The widow, her two lovers and a murder in a Tipperary townland
'Love rival' trial: The Central Criminal Court has heard gripping evidence in the trial of a farmer accused of a love triangle killing, writes Maeve Sheehan
Mary Lowry lay in bed as her boyfriend got dressed. Bobby Ryan had left his clothes on the floor the night before, as he always did. He was slow pulling on his navy tracksuit with the white stripe, his white runners and a heavy navy jumper.
She remembered saying to him about the jumper: "What are you doing with that?" as it had been "a very warm few days". "He said, 'it's the easiest way to carry it'," she recalled in her evidence at the Central Criminal Court over the past two weeks.
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They had made love that morning. He left at about 6.30am, before her boys woke up. A truck driver at Killough Quarry, near Thurles, he had an early start anyway. She waited for the sound of his van crossing the grid on her driveway. That morning, she said, she waited longer than usual to hear it, "maybe seven to eight minutes".
Those mundane, domestic moments on that Friday morning, June 3, 2011, were the last she would spend with Mr Ryan, the man who had come into her life like "a breath of fresh air".
He left her house that morning and disappeared. His body was found almost two years later, naked and bruised, in a disused run-off tank on Ms Lowry's farm in the townland of Fawnagown, between the village of Bansha and Tipperary town.
Last Tuesday, Ms Lowry took the stand as the first witness in the trial of Patrick Quirke (50) for the murder of Robert 'Bobby' Ryan (52) on a date between June 3, 2011 and April 2013. Mr Quirke has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Over four days in the witness box at the Central Criminal Court, Ms Lowry's relationships with both men came under scrutiny, as did the prosecution's contention that Mr Quirke murdered Mr Ryan so he could rekindle an affair with her.
She had "bared her soul", her "absolute soul", she said at one point during her cross examination. "I have told everything in my whole life… Some of it I am not too happy with and ashamed of, but I have put everything in to try solve this case."
Ms Lowry began her evidence by telling the court about her husband, Martin, and how they married and moved on to the family farm left to him by his father. They built an extension on to the original family home. Martin's mother, Rita, lived in one side and the Lowrys and their three boys in the other. Mr Quirke, a farmer in Breanshamore, was married to Martin's sister, Imelda, the court heard. Ms Lowry said the two men were "acquaintances", but the court heard there would be evidence that they were "the best of friends".
When Martin died of cancer in 2007, Ms Lowry was bereft and completely lost, she said. Their three boys were aged three to 10, and she had no interest in the farm. Mr Quirke stepped in to help. He offered to look after her husband's investments and advised her on the farm. He leased 63 acres from her - for €12,600 to be paid twice a year, the court heard.
The friendship developed into an affair in January 2008 and it continued over two years; they would meet on Mondays and Fridays in the morning at her home. She said she felt ashamed and tried to end it, but she was vulnerable, she said. He was "controlling" and "manipulative" and constantly asking for money.
Ms Lowry said he advised her to make a new will after her husband's death. She agreed, appointing Mr Quirke and his wife guardians of her children in the event of her death and, at Mr Quirke's suggestion, leaving them €100,000 to extend their home to accommodate the boys. On another occasion, she lent him €20,000 that she did not get back, she said.
The only explanation she could offer for what she called "this seedy affair" was that she hadn't been in a sexual relationship for many years.
She ended the affair in the summer of 2010. Mr Ryan came into her life in August of that year, when he got her tickets for an All-Ireland final, and they got on "like a house on fire". He was a DJ who used the stage name Mr Moonlight and played in local pubs and clubs. By early 2011, they were in a relationship, she said.
"I didn't have to hide or tell lies or pretend," she said. "He could call during the week. He may stay or he may not. There was never a big plan."
Her mother-in-law was "delighted" for her, she told the court, but Mr Ryan used to park his van away from the house out of sensitivity. "I didn't want her feeling uneasy. I was very conscious that her son had died."
Mr Ryan's two adult children were "happy" for them, she said.
Her own children loved him, and he loved them. She was "mad about him". "What more would you want from a relationship?" she asked.
Pat Quirke didn't take it well. She returned one morning to find her front door open and him "hiding behind the inside door of the house". He told her she had left the door open, but she didn't believe him, she said.
On Valentine's Day in 2011, Ms Lowry opened a letter from social services saying that "my children were not being looked after properly. I can't tell you the shock that I got," she said. "I blamed Pat Quirke for it", but he denied it.
On February 20, 2011, she bought the Sunday Independent and read the problem page written by the late Patricia Redlich.
"Dear Patricia, I've made a right mess of my life and I need help on how to go forward. It all started four years ago when my best friend died. This man was also my wife's cousin and a close family friend. He left a wife and a young family after him. I coped by throwing myself into doing all I could for my friend's wife and children… Unfortunately this led to an affair with his wife, and I fell deeply in love," a letter began.
"I couldn't believe what I was reading," Ms Lowry said. She was "fuming". She contacted Mr Quirke and asked him if he had written it. "He said he did. I said, did your wife see this? He said no," she said. He had removed the page before she had seen it.
Her relationship with Mr Ryan was now well-known and they were invited to events as a couple, she said. "We were having a very good time. I loved him to bits," she said. On May 27, 2011, they went to Bundoran for a weekend of dancing. They both loved dancing, she said, and it was an opportunity for them to get to know each other better because when they were out together there were always people around.
They had a great time on the first night, but on the Saturday night, they had a row, she told the court. Bobby wasn't feeling well, she said, and didn't want to dance and she accepted a dance with another man. When she got back to their table, Mr Ryan was chatting to another woman. "I wasn't at all pleased," she said. "I was disappointed he chose to talk to somebody else for what seemed like hours.
"I gave out to him the whole way back from Bundoran," she said. "His ears must have been reddened." By the end of the journey, Mr Ryan suggested they "take a break". They soon made up though and on June 2, 2011, he arrived at Ms Lowry's house, his Mr Moonlight van parked in the yard, talking on the phone as he came in.
Some time after she heard the sound of Mr Ryan's van on the grid the next morning, she got up and prepared the boys' breakfasts and school lunches. At 8.30am, she looked out of the window and saw Mr Quirke's jeep passing up the driveway.
"When I saw his jeep, I thought, where's he going at this hour of the morning?" She ran into him outside. "He looked very hot and sweaty and bothered," she said.
Having dropped her children at school, and her mother-in-law at the doctor, she returned home at 9.30am and sat outside on the patio to enjoy the sun.
She said it was between 10.30 and 11.30am when Mr Ryan's daughter, Michelle, rang. She wanted to know whether Ms Lowry had seen her father - she thought they might have gone to the beach as it was such a nice day.
Michelle was "distraught", she said, and was reporting her father missing at the Garda station. Ms Lowry arranged to meet her there. Before she left, Mr Ryan's son Robert called, also looking for his father, and she asked if they had "searched the lakes". The reason, she said when cross examined, was because Bobby Ryan had spoken to her before of being depressed.
She ended up meeting Michelle on the road in Tipperary town. "I said will you come out to my house, just to calm down and to see," said Ms Lowry.
"I was extremely upset and worried. It was like a bolt from the blue," she told the defence. "He had left my house that morning at 6.30am. I can't tell you how alarmed and frightened, and 'oh my God', this is unbelievable. I thought my bad luck was finished. It now seemed to be starting back again."
She was so alarmed that she "forgot" to turn into her driveway on the journey back from town. Michelle "kept saying, 'I think he's in a wood, I think he's in a wood'." That must have been why she drove past her house to Kilshane Wood, she said.
There at Kilshane Wood was Bobby Ryan's silver van. They checked the van, "screamed all over the wood" for him. But the search for Mr Ryan went on for weeks and months, involving gardai and Trace Ireland, an agency that helps to find missing people. Mr Quirke was always in the vicinity, listening to what everyone was saying, Ms Lowry said.
One day, when in the village of Bansha, she sat in the car of a woman from Trace Ireland and told her about her affair with Pat Quirke. "She was the first person I told," she said. After that, she had to tell the gardai, and then her own family and friends. "I was very upset and ashamed," she said. "It was a very difficult time."
Ms Lowry accused Mr Quirke of "crawling back into her life" and "pretending" to be her friend after Mr Ryan's disappearance.
He tried to rekindle their affair. "He pestered me and pestered me and pestered me," she said. She said she agreed to go away with Mr Quirke for a night. "I was so pestered I said I would go," she said.
She got the train from Limerick Junction and went to Fitzpatrick's hotel in Killiney in south Dublin, where she had stayed before with her husband. "I can't remember a whole lot. I had a lot to drink. I felt pressure. I didn't want to be there," she said. Later, when cross examined about that trip, she couldn't remember going to a show in the Olympia that night, The Night Joe Dolan's Car Broke Down. "It mustn't have been very good," she said.
She could not remember having a second night away with Mr Quirke, on September 11, 2008, when it was put to her that she and Mr Quirke had stayed at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford. The defence produced a print-out of the booking showing a payment of €400 and her email address. She could not explain that but said Mr Quirke had a key to her house. She dismissed the suggestion that she had rekindled her affair with him after Mr Ryan disappeared as "totally ridiculous".
The court also heard that she had started a new relationship in 2012.
Ms Lowry had installed CCTV on her property because the alarm kept going off. One day in December 2012, when the family was away, the alarm activated. That night, she asked her son to help her view the CCTV footage. It showed Mr Quirke walking around the yard, standing by her washing line and looking in the windows.
Ms Lowry said she didn't want to go down the route of making a formal complaint to gardai. Mr Quirke had suffered a tragedy earlier that year when his son died. Instead, she asked her solicitor to write to him "as kind-hearted as possible" to end the lease. He agreed to leave in July 2013 and secured a lease on a nearby farm belonging to a woman called Mary Dillon.
"I just wanted to be rid of this man, who was hanging around my house, taking things, upsetting me," she said.
On April 29, 2013, Ms Lowry noticed a strange tractor in the farmyard. She went out and "walked into Pat Quirke head on". He asked how she was, she said. "I just said, 'you are some c*** and I can't wait to see the back of you. I just hope you won't be stealing Mary Dillon's knickers off the line.'" According to Ms Lowry, his response was: "Hah".
The next day, she returned from the school run and her morning errands to find the Quirkes and gardai on the farm. She knew it was a crime scene because of the tape. The superintendent told her a body had been found in a run-off tank that she told the court she didn't know existed until then. She would have to leave the house to facilitate the investigation. She never returned to the house again.
The prosecution claims that Mr Quirke staged the discovery of Mr Ryan's body because the lease was coming to an end and he would have to move off the land. Over two-and-a-half days of cross examination, defence counsel Bernard Condon highlighted what he called the "inconsistencies" and "lies" in Ms Lowry's Garda statements. He questioned "curiosities" in her accounts, her memory lapses and the different times she gave for incidents such as the delay in Mr Ryan's car leaving her driveway, or the length of time it took him to leave the house.
He suggested she made up lies to "trash" Mr Quirke. In her evidence, she had questioned what he was doing on the farm at 8.30 on the morning that Mr Ryan disappeared. Mr Condon quoted from one of her garda statements: '"Pat was going away with his family that morning, so he was probably trying to get some jobs done'.
"So why did you lie to the jury and say you didn't know he was going away?" asked Mr Condon. She denied it was a lie and said it was her memory.
Mr Condon suggested she was "taking every possible opportunity" to present herself in the best possible light while presenting Mr Quirke in the worst. He quoted a statement from Mary Glasheen, a friend of Mr Ryan, about a "bitchy comment" Ms Lowry had made about her laugh. Ms Lowry couldn't remember making any such comment.
He quoted a statement from Mr Ryan's sister-in-law, Ann Stapleton. She said Ms Lowry phoned her out of the blue on June 5, 2011, asked her about fingerprints and whether they would be able to tell if there was a body in a vehicle. Ms Lowry said she never mentioned anything about a body in a car.
She had complained to gardai about missing posters going up around her property, the defence said. She replied that the posters were only around her house and she felt they were intimidating and upsetting for her children. "It was like they were trying to say I had something to do with this man who was missing," she said.
The trial before Ms Justice Eileen Creedon and a jury of six men and six women resumes tomorrow.