Sunday 18 August 2019

Martina Devlin: 'Ordinary protagonists in a case of sexual jealousy as motive for murder'

Murder probe: Tipperary garda station. Photo: Owen Breslin
Murder probe: Tipperary garda station. Photo: Owen Breslin
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

When a court case transfixes the nation, it's usually to do with allegations of murder or sexual activity or both, and generally there's a woman at the core.

The trial over the murder of Bobby Ryan is no exception - a man who met "a brutal and violent death" and whose decomposing remains, stripped naked, were concealed for almost two years in an underground tank.

That tank was located on a farm owned by the dead man's girlfriend and leased from her by a rival for the woman's affections.

Mr Ryan, Pat Quirke and Mary Lowry - names you'd find in any Irish town, names you'd associate with neighbours and work colleagues, names of people you'd run into in the supermarket or the pub. Yet in the Central Criminal Court, they were associated with a case of sexual jealousy advanced as a motive for murder.

Patrick Quirke arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Patrick Quirke arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Perhaps the apparent ordinariness of its protagonists, despite the ferment churning beneath the surface, is what makes the Tipperary murder trial stand out. If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.

This desperately sad story, with 'he said/she said' cross-currents and titillating details about underwear stolen from a washing line, has electrified the public. Rumour and counter-rumour have abounded, much of it based on overexcited hearsay.

Is it the notion that sexual intrigue can take place in rural Ireland as readily as the urban setting, for all the former's apparent conservatism?

That a love triangle can cause pain and rage in a tight-knit country community just as easily as the city?

Reached out for advice: The letter Patrick Quirke wrote to the ‘Dear Patricia’ agony aunt page of the ‘Sunday Independent’
Reached out for advice: The letter Patrick Quirke wrote to the ‘Dear Patricia’ agony aunt page of the ‘Sunday Independent’

There's something else at the centre of this story. The land. Ms Lowry had a farm of land in a lush area of Munster and two men from the locale vying for her attentions.

She was a sexually powerful, available woman with fields at her back. It's a dynamic combination. Some of the prosecution's evidence suggested that Quirke felt a sense of ownership over the Lowry land; that he walked it as though convinced he had rights to it.

TIPPERARY GARDA STATION: Headquarters of the investigation into the murder of DJ Bobby Ryan after his body was found in April 2013.
TIPPERARY GARDA STATION: Headquarters of the investigation into the murder of DJ Bobby Ryan after his body was found in April 2013.

Ms Lowry is the common denominator between murder victim Mr Ryan, aka part-time DJ Mr Moonlight, and Quirke, the discarded lover accused of murdering him and dumping the body.

She was widowed, having lost her husband Martin to cancer in 2007, and was left with sons to raise and a farm to run. For help, she turned to neighbouring farmer Quirke, a friend of her dead husband's.

When they embarked on an affair it was a complicated liaison - he was married to her husband's sister, Imelda.

Their affair was "seedy" in her own words, although this was not a "court of morality" as the defence reminded us, tut-tutting about public "prurience".

Search: Patrick Quirke had visited a blog about murderer Joe O’Reilly which the jury did not hear about
Search: Patrick Quirke had visited a blog about murderer Joe O’Reilly which the jury did not hear about

The point was valid. But there is no doubt that a great deal of risk was being taken with the family dynamic in the course of that affair.

Clearly, the sexual revolution hasn't bypassed rural Ireland. Its inhabitants have watched the world alter radically in their lifetimes, primarily due to the Catholic Church losing its grip over sexual behaviour.

In the space of a few decades a more permissive society has developed: contraception available, divorce and abortion legalised, marriage equality introduced. For the most part, it's regarded as progress.

Today, people are better travelled, with first-hand experience of different value systems. On film and television, they see a less rigid version of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. And possibly some people are wondering why they ever entertained the strict coda they grew up with.

Ireland has changed beyond recognition and, in some ways, this love triangle is the proof. While that doesn't account for murder, it does explain sexual manoeuvring.

The affair seems to have lasted for almost three years, a long enough period to carry on with something you retrospectively categorise as a mistake.

Ms Lowry ended it about the time she met Mr Ryan and embarked on a relationship with him, in August 2010.

Unlike the affair, there was no need to sneak around because this was a "conventional relationship" in the prosecution's words. Although, on balance, conventional is a word few of us would apply to later events as they unfolded in Tipperary.

Quirke was obsessed with his ex-lover and was spotted peering into her windows. Her brother Eddie Quigley told the court he asked him to "talk sense into Mary" about her relationship with Mr Ryan.

It smacks of the menfolk sorting out their recalcitrant women. Mr Quigley's reply amounted to a sensible refusal to take on that role: "You know Mary as good as I know Mary. She will do what she wants to do and me or you won't change that."

We know Quirke wrote a lonely hearts' letter to Dear Patricia in the 'Sunday Independent'. In it, his fury is plainly expressed - his sense of entitlement to this extramarital relationship.

"My problem is that I am broken-hearted and angry at how well things have worked out for her, despite her lying and cheating on me. We meet on a constant basis as we have a business connection as well as the family connection. She refuses to discuss our affair and says it is in the past. She has confessed it to her new lover, while I have no closure and am forced to carry this dark secret alone," he said.

So many conflicting voices were heard in the witness box, so much doubt and blame was scattered. Yet one voice was missing, that of a man whose remains were treated like a carcass. He disappeared almost eight years ago, last seen when he left his girlfriend's house at 6.30am. The search for justice has been a slow grind.

The court heard the most likely cause of death was that he was run over by a vehicle, but other possibilities included a baton or baseball bat. All we can be certain of is multiple fractures to his skull.

A man is dead before his time and how he met his end may never be known. We do, however, know a little more about life as it was led by some in one pocket of rural Ireland.

Irish Independent

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