A 39-year-old man has been found guilty by a jury of handling statues and other religious ornaments which were stolen from graves, including children’s graves, in Lackagh and Annaghdown four years ago.
Marian Lingurar, who used to live at the time in a rented house with his family at Loughgeorge, Claregalway, pleaded not guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week to eleven charges of handling various religious items at Loughgeorge, knowing they were stolen, on October 4, 2011.
The items mentioned in the charges included various statues of Our Lady, an angel with a harp, a white angel with candle, a white angel with frosted globe, a statue of the Sacred Heart, and an angel holding a gold cross.
The accused, who was afforded the services of a Romanian interpreter during the arraignment, replied “No” when each charge was put to him.
A jury of eight women and four men was empanelled to hear evidence in the trial which lasted three days.
Nine people gave evidence they noticed religious ornaments had been taken from the graves of their loved ones in late August and early September, 2011.
In early October, Gardaí informed the public they had recovered items and an array of religious objects were put on display in a shed at the rear of Oranmore Garda Station for people to come and claim.
All of the witnesses said they went to the Garda Station and positively identified the objects which had been taken from their loved one’s graves.
Some of the witnesses gave heart-rending evidence of how and when they noticed items had been taken off their children’s graves.
Some lovingly handled the ornaments – which were exhibits in the trial – while in the witness box and they positively identified them for the jury by pointing out certain characteristics which set their ornaments apart from the others.
Other witnesses gave evidence of statues being “yanked” out of grotto’s erected by local communities in Oranmore and Kiltrogue.
One woman said a statue erected as part of a headstone on her parent’s grave cost €650 to replace as it had to be ordered from Spain.
The woman said she identified the statue of Our Lady with the Infant Child at Oranmore Garda Station.
It had been taken by force, she said, from her parents’ headstone in Lackagh New Cemetery, and she did not want it back.
“I helped my mother choose the headstone with the gold statue of Our Lady for my father’s grave. It cost a lot of money. She was subsequently buried there herself.
“Even after it was found, I didn’t want the statue back. As far as I was concerned, it was tainted.
“Someone had walked across my parents’ grave and stolen it. It was made from a marble resin with gold paint. It was very well glued into the headstone, and it would have taken some effort to take it from the grotto,” the woman said.
Sgt. John Moloney gave evidence he and other Gardaí searched Lingurar’s house after obtaining a search warrant early on the morning of October 5, 2011.
For legal reasons, the jury was not told during the trial that Gardaí had, in fact, gone to the house with a search warrant as part of an investigation into the killing of the late John Kenny from Oughterard, who was found dead in his pub on September 25, 2011.
To their surprise, they were confronted with a large array of ornaments stolen from the graves a month earlier when they entered Lingurar’s house.
Numerous religious ornaments were openly displayed on shelves and tables and around the TV in the living area of the house.
Sgt. Moloney said he got a shock to see so many religious ornaments and he felt it strange as he would normally associate such items with graveyards.
Lingurar told Gardaí he and his wife had bought the items from Claregalway and Clara flea markets. He said they enjoyed buying such items and he would never steal items like that.
Sgt. Moloney said he had visited Claregalway market on a number of occasions and no such items were ever on sale there.
Detective Sergeant Adrian O’Neill said he arrested Lingurar at the house at 7.24am that morning and he was later interviewed at Galway Garda Station.
Lingurar, he said, told him he and his wife bought the statues at Claregalway and Clara flea markets and that they had been buying religious objects like this since 2006.
He denied stealing any of the items and said “I do not like to steal things like this.”
He said his wife, Crisa Rostas, was in the trade of statuettes.
Lingurar gave evidence he had been in Ireland since 2002 and he and his wife had bought the religious ornaments as it was the tradition of Romany gypsies to keep religious items on display in their homes.
He said they started buying items from both flea markets in 2006 and kept adding to their collection year on year. He was not aware, he said, that any of the items were stolen.
During cross-examination by prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy, Lingurar pointed to photographs of several ornaments and claimed to have bought them between 2006 and 2010.
Mr Fahy said that could not be true as the items had only been reported missing in August and September 2011.
Lingurar told the jury he had paid for the items from money earned working as a security guard in a new building situated adjacent to Galway Garda Station and from social welfare payments.
Following legal argument in the absence of the jury, Judge Rory McCabe directed the jury on their return to enter “not guilty” verdicts on three of the charges, due to insufficient evidence.
The jury took just under two hours to find Lingurar guilty on the remaining eight charges.
Defence barrister, Gary McDonald asked for sentence to be adjourned so he could obtain a prison governor’s report on his client.
Judge McCabe directed the preparation of the report and adjourned sentence to next Friday, November 27.
Lingurar is currently serving a four-year sentence imposed on him last April for withholding evidence during a Garda investigation into the death of the late John Kenny.
Coffins have to brought by tractor over flooded North Galway road
Annual flooding on a stretch of road in North Galway requires the necessity for a tractor and trailer to bring the remains of a deceased person from the area to the local cemetery.
This was the claim at a local area meeting when it was demanded that Galway County Council carry out flood relief works on the road near Glenamaddy which is left under several feet of water every winter.
It resulted in Cllr Peter Keaveney tabling a motion at the Ballinasloe Municipal Council meeting that essential drainage works take place along the Roscommon road out of the town now that water levels are low. He wants this carried out within the next two weeks.
During one of the worst winters in recent years, the road was closed for three months and the Fine Gael councillor and agricultural contractor said that he pulled around 20 cars out of the flooded stretch when motorists decided to take the chance of driving through it.
Even in drought conditions, the levels remain incredibly high and this is mainly down to a local turlough that retains water throughout the year.
While he said that Galway County Council officials were extremely helpful, the problem lay with the Office of Public Works who would not allow drainage works as the road is situated in a Special Area of Conservation.
Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell informed the meeting that Galway County Council are in a position to carry out some works but there are certain areas that only the Office of Public Works can drain.
Mr Mitchell said that the best way forward was a co-ordinated approach involving the County Council and the OPW while accepting that there was a major problem with flooding along this road.
In response, Cllr Keaveney said that this was a very acceptable move and added that a joint approach to the flooding in Glenamaddy was required at this stage and particularly with the winter approaching.
Williamstown’s Cllr Declan Geraghty said that residents were living in hell as some of them saw their houses destroyed by rising flood waters near Glenamaddy.
“There are even deceased people being brought by tractor and trailer to be buried which is an absolute disgrace. There is an opportunity to do this now or otherwise we are looking at flooding for the next 10 years.
“People have put everything into their homes only to see them destroyed when it comes to prolonged heavy rainfall.
“There is a solution to this problem and environmental issues should not take precedence,” he added.
The Independent councillor said that raising the level of the road, which leads to Creggs and onto Roscommon, was not the answer to the problem because the levels were so high.
Galway County Council have carried out several surveys of the area around the flooded road and officials told previous meetings that, subject to approval from the OPW, there was an engineering solution possible.
(Photo Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) and Cllr Peter Keaveney (FG) at the Creggs road out of Glenamaddy where flooding occurs on an annual basis.)
New fire station for Athenry gets stamp of approval
Councillors have given their stamp of approval to a new fire station for Athenry – voting unanimously to grant planning for the development at Ballygarraun South.
The site of just under two acres, located between the new Presentation College and the railway line, will house a station as well as a training tower and parking.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Duffy told a meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District this week that they hoped to have a contractor appointed by the end of October, with works to get underway soon afterwards.
“We have worked very hard to get this project to a tangible position and it’s great that the ‘Part 8’ planning application [one which requires a vote by councillors] has been adopted today,” said Mr Duffy.
“This will hopefully get underway this year and we can move on to other stations [in the county], with another one planned for next year and another the year after,” he added.
The plans include the construction of a 361 square metre fire station with finishing materials common to the area which ‘will link the development on the site to the context overall’.
Permission has been granted from the IDA, which owns the site, for Galway County Council to proceed with the development on their lands.
The meeting heard that consideration had been given to the sightlines for exiting fire trucks and that amendments had been made to the original plans to ensure they were adequate.
Local area councillor Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) said the progression of a new fire station for the town was hugely welcome, adding that it had been years in the making.
“We have to give huge credit to Paul Duffy who pursued this. Athenry is one of the busiest stations in the county. We secured an extension for the existing station six years ago and when the Department was granting that, they could see that, from the amount of calls it was getting, that a new station was justified,” said Cllr Cronnelly.
Cllr Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF) said she was ‘delighted’ that the area’s representatives had given the proposal their unanimous backing.
Teen arrested over €45,000 cocaine seizure
Gardaí have seized €45,000 of what they believe to be cocaine in Ballinasloe.
Gardaí attached to Ballinasloe Garda Station conducted an intelligence-led operation in the Dunlo Harbour area of the town yesterday.
During the course of this operation a quantity of suspected cocaine, estimated to be worth €45,000, concealed on derelict grounds was seized.
A male in his mid-teens was arrested at the scene and detained at Ballinasloe Garda Station on Sunday.
He has since been released with a file being prepared for the Garda Youth Diversion Office.
The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks, at all levels.