‘Obsessed’ farmer shot neighbour in dispute over right of way

Ted O’Donoghue, (74) admitted firing a shot from his legally-held gun at John Hayes


A farmer who shot and injured a neighbour had “turned into an obsessive fool” over a “festering” dispute about a right of way on his land, a court has heard.

Ted O’Donoghue, (74), has admitted firing a shot from his legally-held shotgun at John Hayes on June 16, 2017, but said he did not mean to harm him.

He pleaded guilty at Limerick Circuit Court to assault causing harm, reckless discharge of a firearm and animal cruelty.

The court heard that as Mr Hayes (66) went to open a gate at a right-of-way on O’Donoghue’s land, he way met by his neighbour holding a shotgun.

O’Donoghue, of Kilmoreen, Kildimo, told Mr Hayes, “you are never coming in here again” before he fired the shotgun.

The shot went through the window of Mr Hayes’s tractor, killing his sheepdog Lassie. Mr Hayes was injured when the same shot grazed his shoulder.

The right of way, at Ballycasey, Kildimo, is located on O’Donoghue’s land, but a number of farmers, including Mr Hayes, use it to gain access to their own lands.

Ted O’Donoghue, Killmoreen, Kildimo, Co Limerick who has admitted shooting farmer John Hayes and killing his dog. Photograph: Press 22
Ted O’Donoghue, Killmoreen, Kildimo, Co Limerick who has admitted shooting farmer John Hayes and killing his dog. Photograph: Press 22

O’Donoghue’s barrister, Anthony Salmon, SC, told his client’s sentencing hearing on Thursday that he had become “obsessed” about the ancient passageway, which the court heard dated back to the “horse and cart” era.

He said O’Donoghue was concerned the laneway was being destroyed by tractors driving on it.

After he was arrested over the shooting, O’Donoghue told gardaí: “They have it tore asunder with tractors...but I’ll stop them.”

The dispute specifically involving the defendant and the victim had gone on for 10 years the court heard. However, one neighbour told gardaí there were issues in the local farming community over the right of way going back “40 years”.

Mr Salmon said his client had “tried to deal with it through solicitors, but he wasn’t getting anywhere with it.”

He said: “It was festering away. It was like an obsession boiling over.”

Mr Salmon described O’Donoghue as “a decent hardworking man” was was now facing serious consequences.

“These disputes have a way of turning right-minded people into obsessive fools. Incidents of a minor nature can become obsessive and overshadow their lives.”

He said O’Donoghue “deeply deeply regrets his actions”.

The defendant told gardaí that, on the morning in question, he saw Mr Hayes heading for the passageway and he “drove up ahead of him”.

“He wanted to open the gate. I blazed at him,” O’Donoghue said.

“I fired a shot at him, and that’s that,” he said. “He was outside the gate, but it’s my land. He shouldn’t have been there. He was trespassing.”

When gardaí asked O’Donoghue if he had deliberately tried to hurt Mr Hayes, he replied: “Not exactly. I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Mr Salmon stressed that the DPP’s view was, there had been “no intent” to endanger life.

In his victim impact statement, Mr Hayes said he had become withdrawn socially, fearful and stressed. “I was sure he was going to kill me. He had an angry look about him,” he said. “I was terrified.”

Evidence was heard that O’Donoghue had appeared in court in 2016 charged with producing a knife during the course of a dispute with the son of another neighbour. At the time, he escaped a conviction after the court applied the Probation Act.

O’Donoghue is facing up to five years in jail in relation to the shooting charge, as well as a possible fine of up to €250,000 for the animal cruelty offence.

Mr Hayes has begun civil proceedings against O’Donoghue, the court heard.

Judge Tom O’Donnell said he needed to consider the evidence carefully and remanded O’Donoghue on continuing bail to appear before Limerick Circuit Court for sentencing on December 19th.