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Sunday 19 November 2017

Farming friends torn apart by deep rift over family land

On surface they were close, going to mart and the races

George Rothwell
George Rothwell
Michael Jordan was found hanged in a shed
Fire damage at George Rothwell's home in Ballycormac, Co Carlow
A body is removed from the scene at Ballycormac, Co Carlow
George Rothwell when he was a younger man and in a showband
Gardai at the scene at Ballycormack, Bagnelstown. Photo: PA
Gardai at the scene at Ballycormack, Bagnelstown. Photo: PA
Gardai at the scene at Ballycormack, Bagnelstown. Photo: PA

THEY enjoyed a flutter at the races in Gowran, farmed alongside one another and went to a mart together to look at sheep.

To outsiders, there was no animosity between "gentleman" George Rothwell (69) and his brother-in-law, Michael Jordan (63), known as a "fierce good neighbour" who would go out of his way to help anyone.

As far as the eye could see, the two were on the best of terms. They were seen out and about together just in the past week.

George, a Protestant and a bachelor, lived on a sizeable farm at Ballycormac on the outskirts of Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

The farm adjoining his property was owned by Michael Jordan and George's only sibling, his sister Hilda.

Neither of the two men had children and they shared a love for farming -- priding themselves on rearing sheep.

But there was history bubbling under the surface between the pair that locals were reluctant to discuss yesterday.

Hilda first started seeing Michael, who was Catholic, when her father, the late Fred Rothwell, was alive and living at Ballycormac House.

Locals said that Fred was a staunch Church of Ireland man who would not have approved of Hilda marrying a Roman Catholic.

Hilda, who was a few years older than Michael, did not marry him until after her father had died some years later, when he was in his 90s.

Farmers said that Fred Rothwell had left his land to be equally divided between his two children: George and Hilda.

George never married, although he had been seeing a woman for some time before the relationship ended.

He had been farming the land for many years.

After Hilda married Michael, the couple set up home on a neighbouring site.

Their rural bungalow, set in the idyllic countryside surrounded by rolling hills and green fields, looked modest yesterday when compared to the large stone farmhouse with a sweeping driveway where George lived alone.

A friend of George's, who also knew Michael Jordan, said they understood that George was farming his and his sister's land since Fred had died.

"The story goes that Fred left the farm to his two children between them but Michael wanted George to hand over Hilda's land so he could farm it. What good is it now? There's neither of them here. And who'd want it now?"

Close friends of Michael revealed that he suffered from depression.

A local, who knew both men, said: "He was a good farmer, a great stockman and cattle man and into sheep. He was a fierce obliging chap. He could be seen as private, some would say odd, call it what you would, but he was a good neighbour. He'd be the first to help you out but there was always some little bit of oddity about him."

Another neighbour said: "Whatever happened between them blew up in a short space of time. We can't understand it, there was no long-running dispute between them."

Prayers were being said in two separate churches for the dead men last night, as shocked members of both the Catholic and Church of Ireland communities turned out in their hundreds on Ash Wednesday.

In Lorum Church, a short distance from where Hilda was being comforted by her first cousin Lulu, prayers were said for George Rothwell.

A short distance away, friends of Michael Jordan crowded into Catholic Mass in Ballinkillen as they tried to make sense of what had happened.

Michael had been at Mass in the same church on Sunday and was a regular attendee of services.

In rural homes and farms in the parish, farmers are deeply traumatised by what has unfolded. A farm labourer who worked with George is said to be "inconsolable" after the tragedy. He was the man who first noticed the plumes of smoke coming from the sheds.

Others seem unable to come to terms with why their friend and neighbour apparently shot his brother-in-law, with whom he seemed to have a close relationship, before taking his own life.

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