A Connemara builder has been sentenced to seven years in prison with the final three years suspended for ten years for an assault on well-known Irish traditional musician, Noel Hill.
The assault in a pub toilet on St Stephen’s night seven years ago left Mr Hill, a native of Caherea, Lissycasey victim with lifelong injuries.
Imposing sentence at Galway Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday, Judge Rory McCabe said this had been a horrible, nasty and vicious attack and noted the consequences for the victim were appalling.
Michael Folan(55) from Teach Mór, Lettermullen, Co Galway, had initially pleaded not guilty to a single charge of intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to Mr Hill(57), contrary to Section 4 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, at Tí Padraig Mairtín Beag in Leitir Mór, Connemara on St Stephen’s Day, 2008, when his trial opened before a jury at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last November.
He changed his plea to guilty on the second day of the trial after Mr Hill gave harrowing evidence of the injuries he sustained on the night to a stunned jury.
Plastic surgeon, Mr Patrick McCann had told the jury that Mr Hill’s left eye socket had been pushed back into his skull “like an egg in an eggcup” and he had replaced the damaged bone under the socket with titanium mesh in 2009.
Sergeant Ronan Mahon told the sentence hearing in February that Mr Hill had been in the pub that night with his partner and was attacked from behind when he went to the toilet.
He was standing in a cubicle with the door open and looked over his shoulder to see the accused standing behind him. He was then viciously assaulted and received several punches to the head.
Mr Hill knew the accused as Michael Bartley Mharcuisin Folan, a builder who had carried out work on a house Mr Hill was renovating in Pointe, Carraroe.
During the assault Mr Hill emerged from the cubicle and was punched severely in the mouth and left eye.
He was knocked to the ground where he was kicked with full force in the head and body.
He spent three weeks in hospital and underwent lengthy reconstructive surgery to his eye socket.
The court was told in November that Mr Hill suffered a fracture to his skull and his left eye was driven back into his skull.
“He continued to beg for mercy but got no mercy and he thought he was going to die. At the time he fell to the ground, the punches changed to kicks which were directed at the side of his head.
“Three kicks to his left ear caused his spectacles to pierce his ear lobe. Another kick broke his left cheek bone.
“There were more kicks to his left eye and his skull was fractured.
“His left eye was driven back into his skull. The whole incident lasted a couple of minutes,” prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy said at the time.
Mr Hill spent 25 minutes in the witness box in February reading his victim impact statement aloud.
“I was certain I was going to die. I had a near death experience. I saw my late father and uncle and my father told me I was not ready to join them.
“In my mind I believed Michael Folan intended to kill me that night,” a tearful Mr Hill said.
“I am a professional musician but I cannot play for long periods anymore. My left side is still weak, six years later ,” he said.
The court heard a dispute over payment for the renovations Folan had carried out for the victim was the reason for the assault and that the matter had been in the hands of their solicitors at the time.
Judge Rory McCabe indicated in February that he had a seven-year sentence in mind but he decided to adjourn sentence until Thursday after hearing Folan had serious health issues himself and was attending counselling for alcohol and anger management issues.
Mr Bernard Madden SC, defending, handed in several medical and addiction counselling reports which stated the accused had engaged well with services to address his alcohol and anger management issues.
Mr Madden said his client was the sole carer for his ill wife and was being treated himself for chronic illnesses.
Imposing sentence today, Jugde McCabe said the seven-year sentence stood, but due to the efforts the accused had made in the interim to rehabilitate and given his personal family circumstances, he said he would suspend the final three years of the sentence for ten years.
The judge noted that with remission, the accused would serve three years of the sentence but that on his release, it would not end there.
He warned Folan he would serve the three-year suspended part of the sentence if he transgressed any time during the ten years following his release from prison.
Afterwards, Mr Hill thanked his family and friends for their support and help since the night of the attack.
However, he criticised the abuse of process in the way the accused delayed the trial process by insisting for so long that his trial be heard in Irish.
Noel Hill said it was a sentence in itself to have to wait six and a half years for today’s sentence.
He was critical of the delay that was put on the trial when Folan asked for the book of evidence in Irish.
“To have such delays put on it was a crime upon a crime – on all taxpayers – who are the victims.
To delay something like this based on the Irish language is a crime against the people of Ireland, against the Constitution and against muintir na Gaeltachta [ the people of the Gaeltacht]
“I came to the Gaeltacht for the Irish language,” Mr Hill added.
He then thanked his family, the Gardai and the medical staff who treated his injuries.