he family of two brothers-in-law found dead on neighbouring farms in a suspected murder-suicide have been devastated and numbed by the tragedy, a local priest said.
Firefighters who battled for four hours to control a huge blaze at haysheds at Ballycormac House, near Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, in the early hours of this morning found the body of George Rothwell, 71, at the large farmhouse where he lived alone.
It is thought the award-winning cattle breeder and well-known local musician died from gunshot wounds. A firearm was discovered close to his body.
Several hours later around 9am, as the barns still smouldered, his sister Hilda found her husband Michael Jordan, 51, hanging in an outbuilding on their neighbouring farm. It is believed he had taken his own life.
A small amount of livestock was also killed in the fire while around 30 cattle were rescued from one of the barns.
Fr Paddy Byrne, a local priest, comforted Hilda and relatives at the scene.
“They are devastated,” he said.
“This is a very difficult place for anyone to find themselves to be, in terms of the tragic loss of life.
“There is shock, a numbness, an environment where people are trying to come to terms with exactly what happened.”
Fr Byrne said both farmers were well-known and well-respected and he said of the close-knit community: “There’s a sense of absolute numbness.
“When things you often hear about far away come to reality close by it’s very difficult.
“It’s a sad day for the area, it’s a huge loss for the community and our immediate concern is to support the families and be close to them. We’re trying to comfort and be there for them.”
It is understood the Jordans had no children. Mr Rothwell, a bachelor and only sibling of Hilda, was a member of the Church of Ireland.
Bagenalstown minister the Rev Charles McCollum said he knew the victim well.
“It’s a shocking tragedy for all the families involved and the local community,” he said.
“It’s a tragedy of very great intensity.”
It is understood Mr Rothwell lived with his father Fred, who played organ in the local church, until he died around 12 years ago.
He was well-known locally as a saxophonist who played in the Roulette showband and other groups.
Arthur McDonald, a Fianna Fáil councillor who knew the families, described both victims as model farmers.
“I knew them all my life – nicer, finer, people you could not meet,” he said.
“It just tells you that anything is possible.”
Ger Guerin, chief fire officer for Carlow, said his crews faced difficulties bringing the massive blaze under control when they arrived on the scene around 3.20am.
“There were a number of hayshed buildings spread over quite a large area that were well alight,” he said.
“It presented some logistical problems for us – but we overcame them very quickly.”
Scenes of both incidents were sealed off ahead of forensic examinations.
A team from the state pathologist’s office and the Garda technical bureau were called in to carry out tests.
John Bryan, president of the Irish Farmers Association, offered his sympathy to the families.
“Neighbours and the wider farming community are shocked at the news of this terrible tragedy, which has taken the lives of two highly-respected farmers who were from well-known families,” he said.
“Both were well regarded in the local community.”