Clare coroner Isobel O’Dea was speaking at the inquest in Ennis into the brutal murder of the 21-year-old law student, where a jury re-affirmed murder as the cause of death of the Ennis man.
In June 2013, Joseph Heffernan, aged 35, from Barefield, outside Ennis, was found guilty of Mr Ryan’s murder at Heffernan’s home at Cappaghbeg, Barefield, on June 7, 2011, by a jury at the Central Criminal Court.
At the conclusion of the inquest yesterday, an emotional Inspector Tom Kennedy said: “Today is a very difficult day and it is a long time coming to this day from 2011.
“There are no words to illustrate the great sadness depicted in the various accounts heard in the inquest and the medical reports.”
Insp Kennedy told members of the Ryan family that “it is five years on and hopefully ye can go on from here and lives will be rebuilt and restored in whatever way they can be”.
“Of course Eoin can never be replaced and we all know that.”
At the inquest yesterday, Detective Garda Claire O’Shaughnessy gave evidence how she received a call at Ennis Garda Station from Joe Heffernan via the 999 service. He told her at 6.05am on June 7, 2011: “I killed a man.”
Heffernan told her: “He came onto me and I am not gay.”
Det O’Shaughnessy said Heffernan told her he didn’t mean to kill the man and that he was crying and sounded very upset throughout the phone call.
Gardaí were immediately despatched to the Heffernan home at Barefield.
Garda Donagh Walsh told the inquest that on entering the house, he saw Heffernan “sitting down with a kitchen knife up to his throat and he continually stated, ‘I killed the devil last night’.”
Heffernan led the gardaí across a field on the farm where he showed them Eoin Ryan’s body, upside down in a blue barrel, naked from the waste down.
Two friends of Mr Ryan, Jennifer Culligan and Sarah Cunningham, gave evidence that they had been out in Ennis with him the night before.
Mr Ryan, known as “Paulie’ to his friends, was openly gay and had come out as a gay man around two years before June 2011.
Ms Culligan and Ms Cunningham said when they were out with Mr Ryan in Cruises Pub in Ennis on the bank holiday Monday, a man with a scruffy brown beard who they didn’t know spoke to them across the bar. A conversation started between them and the man they now know to be Heffernan.
Ms Cunningham said: “Eoin was talking to the guy Joe for maybe five minutes. Joe was in and out of our company. Joe never sat down with us. He told us he never used to have a beard. Eoin and myself were saying to him to get rid of it — that he would look younger. We were joking and that we would see him in Cruises the following night without the beard. Joe told us that he would see us Friday night.”
Ms Cunningham said that at closing time she couldn’t find Mr Ryan in the pub.
Oludamilare Lawal, a taxi driver, told the inquest that Heffernan and Mr Ryan had flagged down his taxi outside Cruises shortly before 2am to bring them to Barefield.
Mr Lawal said they didn’t talk to each other during the journey but that Heffernan, who was in “good spirits”, had spoken about God and asked if he was a Christian.
Mr Laval said his passengers “appeared to be friendly. There didn’t seem to be any hostility between them”.
Mr Lawal said the fare came to €14. Heffernan said he had only €12 and Mr Laval said this would do.
Professor Marie Cassidy, the State pathologist, yesterday said Mr Ryan was the victim of a violent and sustained assault, and died of severe, extensive trauma to his head, with blunt force trauma to his neck and chest a contributory factor.
“The skull had been broken up into small pieces, some of these were missing… There was extensive damage to his brain. These injuries were not survivable.”
She said that his breastbone was fractured, something that would have required “considerable force”.
She said that the crush injury to his heart and tears to his oesophagus and windpipe were also potentially fatal.
She said that more than one weapon was used.