Kanturk shooting not the first time dispute over land ownership led to tragedy

Kanturk shooting not the first time dispute over land ownership led to tragedy

A Garda checkpoint leading to the farmhouse at Raheen, Kanturk, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

The deaths of Tadgh O’Sullivan and his two adult sons Mark and Diarmuid close to Kanturk in north Cork is not the first time that living and dying over inheritance has led to a 'murder-suicide' incident hitting the headlines.

Fifteen years ago, the community in the quietly scenic Coolyhune, nestled beneath the Blackstairs Mountains on the Carlow/Kilkenny border, privately believed that bachelor Michael Kehoe, aged 38, shot 30-year-old Jim Healy dead on September 3, 2005, in the early hours of the morning after being taunted by Mr Healy that he had bought the land behind Mr Kehoe's back “for a song”.

Locals said at the time that it was, perhaps, the death of Michael’s father Simon, who passed away 15 years prior to the fatal shootings without making a will for his three young children, that ultimately led to the unfolding of a bitter dispute over property.

Part of the 30-acre farm that had been in the Kehoe family for generations had been put up for public auction in 2004 by Mr Kehoe's elder sister Catherine and younger brother John and was estimated to be worth around €60,000 to each of the three siblings at the time.

”This land is not for selling." These words, which Kehoe uttered prior to his death, halted the auction in Kilkenny city of a small parcel of the farm and that was later to play a central role in both his own tragic death and that of a neighbour.

Amid the confused silence that followed his declaration, the tight-knit community stood loyally by him and nobody bid for any of the 30 acres of prime dairy farmland at Coolyhune Cross, Co. Carlow, that day.

Unfortunately for two families overwhelmed by grief, the matter did not end in the function room of the small country hotel where the auction was to take place.

What happened subsequently - an alleged family dispute over the sale of land against a backdrop of passion and bitterness - was a twisted tragedy as bleak, dark and recognisably local as the events in John B Keane's drama,  The Field.

It was understood at the time that Kehoe’s sister and brother had later privately sold some of the land to Jim Healy following the disruption of the auction.

It was also known that there was some legal action ongoing between Jim Healy and Michael Kehoe.

On that fatal September morning, Mr Healy had been carrying out work on the field with his brother Brian when the events unfolded. He was shot in the back by Mr Kehoe.

Mr Kehoe then holed himself up in a barn, refusing to come out even when the gardaí moved in. Seven hours later, seeing no way out of the situation, he turned his gun on himself.

A double inquest held two months later revealed the details on the morning the two men died.

 The O’Sullivan family farm and the ringfort to the right where three members of the family lost their lives. Picture: Dan Linehan
The O’Sullivan family farm and the ringfort to the right where three members of the family lost their lives. Picture: Dan Linehan

The inquest heard from Mr Healy's brother Brian that the two of them had been fencing lands they had bought off the Kehoe family.

They arrived at the lands at 10.40am and began fencing.

Mr Kehoe came out and asked to move his tractor and they said they had no objection. Some time later, however, Mr Kehoe returned carrying a shotgun and shouting. He fired a shot.

"I was in utter terror and I feared both of us were going to be killed," said the dead man's brother. Both men began running away and Mr Healy then said he heard a second shot and his brother cried out.

Michael Kehoe was about 40 yards behind them at the time and stopped and reloaded the gun. Mr Healy said he then heard a third shot and he saw his brother fall.

Then state pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy said that Mr Healy had died from gunshot wounds to the head and the back.

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