Monday 16 September 2019

How a minor feud festered into a farmer's horrific manslaughter

Killer Michael Ferris
Killer Michael Ferris

Ralph Riegel

North Kerry is no stranger to great tragedies inexplicably woven from the most minor of local disputes and feuds.

This, after all, is where abundant inspiration was provided over the decades for writers such as John B Keane and Bryan MacMahon.

North Kerry is where 'The Field' was born before being brought to an international audience by Hollywood.

Tragedies linked to feuds over politics, land and affairs of the heart are part and parcel of an area that boasts a mystique all of its own. Yet the killing of farmer Anthony O'Mahony (74) on April 4, 2017 outside Ballyduff stands somehow apart.

Kerry farmer John Anthony O’Mahony
Kerry farmer John Anthony O’Mahony

The fact the highly respected horticultural farmer died following a dispute over the noise created by something as trivial as a crowbanger stretched credibility beyond belief.

The horrific manner of how he died - impaled on the prongs of a teleporter driven into his car by fellow farmer Michael Ferris (63) - made the tragedy all the harder to comprehend for locals.

Last October, a Kerry jury acquitted Mr Ferris of the murder but convicted him of Mr O'Mahony's manslaughter by a 10-2 majority verdict after almost five hours of deliberation.

Mr O'Mahony died within sight of Rattoo Tower and the prime land he turned over decades into a renowned horticultural enterprise.

Mr Ferris farmed locally and likewise woke up each morning to the sight of the famous north Kerry tower.

Over the years, Rattoo has seen its share of tragedies from Viking and Norman raids right through to the savagery with which the Civil War was fought in Kerry.

But the iconic landmark, which dates back to the 10th century, never witnessed anything as bizarre as the row which led to two highly respected farmers and pillars of the community falling out to the point where one killed the other in a row about a crowbanger.

Both men were so adept at farming, so dedicated to working the land and proud of their community, they should by any logic have been friends and colleagues.

Mr O'Mahony, an unmarried man hailed by locals as "a genius" in the tillage farming sector, had worked a holding that surrounded Rattoo Tower.

Just days before his killing, he had arranged for the ploughing of his land which swept around the tower in preparation for the coming season. But it was a harvest he would not live to see.

He died on his way to check his holding, his vehicle rammed by the pronged agri-machine driven by Mr Ferris.

The fatal confrontation followed an increasingly bitter dispute over the noise created by a crowbanger on Mr O'Mahony's land. Ballyduff village lies just 2km away.

Even now, more than 18 months since the tragedy, locals remain deeply shocked and incredulous by what happened. Most don't like commenting for fear of offending either of the two families.

At the time, retired teacher Maurice O'Connor explained that in a tight-knit area like Ballyduff, it was a tragedy that affected the entire community.

"People just cannot believe that something like this could have happened here," he said. "It is a tragedy for everyone."

"The community remains in shock," local priest Fr Brendan Walsh explained last year.

Both Mr O'Mahony and Mr Ferris were described by other locals as pillars of the local community. The two men were regulars at Mass and were staunch supporters of local community events.

Mr Ferris was renowned for his willingness to help others - often halting his own work to help a neighbour in need.

"He is a mighty man for work - and he couldn't do enough for his neighbours. That's the kind of man he is," explained another local, who asked not to be named.

Mr O'Mahony, whose brother Seamus and sister Angela both live locally, was described as the "go to man" for advice on anything of a horticultural farming nature.

He had attended Warrenstown Agricultural College and had initially begun his farming career by producing tomatoes.

Mr O'Mahony later branched into vegetables before focussing on the production of corn for which he became renowned across Munster.

Locals described him as "single-minded" and stubborn if he believed he was correct over something.

Seamus O'Mahony stressed the 74-year-old's life passion was his farming work.

Read more: 'Justice had not been served' - family's anger as farmer sentenced to five years for killing neighbour with teleporter

Read more: Farmer who 'snapped' over crow banger could be free in two years

Read more: Kerry murder trial: Michael Ferris found not guilty of murder, convicted of manslaughter

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News