The coroner for Cork South and West, Frank O’Connell, said many things remain unanswered after hearing detailed evidence yesterday about the final movements of Diarmuid Twomey, aged 31, in the early hours of December 20, 2015.
“There are gaps in this case — that’s just the way it is. But I am convinced that this was an accident,” said Mr O’Connell.
Mr Twomey, from Kerry but who lived with his partner, Ciara Byrne, and their two daughters, on main street, Carrignavar, 12km north of Cork City, was last seen walking on the Cork to Whitechurch road in the early hours of December 20.
He and Ms Byrne had attended his nephew’s 18th birthday party in the Bishopstown Bar the night before, before they returned to a relative’s house in Gurranabraher to continue the party.
He had consumed about three pints earlier, and rum at the house party, the inquest was told.
Ms Byrne said they left the house at about 3am, and walked a short distance before she flagged down a taxi near Joyce’s shop in Fairhill.
“I got in and Diarmuid said he’d follow because he wasn’t feeling well,” she said.
Taxi driver David O’Regan said he did not see Mr Twomey when he picked Ms Byrne up.
Ms Byrne said she began to worry the following morning when her partner had not arrived home, but she said she felt he would walk through the door at any time.
“It was totally out of character for him. We had no arguments, there were no mental health issues, and he had no suicidal thoughts,” she said.
But when Mr Twomey’s mobile phone was found on Leader’s farm on the Cork to Whitechurch road later that morning, a major search operation was launched.
It continued through Christmas and for several weeks until his body was found when a farmer went to drain the slurry from a pit on his farm in Rahaniskey, less than 400m from where Mr Twomey’s phone was found, on January 28.
Sgt Fergal Donovan said CCTV footage placed Mr Twomey at Blackstone Bridge at 3.28am on December 20, and at nearby Kia Motors at 4.02am, before a man was captured on CCTV from a private residence, eight minutes later, closer to Whitechurch village.
Taxi driver Dan Crowley told the inquest he was 100% certain he saw Mr Twomey walking towards Whitechurch at around 4am.
Motorist Edward Tynan spotted a man matching Mr Twomey’s description closer to Whitechurch around 4.15am.
Bill O’Sullivan said he spotted a man of similar description, who appeared to be walking drunk, less than 1.7km from Whitechurch village at around 4.25am.
However, taxi driver Philip O’Connell, who was driving home at 5.30am, said he saw a man matching Mr Twomey’s description walking back towards the city.
Sgt Donovan said there was a gap of about an hour between the last two sightings, but that it was clear, for whatever reason, that by 5.30am, Mr Twomey had turned to walk towards the city.
“There is no explanation for that,” he said.
Farmer Pat McAuliffe told the inquest he spotted a body while agitating his slurry tank at around 3pm on January 28.
The pit, 150m from the main road, is 60ft by 40ft, and 8ft deep. It is surrounded by an almost 5ft wall, with gates to the front and a low wall, topped with an 8ft fence, on the other three sides.
He said the only way to enter the pit was to open the gate or to scale the walls. Farm relief worker James Wycherly said he was certain the gate was closed on the morning of December 20.
Mr O’Connell said the inquest could not establish how Mr Twomey got in to the slurry pit, and could only say he entered it.
Dr Margot Bolster said her autopsy confirmed that Mr Twomey was alive when he entered the pit, and established that the cause of death was inhalation of hydrogen sulphide following immersion in a slurry pit.
She told the family he would have died rapidly.
Speaking afterwards, Ms Byrne thanked everyone who has supported her and her family. “It’s been a tough few weeks but we’ll be fine,” she said.
Mr Twomey’s brother, John, said he doesn’t think his family will ever get closure. “There isn’t a day goes by that we don’t miss him,” he said.
“We bear no ill-feeling towards the farmer, absolutely none. This was a tragic accident.”