The family of a retired farmer who was badly beaten during a burglary at his Co Sligo home are clinging on to the hope that he can survive despite being reliant on a ventilator to breathe.
Michael Walsh, a cousin of Tom Niland (73), said he had already told him of the "overwhelming" community response since last month's attack on him at his house in Skreen.
Speaking before going to visit Mr Niland in the intensive care unit at Sligo University Hospital on Wednesday night, Mr Walsh said he would tell his cousin of the community's concern for him.
“I will talk away to him and take his hand and tell him such-a-one was on the phone,” he said. “And I’ll tell him about the outcry in the community because I think Tom would be glad to hear that.”
He said every time he visited he stared at Mr Niland’s injured face. “And I call his name and hope for any roll of the eye beneath the eyelid, which would be fantastic,” he added.
While there has been no change in his condition, Mr Walsh said the fact that Mr Niland was still breathing “even with the help of a machine” meant the family had something to hang on to.
“He is still there and so we have to keep hoping.”
Mr Niland was was attacked at his home on the Sligo to Ballina road by a gang of masked men who called to the door at about 7pm on January 18th. The bachelor, who farmed from his mid-teens until his retirement seven years ago, was watching television alone at the time.
The gang badly beat him before robbing hundreds of euro in cash. They then tied Mr Niland’s laces together to frustrate his efforts to get help, leaving him to crawl to the road outside his house in the hopes he would be seen.
A neighbour who noticed something outside their home said Mr Niland was unrecognisable due to the extent of his facial injuries. And while he was able to speak to gardaí after the attack, his condition has since deteriorated.
The burglars had reversed a car into his driveway and left with some the victim’s personal items such as a wallet and phone. While gardaí have gathered up a large amount of CCTV footage, no arrests have been made and sources said there had been no significant breakthrough yet in the investigation.
During a meeting of the Skreen-Dromard Community Council in west Sligo on Tuesday night, the possibility was discussed of organising a search of the 25km route from Mr Niland's home on the N59 to a scenic spot beside Lough Easkey in the Ox Mountains where his wallet was found.
The aim would be to locate other items which might help to identify the attackers, such as his phone or masks worn by members of the gang.
While it was anticipated that hundreds would volunteer if needed, Seán Rowlette, who liaised with gardaí about the matter, told the meeting that 15 volunteers would help investigating officers to comb the area before the end of this week.