Woman lay dead in undergrowth for 11 weeks, inquest hears

Coroner says Geraldine McGuinness (56) ‘most likely’ died after going to sleep in ditch

A “very, very reclusive lady” whose body was found in undergrowth by the side of a country road 11 weeks after her death had “most likely” lain down to sleep and died, her inquest heard.

Wexford coroner Dr Seán Nixon heard Geraldine McGuinness (56), an English national, had last been seen on October 18th, 2018, when she left lodgings in Gorey, where she had been renting a room since January 2018.

She had become estranged from her daughter over the previous eight years, the inquest heard, and travelled around the island using different names, talking to few people and keeping to herself.

Her clothed, skeletal remains were found on the morning of January 7th in hedging near Ballyandrew, Ferns. Her body was partially covered with a penguin-patterned blanket and her head was resting on a pillow.


Local women Angela Kehoe and Audrey Jacob were walking on the road and noticed a ruck-sack in the ditch. As there had been dumping in the area, Ms Kehoe thought she might find evidence inside, and went to examine it.

“I took a step or two towards the bag and then realised there was a decomposed body on my left-hand side . . . I noticed a full head of hair, very long, black with grey roots,” Ms Kehoe told the inquest. “I was completely shocked and said to Audrey ‘please tell me I am looking at a mask’.

“Neither of us had a mobile phone. Before we left we said a prayer beside the body. We left the scene and went to my house. I rang Gorey Garda station immediately.”

The two women returned to the scene and waited for gardaí, who arrived about 11am. The area was cordoned off.

Lost contact

The following day, the body was removed by undertakers to Waterford general hospital where a postmortem found no evidence of trauma.

There were no family members at the inquest, which heard none had been at McGuinness’s funeral, which was organised earlier this year by the Ferns community.

A deposition was read from her daughter, Gabriella Conetta who had been traced using documents in Ms McGuinness's belongings.

"I am estranged from my mother and I have not had contact with her for the past eight years," Ms Conetta. She said she was had been born in Dublin to Ms McGuinness and her husband Donatta Conetta. The family moved to Italy when she was a baby.

"Although my mam and dad split up she was still my carer as dad was working up until my teenage years. Daddy moved to Ireland to work here and me and mam moved to Ireland, to Mullinavat, 14 years ago.

"We gradually lost contact with mam and haven't heard from her in about eight years. I don't know anything about her family. I think she may have a brother in Northern Ireland. "

Her last landlord, Patrick Chisolm, said she had given her name as Lenarda Gabrielle and had said she came from between Rome and Naples.

“I took pity on her. I’d say she only paid about three or four months’ rent in total.

“I referred to her as the ‘black ghost’ as she would literally come in the front door and straight to her room. I’d never see her.

“She came across as a strange person. She wrapped her belongings in a shawl all the time.

“She left nothing behind her. I had no phone number of anything for her but it makes sense now why she never returned. I thought it was over the rent.”

Dr Nixon said the cause of death could not be ascertained, though he recommended a verdict of natural causes.

“There was no evidence of any foul play. This person died in the position they were found, which was a kind of sleeping position,” he said, adding it was most likely she died in October 2018, in cold weather and may have developed a pneumonia or other bronchial illness.

The jury returned a verdict of death by natural causes.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times