The inquest into a murder and double suicide that all but wiped out a family in Kanturk will open on July 7 with a small number of witnesses .
adg O’Sullivan and his son Diarmuid shot dead elder son Mark then took their own lives at the family home in Assolas, outside Castlemagner, last October.
The only survivor of the tragedy, Anne O’Sullivan, died of cancer in April, having been spared by her husband and younger son “as punishment” to live with the pain of losing her family, gardaí believe.
On July 7, nine months after the events that shocked the local community, the coroner for north Cork will preside at Mallow court buildings to hear evidence before declaring the causes of death.
Gardaí identified a dispute over Mrs O’Sullivan’s will as the catalyst for the violent events in a report submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It contained statements from more than 50 people.
The dispute centred on 115 acres left to Mrs O’Sullivan by her father and uncle, which she intended to leave to Mark after she was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
However, the reasons Tadg and Diarmuid O’Sullivan resorted to murder to settle the row may never be established, according to a source close to the investigation, who added that the inquest will be confined to facts rather than “inferences” and “speculation” as to a motive.
“There was a disintegrating relationship between Anne and Mark and the other two over issues of a will, issues over the division of land, issues of residing in the home place, and all those issues were coming to a head in the context of Anne’s illness,” the source said. “But the coroner will be confining himself as to how, where, when and who.”
Gardaí have prepared a separate narrative report for the coroner, Dr Michael Kennedy, setting out the chronology of events.
Witnesses are likely to include the gardaí called to what was initially a suspected siege situation, pathologists and ballistics and forensic experts. A small number of local witnesses who knew the family may also be called if their evidence is considered relevant.
One important local witness was a friend of the O’Sullivan family, who was very concerned for Anne and Mark and contacted local gardaí some time before the killings.
The witness did not identify the O’Sullivan family to gardaí, but sought advice on a “hypothetical” family situation. It is up to the coroner to decide if two suicide notes and the notes left by Mark should be placed on record at the inquest.
“How much of those notes are embedded in rational fact, given what the people who wrote them did subsequently? It is unlikely that they will be entered into evidence,” the source said.
Briefing notes documented by solicitors for Anne and Tadg O’Sullivan, which are believed to go to the heart of the dispute, are bound by client confidentiality.
Mrs O’Sullivan (61), a nurse, and her husband (59), who worked in a garage, raised their sons at the family home.
Mark (26) and Diarmuid (23) were hard-working and industrious. Mark was studying for a master’s degree at University College Cork. His brother was about to graduate with a first-class honours degree in accountancy.
Both worked in part-time jobs locally, Mark in a nursing home and Diarmuid in a hardware shop.
Mrs O’Sullivan, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness last year, intended to leave the 115 acres to Mark, which infuriated her husband and her younger son.
“They had a very, very normal life with each other up until January of that year. Then things went downhill very, very quickly,” a garda source said.
“Anne was sick. Her diagnosis was not good. There was a fear in terms of how the land was going to be divided, and Anne had the say in that. There was an element of trying to drive her in a certain direction as she didn’t have a will made.”
Tensions escalated. The couple consulted solicitors and exchanged legal letters. In October, Mrs O’Sullivan and Mark went to stay with relatives nearby when she was discharged from hospital.
However, reassured by a letter from her husband, she and Mark returned home on October 25.
In the early hours of the following morning, Tadg and Diarmuid locked the gates to the property, destroyed the house phones and turned their guns on Mark.
The pair opened fire from his bedroom door with a semi-automatic weapon and a bolt-action shotgun. Mark was hit seven times. His mother woke to the sound of gunfire and fled, chased by Diarmuid, who destroyed her mobile phone and taunted her.
The bodies of Tadg and Diarmuid were found at a fairy fort, more than 500 metres from the farmhouse.
Gardaí found a 12-page suicide note strapped to Diarmuid’s leg, a second, shorter suicide note left by Tadg and legal correspondence.
Detectives also recovered a log written by Mark, recording his concerns over the dispute and its potential consequences.