Thursday 22 March 2018

Brother of murdered student tells of anguish as farmer jailed for life

Don Ryan, the father of student Eoin, leaves court with his son Daniel
Don Ryan, the father of student Eoin, leaves court with his son Daniel
Eoin Ryan
Joe Heffernan

Natasha Reid

THE family of a student whose body was found in a barrel say their "world ended" the day he was murdered.

Farmer Joe Heffernan is beginning a life sentence in prison for murdering Eoin Ryan (21), who he said had made a pass at him.

Mr Ryan's severely beaten body was found in a barrel in a field in Co Clare on June 7, 2011, after Heffernan called gardai to say he had killed the devil.

The 33-year-old, of Barefield, Ennis, had pleaded not guilty to murdering the law student at that address.

Heffernan told gardai he had killed a man after he had "come on to him", adding that the devil had been in the man's eyes.

The prosecution said Heffernan's motive was his disgust with himself that he might be gay or have engaged in a homosexual act. The trial had heard that Mr Ryan was gay and both men had left a pub together just hours before his death.


The jury did not accept that Heffernan's mental disorder had substantially diminished his responsibility, nor that his alleged intoxication at the time was enough to bring a manslaughter conviction instead of murder.

Following the verdict, Mr Ryan's brother and sister, Daniel and Lisa, delivered a victim impact statement on behalf of themselves and their parents, Phil and Don.

Daniel Ryan said it was impossible to convey how much their younger brother meant to them and how unbearable his loss was.

"No human being deserves to die in such a lonely, terrifying and violent fashion, least of all someone as peaceful and gentle as our Eoin," he said.

"It's every family's nightmare to lose someone they love in such horrendous circumstances. We now live that nightmare every day.

"Our world ended on June 7, 2011. Each morning is begun with a jolt of pain as the memory of what happened to Eoin returns to us.

"Days are to be endured and not enjoyed. We battle every day with questions that will never be answered and torment that will not cease."

Mr Ryan said his brother was the baby of the family and was cherished as any son and brother would be.

"He was very easy to love, hilariously funny, gentle, caring and intelligent," he said.

"He had something positive to say about everyone and saw only good in the world.

"Every minute of Eoin's 21 years was lived with positivity and energy. He had a greater sense of joy in life than anyone we know."

The defence asked for a manslaughter verdict, arguing that Heffernan's adjustment disorder following his father's death caused him to think he was killing the devil.

There was evidence that he believed he could bring his father back from the dead.

However, a forensic psychiatrist, who interviewed him three times over the past two years, said he knew what he was doing was wrong.

She noted that he had tried to conceal evidence by burning Mr Ryan's clothes and bank card afterwards.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Mr Ryan had sustained multiple injuries to his head and body and that his blood was found on a socket wrench at the scene.

State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy said he was the victim of a violent and sustained assault.

He died of severe, extensive trauma to his head, with blunt force trauma to his neck and chest a contributory factor.

The seven women and five men of the jury spent six hours deliberating over three days before returning with a majority murder verdict of 11 to one.


Mr Ryan had recently finished his final year in European studies and law at the University of Limerick.

His brother said he had then completed an internship at the European Parliament in Brussels, from which he had returned with many new friends and stories to tell.

He was working for the summer to save money to study for a masters in environmental law in Belfast.

"Life was opening up to him and he had the support and love of his family in everything he aimed to achieve," he added.

"Eoin deserved a long, full and happy life, and there is simply no punishment sufficient to lessen any of the hurt that has been inflicted on us."

Irish Independent

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