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Recluse shared bed with her dead sister 'for up to a year'

A RECLUSIVE woman shared a double bed with her sister who had been dead for up to a year, an inquest was told yesterday.

The two elderly Co Mayo sisters lived such a reclusive lifestyle that when one of them died it remained a secret, not only to the local community, but also to a brother with whom they shared a rural bungalow.

At the inquest in Westport into the death of Agnes Lyons (70), of Carrownedan, Aughamore, Ballyhaunis, whose skeletal remains were not found until a year after she died, Garda Supt John O'Driscoll said Ms Lyons and her sister, Mary Ellen, lived in "a world apart".

He said the sisters' lifestyle was one they chose for themselves, purposely cutting themselves off from those outside the house and ensuring the minimum of contact with their brother, Michael, known locally as Sonny.

Notes written by Agnes Lyons on scraps of cardboard were referred to at the inquest. The messages indicated that she was deeply religious and determined that she never be separated from her sister.

Supt O'Driscoll said the evidence was that Agnes was in poor health for a considerable period of time and died in a bed that she had not left for a long time.

Dr Ken Keane, Kiltimagh, gave evidence of finding the dead woman in a decomposed, skeletal state in a room that had cartons, papers and tins strewn all over the floor.

The dead woman's brother and sister gave evidence to yesterday's hearing. In a statement read to the inquest, Sonny Lyons explained that when he was in the house he spent most of the time in the living room. The women would keep out of sight. They would leave him notes with shopping lists.

He said the last time he saw Agnes face-to-face was when she came home from hospital four years ago. He discovered the body after Mary Ellen became ill on the morning of August 4 last and he went to inform Agnes in her bedroom.

"When I saw what was inside I pulled back middling quick," Mr Lyons said. He then made a phone call for medical assistance.

A neighbour, Tom Garvey, said the last time he spoke to Agnes Lyons was at a wedding nine years ago. "They were a very modest family," Mr Garvey said.

"There is no way that Michael would open the door of a woman's room." Supt O'Driscoll said the evidence suggested that, when speaking to her brother, Mary Ellen created an impression that Agnes was still alive.

"It is most probable that Mary Ellen's poor state of health contributed to a situation whereby she failed to deal with her sister's death in the appropriate manner and in accordance with law." However, he stressed that no prosecution would be issued in this regard.

An inquest jury on August 13, 2002, returned a verdict of death by self-neglect. The cause of death was unknown, the jury decided.

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Coroner John O'Dwyer said it was clear that Sonny Lyons did all he was permitted to in helping his sisters. Neighbours called to the house regularly and were always available to help.

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