Sunday 20 October 2019

'Love rival' trial witnesses open window on world of farming life in rural Ireland

Maeve Sheehan reports on the evidence heard last week at the Mr Moonlight murder trial

Farmer Pat Quirke, who is on trial for murder, leaving court with his wife Imelda in Dublin last week. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Farmer Pat Quirke, who is on trial for murder, leaving court with his wife Imelda in Dublin last week. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

'Feck them," said Breda O'Dwyer. The witness was talking about farmers placing late orders for bull semen. She clamped her hand across her mouth. "I'm sorry," she said to the judge and took a sip of water.

Light moments in a murder trial are rare. Not for the first time, Breda O'Dwyer had raised a smile in the otherwise tense and serious atmosphere of Court 13.

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She had grinned at the prosecuting counsel, Michael Bowman, when he asked her to explain: "What is a heifer?"

She had stood, hand on hip, in front of a big screen, explaining a diagram she had drawn of a milking parlour before segueing into a description of what time she used to drop her children to school.

She had interrupted the defence counsel, Bernard Condon, during cross-examination - "Can I speak?" - earning a stern reminder that she was there to answer questions.

Ms O'Dwyer was giving evidence in the trial of dairy farmer Patrick Quirke (50) at the Central Criminal Court for the murder of Bobby Ryan (52). Mr Quirke pleads not guilty.

The court has already heard the background of a case that has generated huge interest in the Tipperary heartland where the events unfolded.

There has been evidence of how Mr Quirke, from Breanshamore, three miles outside Tipperary town, had an affair with Mary Lowry, a widow whose farm he leased at nearby Fawnagowan. Her late husband was not only Mr Quirke's friend, but his wife Imelda's brother.

When the affair ended in December 2010, Ms Lowry began a relationship with Bobby Ryan, a DJ who went by the name Mr Moonlight and who was a "breath of fresh air", she told the court.

Six months later, on June 3, 2011, Bobby Ryan left Mary Lowry's home at 6.30am and disappeared. Almost two years elapsed before Patrick Quirke found his body on a run-off tank on Mary Lowry's farm.

The prosecution claims Patrick Quirke murdered Bobby Ryan to rekindle his affair with Mary Lowry and that he staged the discovery of the body on April 30, 2013, because his lease on the farm was coming to an end and he would have to leave.

Mr Quirke denies this.

Breda O'Dwyer was one of several local people, farm workers and professionals, who came to Dublin last week to testify - in the process opening a window on the world of farming life in rural Ireland. The thrust of Ms O'Dwyer's evidence related largely to her interactions with Pat Quirke on the morning that Bobby Ryan disappeared; she said he was milking his cows later than he usually would.

An artificial insemination technician from Annacrotty, Co Tipperary, Breda O'Dwyer described her job as: "Me driving along with a tank full of frozen bull semen."

Farmers would usually order the semen online and she would go from farm to farm with "straws" of semen stored in nitrogen, and would administer it herself. She often got into the cattle crush to do so.

She organised her route in advance as she didn't want to be "zig-zagging" around the countryside "wasting diesel". "This is all about making money," she said.

Pat Quirke was always among the first or second farmers on her route. She had known him for years, he had been at school with her sister and she herself milked his cows at one time although "it's a long time since I did that", she said.

On the morning of June 3, 2011, she arrived at Pat Quirke's farm about 9.30am.

Was Pat Quirke normally there when she would arrive, the prosecution counsel asked.

"No," she replied. Normally the farmers would be "cleaned up and gone", the machinery would be switched off and "the whole place would be spotless".

On that morning, she said, Pat Quirke was in the "pit" in the milking parlour, milking cows. She said she would have spoken to him, and then she inseminated two cows and left. She would have been in and out in 15 minutes, provided she didn't get kicked, she said, and he was still there "in the same place" when she left.

Ms O'Dwyer was asked about a text message she received from Pat Quirke at 7.24am. But she couldn't say what it was about because she had deleted it. The defence counsel brought it up when they cross-examined her. She had told gardai that it was normal for farmers to text her in the morning. She told the court it was "standard practice" for farmers to only text her if they didn't have cows for bulling. Ms O'Dwyer said she was mistaken in what she had told gardai.

She was also questioned at length about losing her work diary from that time. She had consulted it in 2014 when she spoke to gardai but since then, she couldn't find it, even though she had "rooted" for it everywhere.

She spoke to Pat Quirke about the discovery of Bobby Ryan's body. "It was coming up in the newspaper and I was going in and out of Pat's. I wasn't going to talk about the weather like."

Their conversations were "general" - "what had happened, who would have done it that kind of thing", she said.

He told her gardai had taken his electronic equipment and would be contacting her because her phone number was on them.

He also spoke about the day Bobby Ryan disappeared, when she had come to the farm. "He said Sean Dillon was there; did I not remember Sean Dillon was there?'" she said.

"I didn't see him," she told the court. "Now that's not to say Sean wasn't there."

For his part, Sean Dillon did not remember seeing Breda O'Dwyer that morning either. It was "possible she was", he told the court last week, but he couldn't "fully remember talking to her or anything".

He didn't have a good memory in general, he said.

Sean Dillon lived in Breansha too, on a farm with his mother, father and sister, a couple of miles up the road. His father was Imelda Quirke's cousin. He had worked on Pat Quirke's farm since he was seven, he said, and spent a lot of time there. His jobs included moving cattle, feeding cattle and driving tractors from around the age of 13. At the end of the year, Pat Quirke would give him a bullock as payment, which Sean Dillon would sell on a year later. He was interested in farming, he said, and he had told gardai that Pat Quirke was "very good at explaining stuff" to him and that he learned a lot from him. He would never give out to you if you did something wrong.

When he was 17, and got his first car, Pat Quirke paid the €3,000 cost of his motor insurance.

On June 3, 2011, the day that Bobby Ryan disappeared, Sean Dillon was 14. Testifying last week, he couldn't be sure of the date but knew it was the day after his school holidays that he called to Pat Quirke's farm. He had phoned him the night before about borrowing a tractor. He called over around 8.15am the next morning and Pat Quirke asked him to "do a few jobs".

His memory was not clear, but he said it would not be unusual for Pat to ask him to help him finish off the milking. The milking usually finished at 9.30am, but he agreed with the defence counsel that times could vary.

Later on the day that Pat Quirke discovered Bobby Ryan's body on Mary Lowry's farm, he and his mam called to the Quirkes, he said. The talk was about the discovery of the body. "They said it was found in a septic tank," said Mr Dillon. He also remembered Pat Quirke saying a calf's leg had got stuck in it.

In previous weeks, the court has heard that Mr Quirke told gardai that the last time he had looked in the run-off tank was in 2008 when a calf got its leg stuck in the concrete cover and he fenced around it.

The court heard from two of Mr Quirke's farmhands, Gary Cunningham, a student, and Emmet Kenny, a farmer. Gary Cunningham said he was unaware of the run-off tank where Bobby Ryan's body was found. Emmet Kenny said he was aware of the tank but did not put up fencing around it.

Both men had brief conversations with Mr Quirke about what he'd found.

Gary Cunningham said Pat Quirke told him he'd heard rumours that a "Polish" group was involved in Bobby Ryan's murder.

Emmet Kenny told the court he was in Pat Quirke's milking parlour the day after the body was found. "Did you hear?" asked Pat Quirke. He replied: "I did, yes."

No more was said.

Before Bobby Ryan disappeared, Pat Quirke had disclosed to his GP his affair with Mary Lowry. Dr Ivor Hanrahan told the court that on September 7, 2010, Mr Quirke came to his surgery for a routine visit. He was having difficulty sleeping, had work-related stress and financial stress.

As he wasn't keen on medication, Dr Hanrahan recommended a counsellor. He later prescribed Mr Quirke an anti-depressant but mainly to help him sleep.

At the end of 2010, Mr Quirke rang his GP. "He remained very distressed and upset and did disclose to me over the phone that he had a number of issues bothering him that he didn't want to go into over the phone," Dr Hanrahan said. The doctor asked Mr Quirke to come and see him face to face.

On February 3, 2011, he did. During that consultation, he said, Mr Quirke disclosed his extra-marital affair, expressing upset, distress and guilt.

Even though the affair had ended by then, and Mary Lowry was in a relationship with another man, he believed Mr Quirke still had feelings for her. "I believe he was quite hurt and upset at the fact she had become involved with someone else," he said.

Questioned by the defence, he said Mr Quirke had an "adjustment disorder", which occurs as a direct consequence of a stressful life event. He may not have met the criteria for depression.

The trial continues before Ms Justice Eileen Creedon and a jury of six men and six women.

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