The machinery shed on the O’Neill family farm on the outskirts of Clonbullogue after a devastating fire last November.

Appeal over arson attack on local farm

A devastating fire on a family farm in Clonbullogue last November was featured on RTE’s Crimecall programme this week, with Gardai issuing a fresh appeal for anyone with information to come forward.

The fire broke out on the family farm of Eugene and Lorraine O’Neill on the outskirts of Clonbullogue in the early hours of Saturday morning, November 27 last and caused between €400,000 - €500,000 worth of damage to buildings and equipment, including the destruction of the automatic milking robot which put an end to the family’s plans to expand their dairy enterprise.

A subsequent Garda investigation found that the farm machinery had been “individually packed with straw” and set alight. Despite the fact that the O’Neill farm was extensively covered by CCTV, Gardai found that the cable to the cameras had been cut shortly before 5am on the morning of the fire and the hard drive for the camera was also taken and has not yet been recovered.

Both Eugene O’Neill and his wife, Lorraine, were interviewed by the Crimecall team and recalled the horrific events that unfolded on their farm on the night of the huge fire, with Lorraine O’Neill recalling the intensity of the flames and the desperate scramble as family members entered burning shed to rescue animals and equipment.

“There was just a huge big orange ball of flame, it was really, really windy and it was blowing the fire towards us and towards the house, it was horrific and the fear, and then to realise somebody’s after doing this, there are people out there that know the people who did this,” she said.

Eugene O’Neill said his “biggest worry” is that the people who carried out the arson attack on his farm will “come back and do it again” and he stressed the importance of anyone with information to come forward.

Speaking on the Crimecall programme, Detective Supt David Scahill described the fire as "a life-changing moment" for the O'Neill family and for their farm business, and he appealed to people in the local community to come forward with any information they may have around the time of the fire, or in the days and weeks leading up to it.

Gardai believe the fire was started sometime between 4am and 7am on the morning of November 21 last, and Detective Supt Scahill said if anyone in the community saw or heard anything suspicious, no matter how insignificant they may feel it is, they should come forward with that information.

The fire was a targeted act on the O'Neill family, officers believe, and when asked on the Crimecall programme as to what the motive for the fire was, or why would the O'Neill family be targeted in this way, Detective Supt Scahill replied that Gardai are "very much keeping an open mind" on this aspect of their investigation.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact Tullamore Garda Station at 057 93 27600 or the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda Station.