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Man killed by his father and brother wrote letter saying he feared for his life, inquest hears

The incident happened at the family home in Kanturk on 26 October 2020, following a dispute over the inheritance of a farm.

 Tadg O'Sullivan and his sons Mark and Diarmuid
Tadg O'Sullivan and his sons Mark and Diarmuid
Image: Facebook

A MAN WHO was shot dead by his father and brother in a dispute over inheritance left a note in which he said that he was afraid for the life of himself and his terminally ill mother.

An inquest in Mallow, Co Cork, heard that Mark O’Sullivan (26) sustained seven gunshot wounds in his bedroom on the morning of 26 October 2020 at his home in Raheen, Assolas, Kanturk, Co Cork.

He was shot by his brother Diarmuid (23) and his 60 year-old-father Tadg. The men subsequently took their own lives outside the family home via self-inflicted gunshot wounds, the inquest heard.

In a letter left behind, presumably to be read in the event of his death, Mark said that he felt like “a caged animal with being constantly prodded by two abusive captors” referencing his father Tadg and his younger brother Diarmuid.

In the letter, which was placed in the pharmacy bag of his mother Anne, he said that Tadg and Diarmuid had vowed to leave a “trail of destruction”.

“I no longer feel safe at home, my own safety and my mother’s is in danger. Raheen has always been my home and it causes me much distress that it is no longer a safe haven.

“The stress both my brother and Tadg (his father) are causing is becoming unbearable. Over the past several months there have been several incidents in which the two have verbally assaulted me and my mother to the extent of my brother saying give him the farm or he is committing suicide to which Tadg coaxed him along.”

Mark said that Tadg said he would kill himself if Diarmuid “didn’t get what he wanted”.

He said that he felt “mentally and physically drained from fear, there is two of them and they are becoming more and more desperate which I fear will get physical”.

He stated that Diarmuid had threatened to leave “a trail of destruction behind him” and there would be “no lights on in Raheen ever again”.

‘Make it look like suicide’

In Facebook messages to a friend, Mark admitted 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 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.

Claragh Lucey said in her statement that Mark had 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.”

Lucey said that on the 10 October 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 passed away in April of this year having been diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2020. Her statements were read as evidence.

She said on 25 October 2020 she and Mark returned to the family home after spending two weeks with her cousins, the Sherlocks, following her return from Dublin where she had had cancer treatment.

When mother and son 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 26 October. She woke at some stage after that to the sound of a gunshot. She didn’t realise at that point that it was a gunshot, the inquest heard.

“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 left 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” and 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 by a fairy fort and through ditches to raise the alarm to avoid her husband and son seeing her.

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 holders 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 noted that in October 2019 Diarmuid began to distance himself from her. Both Diarmuid and Tadg became more critical of Mark.

She said that the 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 didn’t 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.

Anne 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.

‘Road of carnage’ 

Mark and Anne moved in with their cousins, the Sherlocks, on 12 October 2020 after she had undergone surgery in Dublin, the inquest heard.

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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.

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”.

The inquest was told that Mark sustained a traumatic brain injury. Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster, who performed post-mortems on all three men, said that Mark would have passed away rapidly from his injuries.

She stated that the bedroom where Mark died had splashes of blood on the duvet and a drawer. She said the wounds indicated that Mark had raised his arms in a bid to protect himself. He had gunshot wounds to his chest, head and arm. Tadg and Diarmuid each died of a single self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Gardaí found the men dead in a nearby field. They had both shots themselves in their mouths – forensics indicated that Diarmuid killed himself first and Tadg then shot himself. Handwritten letters to Anne O’Sullivan were found on the bodies of both Tadg and Diarmuid. The contents of the letters were not disclosed.

The inquest heard that when Anne and Mark were staying with the Sherlock family, Diarmuid and Tadg refused to speak to her over the phone. She sent them a solicitor’s letter about the situation, and she and Mark returned home a day and a half before tragedy struck in a bid to forge a reconciliation with the pair.

The jury recorded a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Mark O’Sullivan whilst they recorded that both Diarmuid and Tadg 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 it was a 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 respected former nurse, the inquest was told. 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.

Need help? Support is available:

  • Aware – 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland – 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
  • ALONE – 0818 222 024 (for older people)

About the author:

Olivia Kelleher

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