Day Ian Bailey rang to offer coverage of Sophie’s murder

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

It was Christmas Day 1996 and a skeleton staff was looking after affairs of news and sport in the old Terenure offices of the Irish Daily Star. In truth, there wasn’t much expectation of big news beyond the Pope’s Christmas blessing, a GOAL Mile, perhaps a car crash or two, and – most importantly for tabloid readers – the racing cards for Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day.

The deal was that half the staff worked Christmas Day and the other half covered New Year’s Day – and so the grinches were first up.

Management had kindly laid on a crate or two and that, combined with the relative peace of a quiet newsroom, was incentive enough for a few of us to offer ourselves for work on December 25.

I was sitting at the news desk when the phone rang. It was a local correspondent we’d occasionally used in West Cork; he called himself Eoin Bailey and he was offering to cover a brutal murder that was just coming to national attention.

A French visitor to West Cork, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, had been found bludgeoned to death at the bottom of an isolated lane leading to her remote holiday home near beautiful Goleen.

Bailey’s previous pieces could be best described as idiosyncratic, or at least quirky, but then that was bread and butter to the Star. He seemed like a bit of craic, but this was uncharted waters.

So we took his version of events but made our own calls as well – and then, on what is normally the year’s quietest news day, we had a big story and massive photograph of the scene for our St Stephen’s Day front page.

Bailey kept in touch which didn’t send up any strange signals because any half-decent freelancer would try to hold onto their story. And over the next few days and weeks, he provided almost daily copy exclusively for the Star, as well as summarising the week’s events for the Sunday Tribune.

Through casual conversation, I discovered he’d been a reporter for a news agency in Gloucester but had moved for reasons unknown to West Cork. That said, he wasn’t the first one to make that journey to lose – and maybe find – themselves in that part of the world.

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