Tuesday 20 August 2019

The day the music died: The twisted journey to murder of 'Mr Moonlight' Bobby Ryan

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Ralph Riegel

In the tight-knit Tipperary community that Bobby 'Mr Moonlight' Ryan called home, almost everyone suspected within 24 hours of his disappearance eight years ago that something was badly amiss.

It was simply out of character for the likeable quarry worker to vanish and not tell anyone, least of all his family and children, where he had gone. It just wasn't how he operated.

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A larger-than-life character, Bobby was a lifelong fan of Tipperary hurling and passionate about music and dancing.

Almost everyone around south Tipperary knew him better by his DJ moniker of 'Mr Moonlight' - a nickname Bobby revelled in.

"Music was his life," a family member explained.

"The part-time DJ work wasn't about the money at all for Bobby - it was just that he loved music and being a part of the local social life.

"He was a great character and loved the local social life. If there was music being played, you'd see Bobby somewhere nearby."

The kind-hearted Bobby would also offer his DJ services free gratis to Tipperary charities or local fundraisers.

"That's just the kind of man that Bobby was. You never saw him but that he was smiling or willing to do you a [good] turn," he added. "Everyone knew Mr Moonlight around Tipperary town."

Alarming

Bobby was last seen leaving the Fawnagown farm of Mary Lowry for work at Killough Quarry outside Thurles early on the morning of June 3, 2011.

He had travelled to the property the previous evening from his home at The Crescent in Boherlahan.

But Bobby never arrived at work.

Subsequent calls to his mobile phone from his family went unanswered and, in an alarming development, his van was discovered later than evening at Kilshane car park leading to a popular local beauty spot, Bansha Wood.

The van was distinctive with two black stripes and the logo 'Mr Moonlight' across the top of the windscreen. But there was no trace of the 52-year-old or any indication as to what might have happened to him.

A few items were found inside the van, including a black diary and Bobby's driving licence. A bottle of aftershave was found in a storage area inside one of the van doors.

The Ryan family immediately suspected something sinister as the developments were totally out of character for Bobby. It was a suspicion shared by Tipperary gardaí.

There was nothing in his life to justify him leaving the area where he had lived his entire life or, even worse, for him doing something tragic.

In fact, he had been extremely happy over recent times due to the success of his DJ business and, in part, due to a new relationship he had become involved in.

Mary Lowry was the object of Bobby's recent affections.

A widowed mother of three, she had met Bobby at various music events and socials in Tipperary in early 2010.

Mary's husband, Martin, had died in 2007 after a battle with cancer.

"He was one lovely fella - he worked almost up until the day he died," one neighbour recalled of Martin.

Martin had built a bungalow, complete with granny flat for his mother Rita, at Fawnagown on the site of an old cottage. The farm had been in the family for several generations.

"He was a great farmer and a great neighbour. There was nothing Martin wouldn't do to help you," said the neighbour.

Friendship

For more than two years after his death, Mary didn't frequent many socials or events.

Then, in August 2010, she happened to be at a local social and mentioned in passing to Bobby she was frustrated at not being able to secure an All-Ireland hurling final ticket.

The DJ managed to secure a ticket for her and it sparked a growing friendship that, within a few months, had turned into a budding relationship. In early 2011, that relationship had become intimate and Bobby started spending an increasing amount of time at Fawnagown.

Bobby and Mary were suddenly spotted together at dances and socials across Tipperary. Both adored music and Mary was thrilled that Bobby also enjoyed dancing.

It was a relationship that stood in marked contrast to the affair Mary was in the process of trying to end.

She had been having an affair since 2008 with Patrick Quirke whose wife, Imelda, was her late husband's sister.

Affair

It was a clandestine affair with the meetings at her Fawnagown home or a handful of meals far outside Tipperary.

Mary's children also weren't impressed by the increasing amount of time Quirke, who had taken a lease on the Fawnagown farm, was now spending at their home.

Eventually, the widow came to believe the affair was "seedy" and the result of her vulnerability after her husband's death.

From the summer of 2010, Mary had been trying to end the affair but the split was anything but amicable.

Concerned about security at her home, she secretly had CCTV security cameras installed.

This followed a number of break-ins at the property, one of which occurred on the day of her father's funeral.

In December 2010, Mary checked CCTV footage and it showed Quirke walking around her property late at night and looking in the windows.

Solicitors' letters were exchanged over the lease on the Fawnagown farm and Mary's belief it was now in everyone's best interests for Quirke to cease his farming activity there.

The discovery that Mary was involved in a budding relationship with Bobby came as a shock to Quirke in late 2010.

In his own words, he was "quite hurt" at the manner in which his relationship with Mary had ended.

Then Bobby Ryan vanished.

As repeated Garda appeals for information on his whereabouts led nowhere, the Ryan family took it on themselves to print missing posters.

But gardaí were now convinced Bobby's disappearance had a sinister background.

On April 30, 2013, a badly decomposed body was discovered in a run-off tank at the Fawnagown farm.

Rumour

Quirke - who was about to end his lease on the farm - was checking the run-off tank, and he spotted what he thought were human remains.

In a community where rumour and speculation had surrounded the disappearance of Mr Ryan for almost two years, the grim discovery confirmed everyone's worst fears.

In late 2013, Quirke was charged before Tipperary District Court with assault causing harm to Mary Lowry between August 1 and 31, 2012.

He was also charged with burglary and handling stolen goods. The charges caused a sensation locally.

Just five months later, all three charges levelled against Quirke were withdrawn after the Director of Public Prosecutions considered the Garda file. No reason for the decision was publicly given.

Almost three years later, Quirke appeared again before Tipperary District Court - but this time charged with Mr Ryan's murder.

With a large media entourage attending the brief hearing, it was the first sign of the huge public interest the so-called 'Tipperary Love Triangle' trial would ultimately generate.

Irish Independent

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