Three members of an Irish family riven by an inheritance dispute died in a murder-suicide that was “beyond comprehension”, a coroner’s inquest has found.
Tadg O’Sullivan, 60, and his son Diarmuid, 23, shot dead Diarmuid’s brother, Mark, 26, before turning their rifles on themselves in a case that shocked Ireland.
An inquest on Wednesday returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Mark and suicide in the cases of Tadg and Diarmuid.
The coroner, Michael Kennedy, said the bloodletting on the family farm in Kanturk, county Cork last October defied reason: “A terrible tragedy that was beyond comprehension.”
Kennedy said he would usually express condolences to the immediate family but there was no one left alive since Anne O’Sullivan, the wife of Tadg and mother of his sons, died of cancer in April. The former nurse was 61.
Her terminal diagnosis in February 2020 appears to have set the tragedy in motion.
Anne owned the 115-acre farm and planned to split it evenly between her sons. This infuriated her husband and younger son who believed Diarmuid, who studied accountancy and worked on the farm, should inherit most of the land.
The jury heard about angry arguments, with Diarmuid threatening to leave a “trail of destruction’’ with “no lights on in Raheen again”. Raheen was the name of the farm.
On 10 October Mark, a trainee solicitor, messaged a friend saying he feared his father and brother might kill him and try to make it look like suicide.
Early on 25 October, Tadg and Diarmuid entered his bedroom and shot him with legally owned rifles. Mark was hit in the head, chest and arm and found lying on the floor, a pathologist said.
The shots woke Anne who ran to the room. Both men looked at her, made a taunting comment, and shot again into Mark’s bedroom, she later said.
The father and son had changed the locks on the gate so Anne could not drive away. She scrambled on foot across a field to neighbours to raise the alarm.
When police reached the farm they discovered Mark’s body in the bedroom and the bodies of his father and brother near a fairy fort, a term for a type of prehistoric dwelling, about 500 metres from the farmhouse.
Police believe Diarmuid shot himself first, then his father shot himself. Both died from traumatic brain injury caused by a gunshot wound. Letters found in their pockets suggested they had planned the violence several days earlier.
Anne told neighbours she believed they had murdered Mark to make her suffer. She died six months after the tragedy.