Inquest into North Cork murder-suicide hears of 'friction' over sale of land between brothers

The inquest into the deaths of Johnny, Paddy and Willie Hennessy is ongoing in Cork today
Inquest into North Cork murder-suicide hears of 'friction' over sale of land between brothers

(Left to right) Elaine Hennessy, Paddy Hennessy's daughter with her mother Stephanie attending today's inquest. They both discovered Paddy's body in a farmyard. Photo: Larry Cummins

There was “friction” over the sale of land between three brothers who died in a North Cork murder-suicide deaths earlier this year.

Before their joint inquest broke for lunch today, a friend of Johnny, Paddy and Willie said he heard two of the brothers refer to each other as “fuckers”.

John McGrath said he was talking to Johnny, who would later kill his brothers before taking his own life, and Willie, about seven weeks before they died.

He said Willie was upset that Johnny had encroached on Paddy’s log business by not handing back customers he had supplied with wood while Paddy had been recovering from a stroke.

And he said Johnny was annoyed with Willie because he wanted to sell some land to pay for a hip operation that Paddy needed.

Johnny killed Paddy and Willie at their family farmhouse in Curraghgorm near Mitchelstown, Co Cork, before taking his own life.

The 59-year-old killed his two older brothers with an axe.

Willie, 66, and Paddy, 60, were found shortly about 11.30pm on Thursday, February 25 at their family farm, with Paddy's body being discovered by Elaine and her mother Stephanie in a farmyard and Willie later by gardaí in a nearby shed.

Earlier, the inquest had heard that Johnny had rang his sister for help on the day they died, claiming they had attacked him.

Johnny was “breathless” and “stressed”, according to Breda O’Reilly in her statement to gardaí, which was read out at today’s inquest into the murder of brothers Paddy and Willie Hennessy in North Cork, and the 59-year-old’s suicide later.

He told her over the phone, before anybody knew what had happened, there had been a row and that his brothers had “hit him up”.

She said he was “completely out of breath”, and she added that he told her: “I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble.” It would later emerge at the inquest there had been a row among the brothers about the sale of wood from the family farm.

Johnny pleaded for her to come to the farm but she said she couldn’t because of Covid-19 restrictions. She asked if she should call the gardaí, and he said: “Yes.” Her husband Ned then called gardaí at Mitchelstown Garda Station.

Johnny Hennessy's sister Breda O'Reilly (pictured at today's inquest) said her brother was “breathless” and “stressed” when he rang her on the day the Hennessy brothers died. Photo: Larry Cummins
Johnny Hennessy's sister Breda O'Reilly (pictured at today's inquest) said her brother was “breathless” and “stressed” when he rang her on the day the Hennessy brothers died. Photo: Larry Cummins

Garda Tracy Howard then called Johnny but, she told the inquest, he “sounded calm”. She said: “He was calm and composed.

“The situation was calm, and he said he did not require gardaí. There was no commotion, or noise.” 

She added of the claim he had made earlier about being attacked by his brothers: “He spoke calmly and joked (that) at their age, they should know better.” Johnny Hennessy killed Paddy and Willie at their family farmhouse in Curraghgorm near Mitchelstown, Co Cork, before taking his own life.

The 59-year-old killed his two older brothers with an axe.

Willie, 66, and Paddy, 60, were found about 11.30pm on Thursday, February 25, at their family farm, with Paddy's body being discovered by his daughter Elaine and her mother Stephanie in a farmyard and Willie later by gardaí in a nearby shed. They had both suffered horrific head injuries.

Mallow District Court before North Cork Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy heard that Elaine Hennessy was the first to discover Paddy’s body.

Worried that she hadn’t been able to contact him or either of her uncles on the phone at around 11pm on Thursday, she drove to their farm yard with her mother.

She told the inquest: “I rang his phone and Willie’s but there was no answer. We rang Johnny but (it rang out) it was turned off about 20 minutes later. It was very suspicious.

“We drove up to the yard. It was dark. We drove into the yard with the (car) lights on. (Mum) said ‘there’s a body’ 

I knew it was dad. I recognised the clothes and boots. I could see loads of blood. He was lying face up.

“We ran back to the car and locked the doors because we thought someone was there.” She added: “It looked gruesome. I was in shock.

“I never got close to touch dad. He was badly injured. ” 

She also told the court that Johnny suffered from “social anxiety”, and barely mixed with people.

Dr Margot Bolster, Locum Assistant State Pathologist, described the injuries inflicted on Paddy and Willie Hennessy at the inquest. Photo: Larry Cummins
Dr Margot Bolster, Locum Assistant State Pathologist, described the injuries inflicted on Paddy and Willie Hennessy at the inquest. Photo: Larry Cummins

WARNING: Readers may find the following content upsetting

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster, who carried out the post mortems on the brothers, said Paddy suffered severe facial injuries and severe blunt force trauma to his head. He suffered multiple skull fractures and injuries to his face and jaw, which was partially “displaced”.

He had also suffered chest injuries consistent with being hit with the blunt end of the bloodied axe found at the scene. Injuries to his face were consistent with being hit with the “sharp end of the axe”, according to Dr Bolster.

She said Willie died of severe and traumatic brain injury consistent with multiple blows from the blunt end of the blood-stained axe found at the scene. His injuries were so severe that he could only be identified by an examination of his dental records by an oral surgeon.

He had multiple lacerations to his scalp, as well as a number of minor bruises on his arm and right hand which indicated he might have tried to defend himself.

Dr Bolster assured the family: “He would have become unconscious very quickly.” 

After the murders, Johnny Hennessy drove a red Toyota Corolla van to a farmhouse at Killacluig, Mitchelstown, where he parked and walked over several fields to the River Funshion where he took his own life. Dr Bolster said his death was caused by drowning.

Johnny was, like Paddy, suffering from mild heart disease at the time of his death.

The brothers were known locally as The Saints, and surviving friends and family remain baffled as to why Johnny did what he did. One theory is a row broke out among the brothers over the sale of cattle and the distribution of wood on the family farm.

The Garda ombudsman Gsoc launched an investigation into contact gardaí had with Johnny Hennessy.

- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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