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The peaceful town of Gortroe in County Limerick has been thrust into the spotlight with the shocking demise of a local farmer, Thomas McCann, and the subsequent arrest of his wife and son. The mysterious circumstances surrounding McCann’s death have left the community in a state of disbelief and intrigue.

The tragedy unfolded early on a fateful Wednesday morning when McCann’s lifeless body was discovered in his own yard, a grim spectacle with a fractured skull. The news of his demise spread like wildfire, and Coroner Hannigan hastily convened an inquest later that evening to unravel the puzzling events leading to the farmer’s untimely demise.

Church Ruins, Castletownconyers, Co. Limerick

The grieving widow, Mary McCann, provided a harrowing account during the inquest. She claimed to have heard her husband, aged 67, rising from his slumber around 3 am, expressing his intent to attend Rathkeale Fair. Mary McCann recounted that she witnessed her husband pass by her window, heading towards the public road. Approximately thirty minutes later, the ominous barking of the family dogs alerted her to an unusual presence.

To her shock, she discovered her husband sprawled on the ground outside upon investigating the commotion. Frantic, Mary McCann called upon her sons and daughter for assistance, and together they found the farmer seemingly lifeless. In a desperate attempt to revive him, they transported McCann inside, removed his boots and clothes, and laid him in bed. Mary McCann speculated that her husband might have stumbled and fallen against a stone near the stable, attributing the injuries to a tragic accident.

However, the medical experts, Dr Moloney and Dr Hedderman, who conducted the post-mortem examination, painted a different narrative. Their findings revealed that Thomas McCann’s demise was not the result of a mere fall. The farmer succumbed to a fractured skull, with two severe wounds on the top and front of his head, and another at the back. The physicians concurred that these injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma, discounting the possibility of an accidental fall.

The jury, swayed by the medical evidence, returned a verdict in alignment with the doctors’ conclusions. The atmosphere in the courtroom grew tenser as District Inspector O’Regan, at the conclusion of the inquest, made a bold move by placing Mrs. McCann and her second son, Jeremiah, under arrest. The mother and son were detained overnight in Castletownconyers before being brought before a special court in Ballingarry the following day.

The court proceedings were marked by a dramatic exchange between District Inspector O’Regan, the prosecutor, and Mr Edward Ryan, the solicitor defending the accused. The prosecution presented a compelling case, with Sergeant Kelly, who had investigated the scene, detailing unsettling observations. The McCann household appeared to be meticulously cleaned, raising suspicions of an attempt to conceal evidence.

Of particular significance were the discoveries of a hammer in Jeremiah’s room, bearing fresh cleat marks and traces of mortar, and a hatchet with evident mortar near the head. These findings hinted at a more sinister undertone, suggesting that the tools may have been involved in the fatal incident. Moreover, Sergeant Kelly disclosed a history of discord between the deceased farmer and his wife, with Mrs. McCann alleging previous threats from her late husband.

Constable John Moran echoed Sergeant Kelly’s testimony, further implicating the accused. The court, influenced by the mounting evidence, remanded Mrs. McCann and Jeremiah into custody, with Limerick Jail awaiting their arrival.

As the news of the arrests reverberates through the tight-knit community of Gortroe, questions linger about the true nature of Thomas McCann’s demise. Was it a tragic accident, as the widow insisted, or does the evidence hint at a darker familial conspiracy? The unfolding court proceedings promise to expose the secrets hidden behind the walls of the McCann residence, leaving the residents of Gortroe on edge, awaiting justice and closure.

Evening Herald (Dublin) – Friday 24 April 1914

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