Two brothers suffered severe injuries from axe
A BRUTAL double murder-suicide which claimed the lives of three Cork brothers is feared to have been sparked by a minor land dispute over farm income from a family-run firewood business.
Gardaí are also investigating whether John 'Johnny' Hennessy (59) may have been overwrought from financial stress, rural isolation and the impact of the Covid-19 Level Five lockdown before he attacked his brothers Willie (66) and Paddy 'Pa' (60) with an axe at the family farm at Corragorm outside Mitchelstown.
Mental health issues are also being investigated as a possible contributing factor.
Cork was left reeling from the tragedy which occurred just four months after Mark O'Sullivan (25) was ambushed and shot by his father, Tadg (59), and younger brother, Diarmuid (23), at the family farm at Assolas outside Kanturk in north Cork on October 26 in a dispute over a land inheritance.
In Mitchelstown, Willie and Pa Hennessy suffered horrific head injuries in what one source described as ambush-style attacks - both being individually attacked with an axe before they could flee or properly defend themselves.
Pa's body was found in a farmyard with multiple head injuries.
His brother Willie's body was found in a nearby shed, also with severe head injuries.
While older than Johnny, Willie was described by locals as a strong man who would not easily have been directly overpowered.
His brother, Pa, was also fit and wiry but had suffered a stroke before Christmas and was still recovering.
After the attack, Johnny Hennessy then drove his Toyota Corolla van the short 4km distance to Killacluig Church where he parked and walked over several fields.
His body was recovered shortly before lunch on Friday from the River Funshion following a massive manhunt by Garda search teams, the Garda dog unit, the Garda helicopter and the Garda water unit.
One local said there were concerns that the challenges of the past year and the impact of the pandemic had taken its toll on the younger brother.
"What is absolutely heartbreaking is that they were so close over their lives - they really were the 'salt of the earth'. The three lads would always be together around the farm, the timber business or local contracting jobs."
The trio were locally nicknamed 'The Saints' and were hailed as great neighbours and hard-working men.
All three were devoted to the family holding, a small 25 acre farm some 8km from Mitchelstown where they farmed dry cattle, operated a firewood business and did minor local contracting jobs.
Gardaí said they are baffled as to the precise motive involved.
Pa had suffered a stroke before Christmas and was still recovering.
It was the third tragedy to hit the family with a fourth brother, Jer, having died in tragic circumstances in January 2014.
The son of one of the brothers also died in tragic circumstances in May 2012.
The bodies of Paddy 'Pa' and Willie Hennessy were discovered at their Corragorm farm when a concerned relative went to the property amid concern for their welfare shortly after 11pm on Thursday night and alerted Gardaí.
Both were pronounced dead at the scene after the area was sealed off.
A third brother, John Hennessy, who lived at the property, was not present and his red Toyota Corolla van was missing.
Gardaí at the scene between Mitchelstown and Kildorrery were supported by armed members of the Regional Support Unit (RSU).
Despite initial indications, Gardaí said they are now satisfied that no firearm was used in the tragedy.
Three scenes - the farmhouse, car park and river field - have been preserved and are undergoing examination by forensic experts from the Garda Technical Bureau.
Locum State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster visited the scene shortly after 1pm on Friday with all three bodies later being removed to Cork University
Hospital (CUH) for post mortem examinations.
The three post mortems will take place over Saturday and Sunday.
However, the indications are that Johnny drowned while both Willie and Pa died from blunt force trauma injuries to the head.
Supt Liam Geraghty said Gardaí were not looking for anyone else in relation to the tragedy.
More than 50 officers were deployed to the operation.
"Gardaí have commenced a criminal investigation into a set of tragic incidents here in Mitchelstown. We are not looking for anyone else in relation to this matter at this time," he said.
A blood-stained axe is understood to have been recovered from near the scene.
"Gardaí will support the family through this personal tragedy for them. We will have to wait for post mortem results to determine the nature of the injuries but at this stage we do not anticipate that any firearm was involved."
Gardaí appealed to anyone with information on the incidents to contact investigating gardaí at Mitchelstown Garda Station 025 84833, Fermoy
Garda Station, the Garda Confidential Number 1800 666 111 or any garda station.
Locals expressed deep shock at the tragedy.
John Hennessy lived at the Corragorm farm where his brother Willie often stayed though Willie also had an address in Mitchelstown.
Pa also lived in nearby Mitchelstown.
Liam O'Donnell was a neighbour of the three brothers and described them as "very quiet people, hard-working men and really great neighbours."
Mr O'Donnell said he was quite friendly with Willie Hennessy and used to regularly call to the house for a chat or a cup of tea.
"They were very close. They were hard-working people all their lives. They were great neighbours and were three of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet," he said.
Pa's former employer, Michael Downey of JD Tyres, said he was "the salt of the earth."
"Paddy was such a hard-working man - and was a great colleague and a lovely fella," he said.
"He worked in the tyre business for most of his life - he worked for Suttons, Hanover and JD. You couldn't ask for a better person to have work alongside you. He was such a likeable man."
Another employee, who was too upset to give his name, worked alongside Paddy for 18 years and said he loved handball, music and his local community.
The Hennessy farm supplied firewood to locals as well as straw for animal bedding.
All three brothers were noted GAA and handball players in Mitchelstown in the 1970s and 80s.
Former Cork East TD Kevin O'Keeffe, a neighbour of the brothers, said the family were very highly respected and were known for their hard work.
"It is beyond belief what happened. It is a total shock and no one knows what could have happened. Our hearts go out to the Hennessy family and their sister Breda," he said.
"They kept to themselves and were known locally as 'The Saints'. It is such a terrible thing for people here in Mitchelstown."
Councillor Frank Roche said the tragedy - coming so soon after the shocking murder-double suicide in Kanturk - raised serious issues about the supports being offered to people in rural Ireland.
"My phone is constantly ringing with people in rural areas pleading for help with stress, money worries or mental health issues," he said.