Frank and Mary Duane are a typical hard-working country couple. Both quietly spoken, they opened a small shop in the 1940s beside their home in Kiltullagh. A lifetime of hard graft has resulted in the building of a successful shop, post-office, filling station, and hardware business which is now operated by their two sons Anthony and Sean. The couple are 'semi retired' but like all businesspeople, it is in their blood and they still take an active role in day-to-day proceedings.
The Duanes are unfortunately all too familiar with the scourge of rural crime. One night a little over 18 months ago Frank and Mary's lives changed forever. Feburary 20, 2014 is a date that unfortunately remains etched in their minds and indeed nightmares. It all started as a routine evening in their home, which is adjacent to the business premises. At 10.40pm Frank went to let the dog out for a little run around before bed. What he met at the door is something that nobody should ever have to witness in their lifetime. Three heavily armed raiders burst in upon the elderly couple and subjected them to an extremely violent attack.
Frank details the frightening scene. "Three guys in balaclavas jumped on us. All you could see was their eyes. They had a double barrelled gun, sledges, crowbars, slash-hooks, and were roaring and shouting looking for my gun. One of them was jumping around the kitchen swinging a hammer. They were there for an hour in total with us, it is an awful long time.''
Mary takes up the story. "They were very violent and abusive. It was hard to even tell where they were from, they kept putting on different accents. They brought me out to the post office and kept Frank in the house. I turned off the alarm to gain entry. Our son Anthony, who lives over the road, always gets a text when the alarm is turned off, so he rang me to see was everything OK and when I didn't answer he said he had better come over to check on us. He walked in on top of them.''
Anthony Duane bravely tried to challenge the raiders but was obviously outnumbered and without a weapon. The thugs pushed Mary and Frank into the sitting room and gave their son a severe beating using a nailbar and a hammer. Frank tried to get out to assist his son and was pushed back - one of the raiders then smashed the window pane of the glass door to point a gun into the sitting-room as a warning to stay back. The three cowardly thugs gave Anthony a severe beating - he was black and blue all over his body and was forced to get 13 staples on his head and stitches on his arm.
One cannot even begin to imagine how distressing this type of experience would be. The raid has understandably had a huge effect on the couple's day-to-day lives. Mary says she found it extremely difficult to sleep for months after. "When I would get to sleep I was constantly seeing balaclavas."
Along with the loss of the stolen cash, the pair have been forced to spend €40,000 upping security in the business, in their home, and their two sons' homes. They have installed security doors, high tech cameras, and alarms, as well as hiring on-site security.
The Duanes are sadly resigned to the the possibility of a return visit. This is just the way things are now - their new surreal reality. However they have done everything within their power to deter potential thieves. Mary says she would find it very hard to relax without the added security measures. "It has totally changed things, we have a number of cameras in the house now which is not ideal but that is the way it has to be. We have a monitor so we can keep an eye on the front door and I would not be comfortable without it. All doors and windows are constantly locked, and we have a number of panic buttons aswell."
Before the armed raid in the house, the business next door had already been targeted by robbers on three occasions. Nobody has ever been charged following any of these incidents. Are they angry about this or resigned to the fact that they may never get justice? Mary believes the gardai are as vulnerable as anybody else as they have no weapons. "If a guard on his own walked in on top of them, what could he do if he's not armed either. I think the Army is needed to deal with these kind of people."
The couple's daughter-in-law Laura, who is married to their son Anthony, says they go through a number of emotions. "You would be angry, it is frustrating to be working hard here every day and that people can come along and do this and get away with it. After the last raid when Anthony was so badly laid up, what was driving him mad was that they were out there living it up with the stolen cash and he could not even move. Mary, Frank, Anthony and Sean have worked so, so hard all their lives to build up the business. All our lives have changed because of what has happened. They didn't deserve this. Nobody does."
The impression the Duanes were given from the Gardai was that a Dublin based gang was behind the raid. It is fair to say the proximity of Kiltullagh to the motorway has been a factor in these robberies. It is imperative upon the Gardai that their presence in rural communities increases. There is a need for more visibility and for further patrols and checkpoints in rural areas and on our motorway network, to try and deter these travelling gangs. The situation has spiralled out of control, and whatever can be done must be done. It is the right of every person living in this country to feel safe within their home.
Gardai later informed the family that the so-called ringleader of this gang was caught for another crime. But detectives working on their case did not think this man was one of the three who was in Kiltullagh that night. Laura Duane says that information was of cold comfort to the family. "Hearing that was no good to us really because he wasn't one of the three who attacked Mary, Frank, and Anthony. Those guys are still out there and still got away with it. Telling us the ringleader was caught made no difference to be honest.''
The final word is left to the matriarch of the family. Despite the quiet exterior, you feel that somewhere deep inside Mary Duane is a fierce reserve of strength. "We have done everything possible to make our home and business more secure. There is not much more we can do apart from move out and we're not going to do that. You can't lie down and let them beat you. They are winning if you do that."