Warning: This article includes content that some readers may find distressing
The jury at an inquest into the deaths of a father and two sons in Kanturk, Co Cork in October 2020 has returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Mark O’Sullivan (26) and verdicts of suicide in the cases of both Tadg (60) and Diarmuid O’Sullivan (23).
Tadg and Diarmuid shot Mark in a dispute over who would inherit the family farm in north Cork and had been planning the murder for at least a couple of days, the inquest heard on Wednesday.
Former nurse Anne O'Sullivan (61) lost her entire immediate family, her husband and two sons, on October 26th last year in the shooting incident. She was terminally ill at the time and has since died.
The inquest at Mallow District Court heard that after his death a letter written by Mark was found in his mother's pharmacy bag, in which he detailed feeling distraught after coming under pressure from his brother and father about what would happen to the family farm following the death of Anne.
Mark said he felt like a “caged animal who was abused by his captors.” He said Diarmuid and Tadg had told him that they would leave a “veil of destruction” and that there would be “no lights on in Raheen (the farm) again”.
Messages to friend
In Facebook messages to a friend Mark admitted that he was terrified that his brother and father would kill him and try to make it look like a suicide. He also told his friend Claragh Lucey that he had slept for two nights at the foot of his mother's bed in the family home in north Cork, such was his concern for their safety.
Ms Lucey said in her statement that Mark had a loving relationship with his mother. However, she was aware he had “issues” with his father and brother in relation to inheritance.
She said that Tadg and Diarmuid wanted “everything to go to Diarmuid and nothing to go to Mark.”
Ms Lucey said that on October 10th, 2020 Mark messaged her saying that he was afraid that his father and brother would kill him and would “do it in such a way to make it look like suicide.”
“He asked me if his body was found that I would go to the guards with the message he sent to show it wasn't suicide.”
She said that Mark was “kind, caring and extremely hard-working” and had a good bond with his mother Anne who was fiercely proud of her sons.
Anne O'Sullivan statements
Anne O'Sullivan died in April this year after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer in February 2020. Her statements were read in to evidence.
She said the 115-acre farm on which they lived had been hers since 2013 when her mother left it to her in her will. Tadg also had land of his own in Cecilstown, Co Cork which was given to him by his family.
Anne said the lands were left in one another's names and it was never discussed that they become joint holder's of each other's property.
Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 at a time when she and Tadg had a “good relationship.”
“The land and farm was not an issue between Tadg and I at that time,” she said.
She noted that in October 2019 Diarmuid began to distance himself from her. Both Diarmuid and Tadg became more critical of Mark.
She said that seismic changes came when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2020. Anne recalled that Tadg told her she needed to “get her affairs in order.”
She said she spoke to Mark about splitting the land 50/50. In May of that year Diarmuid and Tadg started badgering her about getting her affairs in order.
“They both went at me calling me lazy and indecisive. Tadg upset me with a comment that I was like 'a lazy cow stuck in the ditch and wouldn't move.'”
In July 2020 Diarmuid told her his “vision for the land.”
“He said that Mark could take the house and courtyard. Mark could also have the bogland which would accumulate to 30 acres. Diarmuid said that he was the one who deserved the rest of the land.”
She told Diarmuid that the split needed to be as even as possible. She said she always knew that Diarmuid was in line to inherit his father's family property in Cecilstown. Diarmuid told her she had a “a week to decide or there would be consequences.”
At one point Diarmuid and Tadg warned her that if she didn't sort things out she would be following “two coffins to a cemetery” and that she would be crying “crocodile tears.” Diarmuid felt that Mark was lazy and did not deserve the land.
She said that knowing Diarmuid was going to inherit land from his father she wanted to make a special provision for Mark in her will.
She told gardaí that Diarmuid read her post and she felt intimidated by her husband and younger son.
She said that Diarmuid called Mark a “snake” and a “rat”. She did eventually draw up a will in September 2020. She said her will was written “in a fair way”.
“I wanted to be fair to Mark and provide him with the house as I knew Diarmuid was getting his father's place in Lohort, Cecilstown.”
Anne never discussed the contents of her will with Tadg or Diarmuid.
Mark and Anne moved in with her cousins in the Sherlock family on October 12th, 2020, after she had undergone surgery in Dublin.
Her cousin, Louise Sherlock, said that she had gone to Kanturk Garda station expressing her concerns about the safety of Mark and Anne. Gardaí advised her in relation to barring orders. They told her that Anne should come and make a statement.
Ms Sherlock said in the weeks before the shocking murder suicides Tadg had told her that “this would all be over in a couple of weeks” and there would be a “road of carnage.”
Return to family home
Anne said on October 25th, 2020, she and Mark returned to the family home after spending two weeks with the Sherlocks, following her return from Dublin where she had had cancer treatment.
When she and Mark got back to the family home she noted a “tension and coldness” between her and Tadg.
She heard movement in the house at around 6am on October 26th. She woke some stage after that to the sound of a gunshot. She didn't realise at that point that it was a gunshot.
“I put on my dressing gown and shoes. I left my bedroom to see Tadg and Diarmuid with guns. I said 'Oh my God what have ye done now' and they both let off a shot each towards the bedroom in the door. They both left then.
“Mark was lying out of the bed sitting on the floor up against the bed and the locker, blood and slime coming from his mouth, his legs wrapped in the duvet and lifeless.”
She told Mark to “hold on” that she would “get help”. Anne fled the house in her night clothes to seek refuge with neighbours. Diarmuid and Tadg had smashed all the phones in the house so she was unable to raise the alarm.
When she got to the gate to go out she found there was a “new and bigger lock.” She went down through ditches to raise the alarm to avoid her husband and son seeing her.
The inquest heard that Mark was shot dead in the bedroom of his home. He incurred a traumatic brain injury and had raised his arms to protect himself.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster, who performed postmortems on all three men, said that Mark would have died rapidly from his injuries. She said in evidence that the bedroom where Mark died had splashes of blood to a duvet and a drawer.
Tadg and Diarmuid shot Mark before they left the property and ended their own lives.
Gardaí found the men dead in a nearby field.
The jury recorded a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Mark O'Sullivan while they recorded that both Diarmuid and Mark had taken their own lives.
They recommended a review of protocols for dealing with phone calls and statements from third parties where there is a potential for loss of life.
Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy said that it was shocking incident and that it was hard to make sense of what had happened. Both gardaí and Dr Kennedy extended their condolences to the family of the deceased and to the wider community.
Anne O’Sullivan was a respect former nurse. Although she was terminally ill, she attended the joint funeral of both Diarmuid and Tadg and the separate funeral of Mark. The inquest heard that Mark was a devoted carer to her and a kind and loving son.