He served approximately seven years in Castlerea Prison.

Pearse McAuley arriving at Cavan Courhouse for sentencing for the Christmas 2014 attack on his wife Pauline Tully.
Pearse McAuley arriving at Cavan Courhouse for sentencing for the Christmas 2014 attack on his wife Pauline Tully.

McAuley’s time behind bars for the offence was unpleasant, with credible reports detailing how he was isolated and largely unliked, spending much of the time sourcing and drinking prison “hooch” and, when able, smuggling in prescription drugs.

It was far distant from his previous time in a different part of the same Castlerea Prison in Roscommon.

From around 1999, he was held in the Grove facility with Michael O’Neill, Kevin Walsh and Jeremiah Sheehy, the other killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

They lived in chalet-type accommodation, could cook their own meals and largely had freedom of movement within the perimeter fence. McAuley’s older child was born while he was still serving his sentence.

On his release in 2009, he and Walsh were driven from the prison by the then Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris.

Ms Tully, who married McAuley in 2003 while he was serving his sentence for the Garda McCabe killing, drew a distinction between the political and personal in an interview.

‘I’ve known people involved in the conflict all my life... just because they’re involved in a war situation doesn’t mean that they’re on a personal level violent,” she said.

“I’ve known many people who are not any way violent to their spouses.”

On June 7, 1996, Garda McCabe and his partner Ben O’Sullivan were on duty escorting a post office cash and mail van through the town of Adare, Co Limerick, when their unmarked car was rammed.

Ann McCabe widow of Garda Jerry McCabe who was shot dead in Adare in 1996 (PA)
Ann McCabe widow of Garda Jerry McCabe who was shot dead in Adare in 1996 (PA)

Fifteen rounds from an AK 47 were fired into the car, with Gda McCabe dying almost instantly and Detective O’Sullivan surviving despite being struck 15 times.

Widow Ann McCabe said: “In that few seconds of evil and depravity, my family and the lives of our five children changed forever.”

Despite later support from Sinn Fein, including lobbying for the early release of the four IRA inmates, the armed robbery was not believed sanctioned by the leadership of the organisation.

McAuley was officially a fugitive at the time of the Adare attack, breaking bail conditions in place as he fought extradition to Britain.

He was wanted in Britain to face charges of plotting to murder a former brewery company chairman called Sir Charles Tidbury and conspiring to cause explosions.

McAuley and Nessan Quinlivan were on remand on those charges when they made their 1991 break from Brixton Prison, an event that propelled him into the public eye and republican lore.

Convicted garda killer Pearse McAuley has been found dead at his home in Strabane, Co Tyrone
Pearse McAuley after a failed bail bid in Dublin in 1995. He was later bailed while extradition proceedings continued (Martin McCullough/PA)

Quinlivan, from Limerick and brother of now TD Maurice, and then 25-year-old McAuley were being escorted from a church service inside the prison.

McAuley produced a gun from his shoe and fired shots in the air as the pair ran towards one of the walls, which they scaled and clambered down the other side.

On the outside, they seized a passing vehicle, shooting the driver in the leg. Despite an extensive manhunt around London, the pair escaped, ultimately back to Ireland.

Both Quinlivan and McAuley were captured in 1993 and later convicted separately on gun charges by the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.

Pearse McAuley was arrested on Christmas Eve 2014 following the attack
Pearse McAuley was arrested on Christmas Eve 2014 following the attack on his wife

McAuley was sentenced to seven years. He was released after just two, immediately re-arrested on foot of the British extradition warrant, then soon released on bail.

On his release in 2009, he and Quinlivan were told there would be no charges in the UK as the Crown Prosecution Service ruled there was “no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction”.

Now dead before he turned 60, it remains to be seen whether any major figures in Sinn Fein and the wider republican movement will attend the funeral service.

This was an IRA member held in high regard by many republican sfor more than two decades, until it emerged he brutally attacked and stabbed his partner in front of their children.