Maeve Sheehan: 'The brothers, the slurry and the charges that were dropped'
The prosecution is due to finish presenting its evidence in the Tipperary murder trial this week, writes Maeve Sheehan
Jack Lowry and his little brother got off the school bus at the entrance to the family farm outside Tipperary town and walked up the avenue for home. He was 11 years old and Micheal was four years younger. They called to their grandmother, Rita Lowry, who lived in her own separate part of their home. She cooked them lunch or dinner most days, he said. Someone, he can't remember who, told him that Bobby Ryan was "missing".
"We didn't have a clue what was going on."
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Jack Lowry, now 19, was talking about the day his widowed mother's boyfriend disappeared on June 3, 2011. Mr Ryan left Mary Lowry's bedroom that morning at 6.30am, and disappeared. His body would be found almost two years later in a run-off tank on their farm.
Jack Lowry was the second of Mary Lowry's sons to testify in the trial of Patrick Quirke, who is accused of murdering Bobby Ryan, a truck driver and DJ known as Mr Moonlight. His older brother, Tommy (21), was in that same witness box in February, recalling that his younger siblings "could not get a grip of what was going on".
Pat Quirke (50), a dairy farmer from Breanshamore, had an affair with their mother, the Central Criminal Court heard. The prosecution claims that Mr Quirke murdered Mr Ryan because he was his "love rival", and later staged the discovery of his body. Mr Quirke pleads not guilty to the murder.
Rita Lowry (91) and her grandson, Jack, were among the final tranche of prosecution witnesses last week. The prosecution is due to finish presenting evidence this week.
Their accounts spoke of a family impacted by the events on the farm at Fawnagowan, where Rita Lowry had lived for more than 60 years.
The Quirke and Lowry families are connected through marriage. Mr Quirke's wife, Imelda, is Mary Lowry's late husband's sister. They share a mother-in-law in Rita Lowry. She reared eight children at Fawnagowan. When her eldest son, Martin, married Mary Lowry and took over the farm, the couple built on an extension to her home and lived beside her. Rita Lowry remembered how "very upset" her daughter-in-law was after Martin died. As for Mr Quirke and Mary Lowry's relationship, she said they were "always great friends".
Jack Lowry, who was eight when his father died, remembered a happy childhood, including family holidays abroad with the Quirkes. He had "nothing against" Mr Quirke, he said, but he "was in control most of the time" and "grumpy some of the time" and went around their farm as if "he owned the place".
He felt "weird at first" about his mother's relationship with Mr Ryan. "I used to slag Bobby about being bald and things," he said. "I thought he was taking over my father's role really." His mother seemed "very happy" in his company - he brought them to a fun fair in Tramore and he bought them a 1997 Toyota Corolla which Jack said was for Tommy to learn to drive. Jack was only in the car when Tommy was driving it - never on his own, he said.
Lorcan Staines, for the defence, pressed Jack Lowry about the Toyota. He had told gardai that the car was for "us" to learn to drive. Did he stand by what he'd told the jury? Yes, said Jack Lowry. The car was more for Tommy. He was 11, he pointed out. "I was barely able to reach the pedal."
Mr Quirke told gardai he'd only once before opened the underground run-off tank where Bobby Ryan's body was hidden, and that was in 2008 when a calf's leg got stuck in it. But on April 30, 2013, he intended to spread slurry at Fawnagowan, and opened the tank to draw water from it.
Rita Lowry and her grandson were asked their knowledge of Mr Quirke spreading slurry. Rita Lowry said in her deposition that a contractor would be brought in. Jack Lowry said he didn't think Mr Quirke ever spread slurry. Defence counsel Staines pointed out that another witness had said Mr Quirke had done "small slurry jobs", while a contractor would do the larger ones. The evidence of a garda indicated that he was "clearly able to do it".
"I didn't know that," said Jack Lowry. When his brother Tommy testified, he came to Dublin to support him but he didn't hear his evidence and they didn't discuss it, not the run-off tank or the Toyota Corolla. Tommy didn't want to talk about it. They discussed "how to come up here and be strong", he said.
Chief Superintendent Dominic Hayes, then a detective superintendent investigating Mr Ryan's murder, had made a note of "height-bumper" in his notebook. What was this about, he was asked? It could refer to a tractor or a van, he said. He agreed delays in taking statements were not ideal and that fingerprints should have been tested sooner. Asked about concrete falling on Mr Ryan's body during its removal from the tank, he insisted no large pieces of debris fell on him. The injuries to Mr Ryan's body were not caused by concrete debris, the court heard. CS Hayes also confirmed that Mr Quirke was charged with two burglaries at Mary Lowry's home and with possessing a key to the property. The charges were later dropped.
The court also heard that gardai confirmed Mr Quirke's account of taking his wife on a weekend birthday break on the day Mr Ryan disappeared. The couple stayed at the Heritage Hotel in Laois, paid the €641 bill, and their mobile phones "pinged" in the area.
Mr Ryan's mobile phone also pinged on the day he disappeared, at a mast by Crough Motors in Tipperary town at 10.19am. The phone could have pinged at that mast from Fawnagowan, the court heard.
The trial continues.