Wednesday 23 October 2019

How Pat Quirke was cornered in Court 13

Murderous calculation: the horrific tale of a ‘happily married’ farmer’s willingness to kill a rival for his lover’s affections was played out in full glare of public

Patrick Quirke arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Patrick Quirke arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It was the longest running murder trial in Irish criminal history - and it held the nation enthralled.

A 15-week-long saga of poisonous jealousy and manipulation, infidelity and murderous calculation, set against the idyllic backdrop of the Golden Vale and amid the deeply private dairy farming community.

A 'happily married' dairy farmer and financial shark who spotted an opportunity in the death of his brother-in-law to prey on his widow, using her for sex and cash. And who could not accept her eventual rejection and her bid to strike out and find happiness.

But this was no mere story. These were real lives, real tragedies playing out before the intensely curious eyes of the public in courtroom 13, with no stone left unturned when it came to delving into the private affairs of all concerned, often leading to a feeling of deep unease at the level of intrusion deemed necessary to prove this circumstantial case.

Every day saw an influx of onlookers into the courtroom - with, once, two women even bringing collapsible seats which they popped up at the back of the room.

All were conscious of the lone, stark, almost wraith-like figure of Imelda Quirke, ceaselessly loyal to her husband, Patrick, often accompanied by their son, Liam. They came up and down on the train from Limerick Junction every day. As did members of the Ryan family, including Bobby Ryan's children, Michelle and Robert Jnr, his former wife, Mary Ryan, and his brother and sister, taking their seats in court every day to sit through the most difficult of evidence.

Quirke was ‘constantly’ looking for money. At one stage, his demands for cash culminated with him pushing Mary Lowry against the kitchen table. Photo: PA
Quirke was ‘constantly’ looking for money. At one stage, his demands for cash culminated with him pushing Mary Lowry against the kitchen table. Photo: PA

And at the heart of it all, was their searing loss - of a man whom prosecution barrister Michael Bowman SC noted had still brought a smile onto the faces of all those called to give evidence about him.

Mr Bowman, in his closing speech, told the jury this case was about the taking of Bobby Ryan's life.

He was a man "living a quiet and peaceful and content life in a small village, a man who lived his job, a man who loved music, a man who loved to dance, who loved his girlfriend and who very dearly loved his two children".

"A man who loved life... a man who was universally loved and liked," Mr Bowman said.

An anonymous text retrieved from Mary’s phone said: ‘We know you are hiding something and we are going to watch you until you crack’
An anonymous text retrieved from Mary’s phone said: ‘We know you are hiding something and we are going to watch you until you crack’

The word used by his daughter Michelle Ryan to describe him was "wow", he reminded them. To Mary Lowry, he was: "A breath of fresh air in my life."

"This case is about the fact that Bobby Ryan's life was taken," said Mr Bowman.

Who would want to take the life of such a man?

"To strip him naked of his worldly possessions and his dignity and leave his body to decompose in a sealed chamber on a farm in Fawnagowan?"

Who indeed.

At one stage, a photograph of Bobby's remains flashed up on the big screens accidentally and Michelle and Mary fled the courtroom, sobbing.

The trial before Judge Eileen Creedon began with the explosive testimony of Mary Lowry - the witness on whom the whole case rested.

She was dressed smartly in a striped top embellished with pink flowers along the hem and sleeves, navy jeans and a short navy woollen jacket, with her hair in a short bob.

She took the oath in a low voice - but as her evidence went on, she gathered confidence and stoutly defended herself against the defence counsel, who had cast her as a sort of femme fatale, a "very dangerous witness" as Bernard Condon SC claimed in his closing speech.

She was frequently and rigorously cross-examined, amid accusations that she was 'telling lies' and was seeking to cast Patrick Quirke in as poor a light as often as possible.

She had "trashed" Quirke, Bernard Condon SC put it to her.

Mary tartly observed that Quirke had "trashed himself".

She was only there to tell the truth, to get justice for Bobby, declaring that she wanted to solve this "murder mystery".

Her language may have been dramatic - but she did not exaggerate.

For four days on the stand, she 'bared her soul'.

She became visibly emotional as she recalled how she had been introduced to Martin Lowry, her late husband, by a woman she worked with in a meat factory, at a nightclub in Limerick, in 1986 or '87 - it was where lots of people met in those days, she explained.

Martin had farmed all his life on the family's 50 acres at Fawnagowan, Co Tipperary, and he had a bit of land in Bansha as well, she explained.

Martin was the eldest boy of the family and had two brothers, Jimmy and Johnny, as well as four sisters, Mary, Ann, Catherine and Imelda - who is married to Pat Quirke, she told the court.

In 1995, they got married and she worked full-time until their three children were born.

But in 2007, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, after suffering ill health for a year and a half before that.

Their children were just 10, eight and three and a half when he died in September of that year.

It was a difficult time, she said. But she tried to be a good mother and she always put her children first.

Financially, she was good. After her husband's death, she inherited the farm - but claimed she knew little about the financial operations of some of the investments Martin had made.

Martin and Pat Quirke, both being dairy farmers, had some investments together and shared machinery, she said.

But she wouldn't describe them as great friends, she said, pointing to the fact that while Martin had been Pat's best man, Pat had not been Martin's.

Quirke was a great help to her at the beginning, she said, explaining that she knew nothing of the online selling of shares, for example.

However, he was "constantly" looking for money - and he told her of the fact he had run into difficulty with investments.

At one stage, his demands for cash culminated with him pushing her against the kitchen table. He apologised the next day.

In January 2008, her relationship with Pat Quirke became a sexual one.

She believed he "crossed the line".

But her guilt led her to want to end it many times and in August 2010 she met Bobby Ryan.

Pat Quirke could not accept her new relationship and made multiple attempts to sabotage it, to escalating degrees.

Most significantly, on February 4, 2011, he picked up the phone to ring the social services, raising doubts about Mary Lowry as a mother - claiming she had "lost the run of herself" because of this new relationship and was emotionally neglecting her three children.

In his closing statement, Michael Bowman SC, for the prosecution, said Quirke had hoped that by getting the authorities involved, he would force Mary to choose between Bobby and her children. He knew that if this was the case, Bobby didn't stand a chance, said Mr Bowman.

At the end of May 2011 - the weekend before his disappearance - Mary went for a night away with Mr Ryan in Bundoran.

She was anxious to spend "quality" time with him, but was later questioned about whether she told gardaí she was "raging" when she had spotted him dancing with another woman.

She told the court she had been annoyed he had been talking to another woman and they had rowed all the way home and decided to end things.

Michelle Ryan told the court that she understood her father had ended the relationship after the trip to Bundoran and the relationship cooled. During cross-examination, she said her father had asked for her opinion and she had told him to 'P45' Mary Lowry because "he didn't need that".

However, according to Mary Lowry, thing resolved themselves because they realised it was silly to argue "at this stage of their lives". Leanne Hallissey, the partner of Mr Ryan's son Robert Jnr, told the court she recalled the evening before Bobby Ryan's disappearance.

He came home from work about 5.30pm and they were watching television together. She recalled Bobby Ryan's phone was going "off and off and off" and after watching the soap operas, he left the house at 9pm, saying: "I'd better go across and see what's wrong with her."

In closing, Michael Bowman SC pointed out that this may have just been a perception, since phone records showed Mary Lowry had sent Bobby just two texts that evening.

Mr Ryan spent that night with Mary Lowry at her house. Her son Tommy (14) was at a friend's house and Jack (11) and Micheal (9) were the only ones home.

She told the court that the next morning, Bobby awoke some time between 6am and 6.20am, they made love and then he got dressed.

She thought he took a while longer than usual to leave the house.

As usual, she said, she listened for the sound of his van going over the cattle grid at the gate but, again, thought there was a delay of around seven or eight minutes.

At 8.30am, Pat Quirke came up the driveway and she told the court she thought this was early for him.

She later noted that he seemed "hot and sweaty and bothered-looking".

He told gardaí in later interviews that he had been up at around 6.15am that morning and began the milking at Breanshamore.

He and 'Melly' were going away for the weekend, as a treat for her birthday, staying in the Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise.

He wanted to "get in and get out fast" that morning and estimated that he had spent just 20 minutes there, bringing bulls back to Breanshamore.

He claimed Sean Dillon, a local young lad, was over to help him with the milking that morning, and Quirke was back on time to help him finish off the last row.

They went for breakfast at 9.30am.

But Quirke had a problem - Sean Dillon wasn't sure if he was at Breanshamore that day, while artificial insemination technician Breda O'Dwyer - who had been calling to Quirke's farm for around 15 years - was adamant that he was still milking when she called that morning, at "at least" 9.30am.

He was also still milking when she left some 15 minutes later. This was very unusual, she told the trial. Usually he would be washed up and the place would be spotless.

Breda O'Dwyer was a highly credible witness. All of a sudden, Quirke's alibi began to crumble.

Later that morning of June 3, 2011, once it became apparent that Mr Ryan had not turned up for work at the quarry, alarm bells began to ring.

Robert Jnr decided to call on Mary Lowry and he thought her manner was peculiar.

"She appeared shaking to me, as if after having a car accident," he told gardaí.

Later that morning, Mary Lowry met up with Michelle Ryan at Cashel and they drove in the direction of her home. Michelle was crying, saying: "I think he's in a wood" and asked her to drive on to Kilshane woods, which was 3km from Ms Lowry's house.

There, they found Mr Ryan's 'Mr Moonlight' van of which he was so proud.

Almost instantly, Michelle noted that the seats and mirror were in the wrong position, the doors weren't locked and his DJ kit was still in the back.

She realised her father had not been the last person to drive the vehicle.

But Bobby Ryan never showed up.

Ms Costello told the Central Criminal Court she met Ms Lowry at Bansha Woods after she became involved in the search, "possibly within seven weeks of Bobby vanishing".

Some weeks later, after Ms Costello had spent the day searching in the woods, Ms Lowry contacted her and they arranged to meet at a petrol station in Bansha village.

This time, Ms Lowry was "severely distressed", she said.

"She was so hysterical I'd have been worried about her driving on the road," Ms Costello told the court, adding that "tears were flowing".

She confessed the affair with Pat Quirke and Ms Costello urged her to go to the Garda.

An anonymous text was retrieved from Ms Lowry's phone in September 2011. Written in text shorthand, it said: "You think you are so cool out partying like Bobby never existed. We know you are hiding something and we are going to watch you until you crack."

Mary and Pat Quirke eventually resumed their relationship to a certain extent, but never as before.

He had a "trust issue" and thought she might have a "guilt issue". They drifted apart, he told gardaí.

Things began to deteriorate between them.

She began seeing another man, Flor Cantillon, after meeting him that following St Patrick's Day weekend in Killarney.

Quirke told gardaí he wasn't hurt when Mary took up with someone else because "a leopard doesn't change its spots", but he was "disgusted at being made a fool of twice".

In any case, his actions spoke rather differently.

A secret tape recording of Flor and Mary chatting and laughing in her home was discovered on Quirke's hard drive.

In August 2012, tragedy struck the Quirke household when their middle son, Alan (11), was killed in a farm accident, after Quirke accidentally struck him with his 4x4.

Days afterwards, following the funeral, Mr Quirke said he told Mary Lowry he was unhappy with how she conducted herself at the funeral and with her lack of support.

They had a "heated exchange", he said. He agreed that he could have said to her: "Not a text or a phone call from you and all I did for you."

Some weeks later, Mary and her boys were due to travel to Spain to a family wedding. All the boarding cards and passports were laid out on the kitchen table. After returning for an anniversary Mass for her husband, Martin, Mary's passport was mysteriously missing.

She confronted Quirke and he admitted stealing it. "I sold it," he told her.

On December 3, 2012, the court heard, CCTV footage on the farm captured Mr Quirke walking around Ms Lowry's yard and near her clothes line.

Ms Lowry decided to terminate his lease on her land and asked her solicitor to send a 'sensitive' letter, given his recent family tragedy.

Relations continued to deteriorate. He agreed to leave Fawnagown by July and made arrangements to lease land from local woman Mary Dillon.

On April 29, 2013, Ms Lowry furiously confronted him in her yard, telling him: "You're some c***t and I can't wait to see the back of you and I hope you won't be stealing Mary Dillon's knickers off the line."

The following day, Pat Quirke set to work.

"I went to empty the slurry tanks to spread the slurry," he told gardaí later that night, explaining that he had borrowed a tractor with an agitator from a neighbour.

"The slurry was very thick and I needed more water," he said.

"I knew there was water in the old septic tank," he added, telling the garda about a leak in the milking parlour pipes which serviced that tank.

He went there to suck out water but when he opened the lid, noticed that there was something down there.

"I could see plastic," he said, adding that he thought at first it was "a dummy or an inflatable doll".

He opened the other lid and could "see clearly it was a body." He was "shocked".

He rang his wife Imelda but it took three calls to get through to her. In between, he rang his vet and checked his voicemails.

She got there in about 10 minutes - and Imelda was the one who rang gardaí.

At the interview in Tipperary station, Inspector David Buckley put it to him that he was "fairly clean for a man doing a dirty job".

From then on, the net gradually but inexorably began to tighten.

Detective Garda Paul Fitzpatrick of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau used forensic software to delve into Quirke's search history.

He found searches for human decomposition timelines on December 3, 2012. Quirke explained it away in interviews by saying that his "son had died".

Later, Det Gda Fitzpatrick updated his software and then made a crucial breakthrough.

Quirke had searched for human decomposition on July 25, 2012 - a month before his son died.

An A4 sheet of paper with 'musings' on the circumstances of Bobby's disappearance, found in his office, bore indentations that read: "what the guards will know" and "dispose of clothes/phone/any other evidence".

Pat Quirke had been cornered.

Irish Independent

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