Noel Long’s history of sex offending: ‘When I got a call to say he was convicted, I cried’

Long had been in and out of the courts for most of his life but was consistently lucky in avoiding major convictions. His luck finally ran out this month

If Noel Long was upset that his holiday plans to drive his prized Harley-Davidson to Portugal were being scuppered by gardaí, he certainly wasn’t showing it when they called last summer to arrest him at his house in Passage West, Co Cork, for the murder of Nora Sheehan over 40 years earlier.

Detectives from west Cork, led by Det Insp Eamonn Brady, had arrived at the 74-year-old’s mid-terraced house at Maulbawn just before 8am on June 28th, 2022, after receiving directions from the Director of Public Prosecutions the previous day to charge Long with the murder of mother of three Nora Sheehan in 1981.

That Long didn’t seem shocked to be confronted by gardaí was perhaps no surprise to the officers, given that they had contacted him about the case months earlier. “He was calm out, no reaction at all,” said one source.

Det Insp Brady rang Long in May 2022 to inform him that new evidence had come to light as a result of a cold case review begun in 2008 into the murder of 54-year-old Ms Sheehan in June 1981. He advised him to seek legal advice before asking him if he would meet gardaí.


Long told the detective he wouldn’t be meeting any gardaí, and didn’t want anything to do with the case, saying he had kept his head down for 40 years and moved on with his life.

He adopted a similar position when formally charged with Ms Sheehan’s murder, making no reply to the charge.

Earlier this month, Long was convicted of her murder by a unanimous verdict of the jury following a three-week trial at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin.

While Long has since lodged an appeal against conviction, the case marked the end of a long road for the Sheehan family.

‘Poxed lucky’

But it also marked the end of a long road for gardaí in Cork, many long retired, who for four decades lived with the frustration of believing Long had got away with the murder of the vulnerable Ballyphehane woman simply through chance. As one said: “He was poxed lucky over the years.”

Long’s descent into criminality had begun as a teenager. Growing up at Liam Lynch Park on Glasheen Road, not far from St Finbarr’s Cemetery on Cork’s southside, he was the eldest of five sons and two daughters born to Noel Long snr and his wife Nellie, and the only one to lead a life of crime.

“The Longs were a very decent family,” says one retired garda familiar with Long’s many encounters with the law. “Noel snr was a good plumber and one of the first to start installing central heating in Cork, and Nellie was a lovely woman, but Noel jnr went off the rails very early on.”

An apprentice welder with a company on the Carrigrohane Straight, Long got his first conviction at the age of 17 when he pleaded guilty at Cork District Court to stealing cars and the larceny of jewellery in February 1966. He was given nine months’ detention in St Patrick’s Institution.

Upon his release, Long headed to the UK but he was soon in trouble again, pleading guilty to burglary after he broke into three houses in Penrhyn Bay in Llandudno, North Wales, and stole property worth £117 and a van. He avoided a jail term by agreeing to return to Ireland.

Long returned to Cork. Some time afterwards he travelled to Ballymena in Co Antrim to join the Royal Irish Rangers and returned to the UK with the regiment in 1969, despite having given an undertaking to the court in Caernarfonshire in June 1967 not to return to the UK for three years.

Long had climbed up a drainpipe of the house of his commanding officer, a colonel, and broken into an upstairs room. The colonel’s 18-year-old daughter woke up to find him lying across her in her bed and he kissed her on the mouth

By September 1969, then aged 20, he again appeared before British courts, this time charged with burglary and indecently assaulting a young woman in a house at Catterick Army Camp in Yorkshire while stationed there with his regiment.

He was arrested and was being held at Richmond Police Station in Yorkshire when he managed to escape through a hole in the roof, triggering a manhunt involving three helicopters, 50 police and tracker dogs before being recaptured a few days later at Hinckley in Leicestershire.

‘Dastardly and frightening’

At his trial in October 1969, it emerged that Long, a fitness fanatic, had climbed up a drainpipe of the house of his commanding officer, a colonel, and broken into an upstairs room. The colonel’s 18-year-old daughter woke up to find him lying across her in her bed and he kissed her on the mouth.

Long was identified as the intruder when a fingerprint was found on the window as he fled after the girl cried out for help. After some 800 officers and men at the camp were fingerprinted, his print proved a match, leading to him being charged with the offences.

The assault was described as “dastardly and frightening” for the girl by the prosecution barrister, but Long’s lawyer said his client only entered the house when he saw an open window, never intended harming the girl and was only trying to quieten her as he thought she was about to wake.

Long’s plea of not guilty to the indecent assault was accepted by the prosecution after he pleaded guilty to common assault and to the theft of a car in Wakefield as he fled. He was sentenced to six months’ detention which he served before leaving the British army and returning to Ireland.

“Noel Long was a timid enough sort of fellow when he started offending here in Cork,” said one retired officer, familiar with him from his teenage years, “but after his stint in the British army he was very aggressive and angry any time we ever stopped him. He definitely came back a changed man.”

Long completed his apprenticeship as a welder back in Cork but he was soon to come to the attention of gardaí again when, living in Togher in 1971, he was charged with having unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl in Youghal and got a 12-month sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

He married and had two sons in the 1970s but was later to become estranged from them.

His reputation for sexual offending made Long a prime suspect for the rape and murder of Nora Sheehan and he was arrested just four days after her semi-naked and beaten body was found by two foresters at Shippool Woods near Innishannon in west Cork on June 12th, 1981.

Died suddenly

There were no powers of arrest for murder at the time and after two series of interviews, one on June 16th where Long was arrested for robbery, and one where he came in voluntarily on July 6th, gardaí obtained directions from the then DPP Eamonn Barnes to charge him with Nora Sheehan’s murder.

Long was charged by Det Sgt Moss Jones of Bandon with the killing at a special sitting of Cork District Court held on July 7th in the Bridewell Garda station before peace commissioner, Jerry O’Mahony. He was remanded in custody to appear at a full court sitting before he later got High Court bail.

We were standing outside the courthouse and Long came down the steps with this smirk on his face and he gave us the two fingers – he was always an arrogant bastard, but he really was cock of the walk that day

—  A now-retired officer recalling the day in 1981 when a murder charge against Long was withdrawn

But the State case against Long suffered a major blow just a month later when the pathologist, who carried out the postmortem, Dr Dermot Coakley, died suddenly on August 5th, meaning his findings regarding how Ms Sheehan died were no longer admissible in evidence.

It led on November 10th, 1981, to then State solicitor for west Cork, Hugh Ludlow, informing Judge Johnny Buckley at Cork District Court at the Washington Street Courthouse that the State was withdrawing the murder charge against Long, who walked free from the court.

One now-retired officer remembers the day well. “We were standing outside the courthouse and Long came down the steps with this smirk on his face and he gave us the two fingers – he was always an arrogant bastard, but he really was cock of the walk that day.”

But Long wasn’t to remain off the Garda radar for long – the following year, a woman in her 20s from Dublin was hitching to Kinsale on the August Bank Holiday when she got a lift from a man in a mint-green VW camper van – the type of van Long was driving at the time.

The man took the woman out to the car park at Charles Fort in Kinsale and beat her repeatedly around the head and attempted to strangle her, before raping her and dumping her at the side of the road just outside Kinsale at about 4am.

Another retired detective from west Cork, familiar with the case, recalls how gardaí were alerted and the woman was taken to hospital in Cork where she was treated for her injuries, medically examined and DNA samples were taken in the hope of being able to identify her attacker.

“We had no doubt it was Long from the woman’s description of the man and of his mint-green VW camper and we had DNA samples, and we took a 26-page statement from her, but she was so traumatised, she didn’t want to proceed with a complaint and went to the UK and he got off again.”

Indecent assault

Long, who has convictions for common assault at Cork District Court, Fermoy District Court and Bandon District Court as well as various road traffic convictions, made a reappearance before Cork Circuit Criminal Court in 1991 after he was charged with indecently assaulting a woman.

The background to the case was that Long, then living at Riverbank, Curraheen Estate, Bishopstown, was charged with indecently assaulting the woman, who was in her early 30s, after calling to her house in the greater Fermoy area in 1989 and asking for a glass of water.

Gardaí obtained a direction from the DPP to charge Long with indecent assault but the woman, who had special needs, had poor verbal skills. Although able to point him out in court, she was unable to be cross-examined during a pretrial hearing and the DPP was forced to enter a nolle prosequi.

Gardaí were somewhat more successful over a decade later when Long went on trial at Cork District Court for assaulting his sister, Julianne Moore, at Cork University Hospital on August 14th, 2011, as their mother, Nellie lay dying in a hospital bed beside them.

“He attacked me, he was highly abusive and very violent and demanded to have time with his mother. I was entitled to be there – my mother was dying. He said ‘Get the f**k away’ from his mother. I said this is my mother and I want to be here with her,” Ms Moore told the court.

Under cross-examination, Ms Moore denied having anything to do with a story in the Sunday World that her brother had received €170,000 in carers’ allowance for looking after their mother, who was living at Liam Lynch Park at a time when he was living in Passage with his new partner.

Sentencing Long to 12 months in jail, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said such unprovoked assaults were usually committed by hot-headed young fellows, not 65-year-old men

Long, whom Ms Moore accused of keeping her and her other siblings away from their mother, was acquitted of the assault charge, but he was convicted of engaging in threatening and abusive behaviour and given a three-month suspended sentence by Judge David O’Riordan.

A keen diver and biker, Long, who had generally kept a low profile since moving to Passage in the late 1990s, was back in court two years later. At the age of 65, he was convicted of assault causing harm to Brendan Murphy outside his house in Passage when he hit him with an iron bar on the head.

Iron bar

Long sprayed Murphy with water from a hose as he drove by his house and when Murphy got out to remonstrate with him, Long picked up an iron bar and beat him around the head. The jury didn’t believe Long’s claim that he was acting in self-defence and found him guilty.

Sentencing Long to 12 months in jail, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said such unprovoked assaults were usually committed by hot-headed young fellows, not 65-year-old men. “There is a question of a lad having a short fuse and there is your lad, who doesn’t have any fuse at all,” he told defence counsel.

Almost a decade on, Long found himself back in the dock again – this time charged with the murder of Nora Sheehan in a case which relied heavily on advances in forensic science and DNA profiling over the intervening four decades since the killing to link Long to the murder victim.

The trial heard evidence from expert Dr Jonathan Whittaker from Forensic Science Services (UK) that a partial DNA profile generated from semen found on the body of Ms Sheehan and preserved for decades had matched DNA found on a beanie hat obtained from Long in 2021.

Forensic biologist Dr Dorothy Ramsbottom of Forensic Science Ireland said that based on a database of the Irish population, it was at least 20,000 times more likely the recovered DNA was a match to that found on the beanie hat than an unrelated person.

There was also evidence that Long had been in the same area as Ms Sheehan when she went missing, that fibres recovered from the victim matched those taken from the carpeting of Long’s car. Paint fragments removed from the victim’s clothing also matched paint taken from Long’s vehicle.

Although some media reported that Long started to cry when the jury came back with their unanimous guilty verdict, some of the watching gardaí were less sure, saying Long yet again showed no emotion. But if Long was emotionless, not so some of those who had pursued him back in 1981.

“When I got a call to say Long was convicted, I cried,” said one retired officer, “I cried for Nora Sheehan and her family – looking back, there was a lot of evidence against him flying about but he always got away – it was great at long last to see him finally jailed for murdering that poor woman.”