Three brothers found dead in Cork were ‘old type fellows who lived a very simple life’
Sense of disbelief envelopes Mitchelstown as news breaks of the three deaths
Willie Hennessy and Paddy Hennessy who died in north Cork. Photograph: Provision
Another quiet day in another country town, or so it seemed, but on Friday morning Mitchelstown in north Cork woke up to discover that it too – like Kanturk just a few months ago – was about to be catapulted into the national headlines due to a horrific apparent murder suicide.
Just as people in Kanturk shook their heads in disbelief as they learned that Tadg O’Sullivan and his son Diarmuid had killed his other son Mark at their quiet country home on October 26th last, so too were the people of Mitchelstown left perplexed at their own tragedy.
Brothers Willie, Paddy and Johnny Hennessy were well known around Mitchelstown. Willie lived alone in a house at Stag Park while Paddy, who was separated, alternated between living with his daughter, Elaine (30), at her home at Linden Hill and his partner, Kitty Russell, in Tipperary town.
The youngest of the three, Johnny, lived back at the homeplace, the single-storey farmhouse and 15-acre holding at Curraghgorm, three miles outside of Mitchelstown. It was where all three brothers grew up with their siblings, Jerry and Breda, and where the tragedy began to unfold.*
Paddy (60) and Willie (66) were found dead, having been apparently attacked by Johnny (59), whose body was later recovered from the nearby Funcheon River.
Local Fine Gael councillor Kate Dawson spoke of the sense of disbelief that enveloped Mitchelstown as news of the tragedy broke at around 7.30am, with people ringing their neighbours to tell them the news.
“They were well known in the community and well regarded – they were like anybody else and that’s why it was such a shock. It still hasn’t sunk in – you know how when you hear the news and it’s someplace else but today, unfortunately, it’s the worst news that could have broken in Mitchelstown.
“It’s like as if something happened from outside of ourselves. There are no words to kind of describe what happened. Your head keeps going over it, saying: Did it really happen? My heart goes out to their family because these are our own people.”
Not that the shocking event was the first or only tragedy to befall the Hennessy family. In 2012, Paddy’s son, Paudie, took his own life at the age of 21, while two years later the Hennessys’ other brother, Jerry, who worked in Cork Marts, also died by suicide at the age of 57.
All four brothers were well known in the community, playing handball in Mitchelstown from an early age and later hurling with local club Ballygiblin in the 1970s and 1980s – including in 1979 when they were part of a team that won a north Cork championship.
Said one former teammate: “I hurled with all four of the lads. They were grand, quiet fellows. I would put them down as old-type fellows with old-style values who lived a very simple life, so this is totally out of the blue and very tough for the people left behind.”
Former Fianna Fáil Cork East TD Ned O’Keeffe said he was saddened to hear of the deaths of the three brothers as he knew them all from calling to their home a couple of times a year to help them access various services when serving in the Dáil.
“They were like a lot of families in both rural and urban Ireland. They had very marginal land and were a sort of marginalised family; they often needed some assistance. They would never come into my clinic but I used to call out to them off and on. I was so sorry to hear of their passing.”
Another man, who knew them well but didn’t want to be named, recalled that Paddy had worked in Suttons Fuels in Mitchelstown for years until it closed, and he later worked in JD Tyres in the town, while Willie and John used to deliver timber while also selling hay to farmers.
“They were the kind of fellows that would have one car – one of them would do the driving and bring the rest of them. Johnny used to drop into the Ramble Inn in Mitchelstown for a bite of grub and a pint, but none of them were big drinking men and I never in my life saw any of them drunk.
“Paddy used to work in JD Tyres and Willie and Johnny worked away on the farm. They might buy a few round bales of hay and re-bale them into small square bales and sell them on and they used to sell kindling too. The farmhouse was very basic and the men themselves were very basic as well.
“I know people are wondering what started it all – was it a row over the farm? I very much doubt there would be too much excitement about the farm. I know now they don’t make land anymore but that place is only a bog and, between rushes and furze and bushes, it’s only fit to be planted.
“I don’t know what triggered things. What would fellows in their 60s be arguing over? Unless it was these Covid times when fellows have nowhere to go and who knows what the lockdown might be doing in building up a head of steam in fellows. Maybe we will never know but it’s desperately sad.”
*This article was amended on March 6th 2021