Kanturk killings: Bank Holiday tragedy that rocked a community

There is at least one internal Garda review ongoing into the events that led up to the deaths a year ago of Tadg, Mark and Diarmuid O’Sullivan in Kanturk over a land dispute.
Kanturk killings: Bank Holiday tragedy that rocked a community

Tadg, Mark and Diarmuid O’Sullivan who died in a shooting in a remote part of Kanturk in North Cork. Picture: Gardaí

The brutal nightmare that would haunt Anne O’Sullivan to the day she died last April began with gunshots in a bedroom of her secluded north Cork farmhouse last year.

Although she had woken at around 6am on Monday, October 26, because she had heard movement outside her room, she dozed off again. However, it was a short time later that she woke up with a start.

“Something woke me,” she said in her statement to gardaí later.

“I can't describe the noise.

“I know now it was gunshots and I didn't realise it was gunshots until after seeing them (the rifles) in Tadg and Diarmuid's hands.” She got up out of bed, put on her dressing gown and shoes and then opened the door of her bedroom and looked out into the corridor.

Straight away, she saw Tadg, a mechanic, and Diarmuid standing there with guns. They were facing into law graduate Mark’s bedroom.

“I can't remember in what order this may have happened but I said ‘oh my God, what have you done now’,” she recalled in her garda statement.

One of the men looked at her approaching, looked back into the room and fired another shot into it.

They then, referring to a solicitor’s letter she had sent them about a dispute over her will, turned to her and said: “There’s your solicitor’s letter for you.” She said she then went back into her own room to get her phone.

Diarmuid O'Sullivan
Diarmuid O'Sullivan

But when she came out of the room, Diarmuid took it from her. “Diarmuid said something but I don't remember what that was,” she recalled.

“They seemed agitated.

“Tadg didn't say a word.” After both men suddenly left the cottage, she went into Mark’s bedroom, to see if she could find a phone.

The jury in his inquest would later be told Tadg and Diarmuid fired eight shots at Mark, seven of which hit him in the head and chest.

He also sustained a gunshot to one of his arms after he stumbled out of bed and tried to defend himself.

“Mark was lying out of the bed, sitting on the floor against the bed and locker,” his distraught mother would later tell gardaí.

“Blood was coming from his mouth.

“His legs wrapped in the duvet and lifeless.

Tadg O'Sullivan
Tadg O'Sullivan

“Mark was wearing underwear, nothing else.

"Before I left the house, I said to Mark to hold on, I was going to get help.” She tried to drive away from the farm but found access gates locked with new locks.

She also couldn’t use any phones as her son Diarmuid smashed both the landline and her mobile phone.

Of the last time she saw either of them alive, in the farmyard, she said: “Tadg was pacing back and forth a little with the gun in his hand.

“Diarmuid was on the ground, banging something that I couldn't see.

“None of them offered a word to me.

The farm land at Assolas, near Kanturk, North Cork where the tragedy happened on Monday, October 26, 2020. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
The farm land at Assolas, near Kanturk, North Cork where the tragedy happened on Monday, October 26, 2020. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

“Tadg may have seen me but Diarmuid was facing the other way.” She said she then went back into the house and fled through another exit.

Stumbling over ditches and crossing fields, she eventually reached the house of Jackie and Ann Cronin.

The couple lives at the entrance to the long, narrow laneway that leads to the O’Sullivan’s now-deserted farm.

They immediately called gardaí, who sent local officers, followed by a variety of units scrambled from around the country, including armed units and a negotiator to the scene. Convinced the father and son were still alive, armed and inside the house, it would be a number of hours before they entered the farmyard and then the farm cottage.

Inside, they would find Mark, who died from gunshots and a short while later, at about 1.40pm, a garda helicopter pilot spotted two bodies near an old fairy fort in adjoining lands. Members of the Emergency Response Unit and Armed Support Unit cautiously approached the scene.

There they found Tadg and Diarmuid O’Sullivan. They were both pronounced dead. Two rifles were found beside them in the fields and the Garda Critical Incident response was stood down.

A 12-page letter to his mother which detailed how angry he was over her decision to favour Mark in her will was found strapped to Diarmuid’s leg. Also in the letter was his wish that the family’s two dogs would be cared for.

Tadg also left a note but it was shorter. It later emerged there had been tensions in the family over what each son would inherit in the event of Mrs O’Sullivan’s death.

 A Garda on duty at the laneway leading to the O’Sullivan family farm.
A Garda on duty at the laneway leading to the O’Sullivan family farm.

The tensions arose after she found out in February 2020 that cancer she had fought years previously had not only returned but was now terminal, and the former nurse hadn’t long to live.

She told gardaí Tadg grew increasingly agitated after that diagnosis and kept insisting she draw up a will.

The jury heard matters degenerated to such an extent that Diarmuid started threatening to take his own life if he didn’t get “the lion’s share” of her farm, which had remained in her name after she inherited it from her mother.

There was also an incident in which Diarmuid is said to have warned he would leave “a trail of destruction and no light would shine in Raheen again” if she did not change her will.

She did eventually draw up a will and during a phase when she was either staying in Dublin or with relatives nearby, there was an exchange of solicitors' letters.

At the joint inquests later, a statement was read out from Claragh Lucey, who detailed a string of incidents where Mark had confided in her what was going on inside the farmhouse.

She said that on October 9, for example, he called her to tell he was "terrified to be with Tadg and Diarmuid, to be alone with them".

The following day he said he was actually afraid they would kill him but they “would do it in such a way to make it look like suicide”.

And she said: “He asked me if his body was found that I would go to the guards with the message he sent and get his phone to show it wasn't suicide.

A Garda at the entrance to the O'Sullivan farm at Assolas, near Kanturk, North Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
A Garda at the entrance to the O'Sullivan farm at Assolas, near Kanturk, North Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

She was one of the people who had advised Mark to stay with friends or relatives.

She said that although she knew he had left the farm with his mother earlier, she had no idea when she was talking to him on October 24 that he had returned to the farm house.

“He gave no indication he was going back home,” she said.

“He seemed in good spirits.

“I messaged him late on 25th and again on 26th and he never opened any of these messages.

 The funeral cortege leaving the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Kanturk, Co Cork, last year for the funeral mass of the late Mark O’Sullivan. Photo: Dan Linehan
The funeral cortege leaving the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Kanturk, Co Cork, last year for the funeral mass of the late Mark O’Sullivan. Photo: Dan Linehan

“I then became aware he had been killed.” It would also emerge that a relative of the family told gardaí she was “extremely concerned” about the safety of Mark and his mother.

The jury in his inquest heard that Anne’s first cousin Louise Sherlock went to see gardaí on October 13.

She said later in a garda statement she told an officer in Kanturk Garda Station she was extremely concerned about Anne and Mark's safety and that she needed advice.

She then said she mentioned a bizarre encounter with Tadg and Diarmuid on the previous Friday when she was halfway up the narrow laneway to the O’Sullivan farmhouse when they stopped in front of her in their van and they both got out.

She told the garda Tadg was “ice-cold, expressionless” and that he told her: “I am looking at you and I am eyeballing you.

“I am not blinking.” Then she told the guard: “Diarmuid said this will all be over in a couple of weeks and that there would be a road of carnage."

She says the guard then advised her about protection and barring orders and advised she talk to a lawyer and she was told to make sure she had a copy of the EirCode.

That such a warning was received is now the subject of at least one internal review.

Timeline

Friday, October 9: Diarmuid O’Sullivan confronts his mother Anne O’Sullivan’s cousin, Louise Sherlock halfway down the long laneway to his family farm and warns her a dispute about land and inheritance would “all be over in a couple of weeks” and that “there would be a road of carnage”.

Tuesday, October 13: Mrs Sherlock tells an officer in Kanturk Garda Station she is extremely concerned about Anne and Mark's safety.

Sunday, October 25, 3.15pm: Anne O’Sullivan and oldest son Mark return to the family farm at Raheen, in Assolas, near Kanturk, north Co. Cork after spending two weeks staying with Mrs Sherlock.

8pm: Mrs O’Sullivan goes to bed, and Mark goes to his room.

Monday, October 26, 6am: Mrs O’Sullivan wakes as there is movement in the house, but dozed back to sleep.

6.15am: Mrs O’Sullivan wakes to the sound of gunfire and witnesses husband Tadg and her other son Diarmuid both shoot into Mark’s room. She then manages to escape from the house to raise the alarm.

6.45am: Gardaí from Kanturk arrive and a short while later gardaí at the scene are informed further gunshots have been heard locally. The family farm is surrounded by local uniform and plain clothes Gardaí.

 A Garda on duty as members of the Armed Response Unit move into the farm house. Photo: Dan Linehan
A Garda on duty as members of the Armed Response Unit move into the farm house. Photo: Dan Linehan

8.15am: Members of the Armed Support Unit (ASU) arrive and take up positions close by the farm house and buildings. A trained negotiator from the National Negotiator Unit is trying to contact anyone in the house.

9.00am: Specialist HSE paramedics arrive in an Irish Coast Guard helicopter to the nearby GAA grounds in the village of Castlemagner.

1.00pm: Members of the Emergency Response Unit approach and enter the house. Mark’s body is discovered in a bedroom. The Garda Air Support Unit helicopter begins an aerial search of adjoining lands.

1.40pm: The pilot spots two bodies near an old fairy fort in adjoining lands and members of the ERU and ASU cautiously approach the scene where they find Tadg and Diarmuid O’Sullivan.

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