Catherine Gowing: The Offaly vet who never returned home

Friday 01 March 2013 11.33
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Catherine Gowing had dreamed of returning to her parent's farm to set up a practice
Catherine Gowing had dreamed of returning to her parent's farm to set up a practice
She loved to travel - this picture shows her on a visit to Italy
She loved to travel - this picture shows her on a visit to Italy
While she enjoyed visiting other places, it was always her dream to come home to Offaly eventually
While she enjoyed visiting other places, it was always her dream to come home to Offaly eventually

RTÉ's Midlands Correspondent Ciaran Mullooly reports from Mold, Flintshire in north Wales.

It was Catherine Gowing's dream to return to her father's farm at Clareen and set up a veterinary practice there. She spoke about it many times.

Her father John and mother Maureen, a former school teacher, remained on the farm after their retirement, carried on the farm enterprise and lovingly looked forward to the day of her return.

John knew Catherine's great love for the land and the animals of this world. He also knew she loved nothing more than returning home from her travels from time to time and heading on up to the fields on their farm in Kinnity, where she would survey the livestock in the Offaly countryside. He knew she wanted to come back.

It was in Budapest that Catherine qualified to become a veterinary surgeon in the first place. It came as no real surprise to anyone.

Her brilliance in biology and the science subjects was known to all at St Brendan's Community College in Birr, where she received her secondary education. Even though she initially pursued other interests, her teacher Michael Gillespie was not really surprised when she graduated as a vet.

Catherine was a member of a very select group of students in Irish education, a small collection of high achievers who successfully completed honours grades in all three of the Leaving Certificate science subjects, and Mr Gillespie knew her personality was one that highlighted caring and respect for others above all and at all times.

It was in that university in Budapest that Catherine also met Jane Doyle for the first time. The two qualified as vets at the same time.

There were to be quiet celebrations when they also managed to attain employment at the same veterinary practice in the quiet north Wales town of Mold, deep in farming country, and began the next chapter of their lives.

But nobody could possibly have dreamt or imagined their decision to go to Mold would lead to such sheer horror in later life and such a barbaric end.

Catherine liked Mold and the clients of the Evans Veterinary Practice liked her. She was a popular choice for all the locals who brought their cats and dogs and other pets into the practice.

The huge similarities with the Irish countryside waiting at home for her in Offaly would also have gone down well with her.

A town with a population of less than 10,000 people, Mold's former greatness as a municipal and administrative centre for Flintshire seems to have bypassed most there nowadays.

Today, it looks like a typical provincial town in Ireland. By day, the farm machinery and the trucks pass without notice. At night, the streets are practically deserted.

But Mold was to turn from this quiet little Welsh country town into the scene of what Catherine's sister, Emma, now calls "a recurring nightmare".

Jane began a relationship with Clive Sharp and he began to come to stay at the house she shared in the village of New Brighton, just five minutes away from work. It was the beginning of a chapter that would lead to the brutal murder of Catherine.

Neither Jane nor Catherine knew that the 46-year-old respectable looking production manager, who worked in a clothing factory, was actually a convicted rapist.

They did not know he was a man who had already been sentenced to 14 years in jail for appalling crimes against women, that he was a predator who was now about to put into action a sick and sadistic fantasy, which he had already told the police about while previously incarcerated.

"You are a very serious danger to women," Mr Justice Griffith-Williams told Sharp as he stood in the dock at the end of the sentence hearing in Court Number One at Mold Crown Court on Monday.

There can scarcely have been a greater understatement in the history of the English language or the Welsh legal system.

As I listened to the litany of barbaric offences carried out on that night in Mold, my stomach began to churn; it seemed for a while that every chapter heading being unveiled in the book of evidence was even more offensive than the last.

Yet throughout it all, almost inexplicably, Catherine's sister Emma maintained her steeliness and a soaring dignity in the courtroom that few could ever imagine was humanly possible.

For 50 minutes, Emma sat in the courtroom and stared only in one direction - to her left and straight into the face of the man who murdered and then mutilated her sister. While the judge continued with his sentence, she never looked away for one minute, remaining just transfixed on the unshaven figure just a few metres before her in the dock.

When it was over, Emma came outside and told the world about the sister she knew and loved, John and Maureen Gowing's daughter, the vet, beloved, adored, caring, the light of their life, and as close as any other human being ever could be to perfection.

"Truth is truth, the facts are the facts," Emma said. "Our humanity shines when we conduct ourselves with kindness, with compassion, with integrity, when we speak the truth. Catherine was brutally murdered that is a fact. Catherine conducted her life with love, with kindness, with compassion, with integrity: that is the truth."

Emma reminded her audience that in life her sister had been exceptional and wonderful.

She said: "Catherine had measured herself against the following quote from the American author Albert Pine: 'what we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world is and remains immortal'."