16 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Director Martin Danneels and producer Ann Ní Chríobháin discuss Marú Inár Measc
02 Jun 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Maru Inar Measc
Produced by Ann Ní Chíobháin and directed by Martin Danneels, Marú Inár Measc is a new and compelling four-part true crime documentary series by Midas Productions for TG4.

Over the four episodes, the series shines a light on the impact unprovoked murder cases have on families and communities in Ireland.

“What we set out to do was to show the human cost of these violent and callous crimes, and the irreparable emotional trauma it has brought on parents and siblings, friends and the wider community and, finally, the Gardaí who worked the cases,” director Martin Danneels told IFTN.

“It seems that this approach has paid off: crime-related programmes are often driven by a desire to shock the viewer, by using graphic depictions, or reconstructions,” Danneels continued. “In Marú Inár Measc, we decided to do the exact opposite: by showing less, the onus was on us to really work hard and let the contributors be at the core of the narratives.”

Episode 3, which airs Wednesday, June 2nd on TG4, features the family of Sharon Whelan whose body was discovered, along with her two young daughters, on Christmas morning 2008 near the village of Windgap in Kilkenny. 

Locals had spotted smoke billowing from the home early that morning, and despite members of the community pulling the bodies of Sharon and her daughters, Nadia and Zarah from the blazing house, they were too late. Thought to be an accident at first, it soon emerged there was something much darker at the core of this tragedy. 

“Each episode tells a harrowing story but tonight’s (Wednesday’s) episode is perhaps the most disturbing, purely because of the cold-blooded nature of the perpetrator’s actions against a single mother and her two little girls,” Danneels told IFTN.

Due to the preservation of Sharon and her daughters bodies, investigators were able to determine that Sharon had not died of smoke inhalation and had been killed before the fire took place. Crucially, DNA evidence from Sharon’s body soon led Gardaí to a suspect – the then 23 year old local postman, Brian Hennessy.

Featuring interviews with Sharon’s parents, Christy and Nancy, and Sharon’s older brother John, the third episode of Marú Inár Measc lays bare the pain and loss suffered by those who lose family members to murder.  Brian Hennessy was handed three life sentences at his trial, these mandatory murder sentences were to run consecutively. On appeal, it was ruled that the sentences would run concurrently. 


“Meeting Sharon Whelan’s parents, grandparents of Zarah and Nadia, was nothing short of heart-breaking,” Danneels recounted. “The raw pain and anguish of what they have endured since that dreadful night in 2008 continues unabated to this day.” 

Marú Inár Measc was filmed entirely during the pandemic, something producer Ann Ní Chíobháin shed light on when discussing the challenges that the Midas Production team faced during production. 

Filming through Covid was difficult and we adhered to strict protocols as advised by Government and Public Health Officials and Screen Producers Ireland's Return to Production Guidelines,” Ní Chíobháin told IFTN. 

PPE, sanitising equipment, and observing social distancing at all times were key components to ensuring the comfort and safety of everyone on set, something that some became second nature, according to the producer. “We did many of our interviews outside, which could be hard during the winter months,” Ní Chíobháin continued. “When filming inside was not possible, we often booked an independent location where there was plenty of space and airflow.”

The crew behind Marú Inár Measc included series producers’ Mike Keane and Medb Johnstone, director of photography is Joe Edwards, series editors are Bernard Clarke and Pádraig Ó Ceallaigh, and commissioning editor for TG4 is Proinsias Ní Ghráinne. The post production was carried out by Raygun.

Ní Chíobháin also shared a similar sentiment to Danneels when discussing meeting with the families of the victims. “The most difficult thing about filming during Covid, for me, was not being able to hold someone's hand or give them a hug when they got upset,” Ní Chíobháin explained. “Naturally you would reach out, but would have to hold yourself back.”

Although the external environment around the production was impacted, Ní Chíobháin emphasised how important it was that these stories be told in, an effort to keep the memory of the victim, and who they were, alive. “This is something that’s very important to the families, that we know who they were. There is a long lasting effect of losing a loved one through murder and it’s important for people to be able to talk about their mother, sister, daughter, and wife,” said Ní Chíobháin.

“In the cases of Phyllis Murphy and Ann Nancy Smyth, it was over 20 years before their killers were caught. It’s important to keep these cases highlighted in case it inspires someone to speak up about other unsolved cases,” Ní Chíobháin continued. “There are so many unsolved cases in Ireland that I think, we as a nation would love to see solved.”

Danneels’ added that the production wanted to give each family and each community a chance to express their anger at the injustice that befell them and the grief it caused. “From the reaction so far, I think it is fair to say that this approach has resonated with the TG4 audience; each episode has been well-received and applauded for its restrained approach, both in tone and visual approach,” Danneels added.

“We are forever grateful to the families and communities, and An Garda Síochána, who have supported us in making this series and who trusted us with the memory of someone they loved,” Ní Chíobháin added.

Marú inár Measc airs tonight at 9:30pm on TG4.

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