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Family tragedy Gardaí ‘baffled’ as to motive behind Cork brothers' deaths in double murder-suicide

Paddy (60) and Willie (66) Hennessy died after multiple blows from an axe before their brother Johnny Hennessy (59) took his own life

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Johnny Hennessy

Johnny Hennessy

Johnny Hennessy

Gardaí admitted they are baffled as to the motive behind a gruesome double murder-suicide where a man killed his two older brothers with an axe before then taking his own life.

Paddy (60) and Willie (66) Hennessy died from horrific head injuries sustained after multiple blows from a heavy timber axe while their younger brother, Johnny Hennessy (59), then took his own life in a nearby river.

Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy staged an inquest into the triple tragedy at Corragorm outside Mitchelstown in north Cork last February 25.

He confirmed verdicts that Willie and Paddy Hennessy were unlawfully killed while Johnny Hennessy took his own life.

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Willie (left) and Paddy Hennessy

Willie (left) and Paddy Hennessy

Willie (left) and Paddy Hennessy

The inquest jury also returned recommendations about a review of mental health support services in urban and rural areas warning that "people are suffering in silence".

The second recommendation involved a review of the role of community gardaí in respect of domestic issues.

"This is a tragedy of terrible proportions," Dr Kennedy said.

"Your family has already suffered two tragedies in the deaths of Jerry (brother) and Paudie (son/nephew) so my deepest sympathies."

Dr Kennedy said despite a major investigation, there was no inkling as to precisely what triggered the tragedy.

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Garda forensics near the farm off the Mitchelstown to Mallow Road outside Kildorrery, Co Cork where the bodies of Willie and Paddy Hennessy were discovered last February

Garda forensics near the farm off the Mitchelstown to Mallow Road outside Kildorrery, Co Cork where the bodies of Willie and Paddy Hennessy were discovered last February

Garda forensics near the farm off the Mitchelstown to Mallow Road outside Kildorrery, Co Cork where the bodies of Willie and Paddy Hennessy were discovered last February

Willie and Paddy Hennessy suffered horrific head injuries – both being individually attacked with an axe before they could flee or properly defend themselves.

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Gardaí later recovered the blood-stained axe lying in the farmyard.

Forensic tests found the blood of Paddy Hennessy on the blunt end of the axe, while the blood of Willie Hennessy was on the axe's sharp edge.

The first garda at the scene, Garda Ger Murphy, said both men had suffered severe injuries to the head which had left them visibly disfigured.

The body of Johnny Hennessy was recovered the following day from a nearby river.

Supt Padraic Powell said gardaí conducted a major investigation into the tragedy which included taking 169 statements, analysing data from five phones, studying hours of CCTV security camera footage and conducting extensive forensic tests.

However, they were unable to establish a clear motive for the fatal attack.

"For an unknown reason, Johnny Hennessy killed his two brothers on February 25. Johnny Hennessy then took his own life," Supt Powell said.

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Elaine Hennessey (second from left), daughter of the late Paddy Hennessy at the Corner's Inquest in Mallow, Co Cork into the deaths of brothers Johnny, Willie and Paddy Hennessy. Photo: David Jones

Elaine Hennessey (second from left), daughter of the late Paddy Hennessy at the Corner's Inquest in Mallow, Co Cork into the deaths of brothers Johnny, Willie and Paddy Hennessy. Photo: David Jones

Elaine Hennessey (second from left), daughter of the late Paddy Hennessy at the Corner's Inquest in Mallow, Co Cork into the deaths of brothers Johnny, Willie and Paddy Hennessy. Photo: David Jones

However, one neighbour, John McGrath, noted friction between Paddy and Johnny Hennessy – with Johnny apparently unwilling to return customers from the family firewood business to Paddy when the older brother returned to work after recovering from a stroke.

"There was a small bit of friction between Johnny and Paddy," he said.

Mr McGrath said that Willie told him Johnny didn't want to return firewood block customers to Paddy when he returned to work after the stroke and wanted to resume his local timber round.

The inquest also heard that when gardaí found the spot where Johnny Hennessy entered the River Funshion, his false teeth, cigarettes, car keys and a plastic bottle had been carefully placed on the riverbank.

There was also indications he had sat by the riverbank for a period before entering the water.

Mr Hennessy took his life at the same spot where his older brother, Jerry, had taken his own life less than a decade before.

Paddy Hennessy's son, Paudie, had also taken his own life a number of years before.

The inquest heard that Johnny rang his sister, Breda O’Reilly, in a very distressed condition on the evening of February 25.

"Johnny seemed kind of stressed – I got a fright from him. He said there was a row between the brothers and one of them hit him a belt of a fist," she said.

"I was a bit shocked – they were always quiet boys and were never fighting."

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Paddy Hennessy's ex-wife Stephanie (left) and Breda Hennessey, sister of the three deceased brothers at the Corner's Inquest in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo: David Jones

Paddy Hennessy's ex-wife Stephanie (left) and Breda Hennessey, sister of the three deceased brothers at the Corner's Inquest in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo: David Jones

Paddy Hennessy's ex-wife Stephanie (left) and Breda Hennessey, sister of the three deceased brothers at the Corner's Inquest in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo: David Jones

"It feels like this is not real at all. They were not the type for fighting."

Her husband, Ned, took the phone and, after declining to attend the Corragorm property because of the Covid-19 5km travel restriction, asked Johnny whether he should contact gardaí for help?

Johnny agreed and Ned rang Mitchelstown Gardaí.

Later, Johnny spoke a second time to his sister and said he had cancelled the garda call to the farmyard.

"I'm OK – he said something like, it's OK, they are talking again.

"Johnny said he had put them (gardaí) off. "

Ned O'Reilly said his brother-in-law was very upset on the phone earlier and was "roaring".

The three brothers were known locally as 'The Saints Hennessy'.

The inquest heard they were very close, were extremely quiet and worked together in the family firewood business.

"(Johnny said) ‘I'm in trouble, I'm in trouble – can you come over?’ He said there had been a row and the other two boys had beat him up. He sounded out of breath," Mr O'Reilly said.

"Johnny was very, very distressed."

Mr O'Reilly said he would get him help and call the gardaí.

He said he got Mr Hennessy's permission to ring as: "He hates the gardaí and doctors."

Garda Tracey Howard said she received a phone call from Mr O'Reilly and rang Johnny Hennessy's number.

She said he was calm and collected on the phone and did not want gardaí to call.

There was no sound of noise or a disturbance in the background.

"He cracked a joke to say that at their age they should know better," she said.

Garda Howard said she repeatedly asked him did he want gardaí to call but he insisted everything was fine.

"I got no red flags from it," she said.

Garda James Wade said he overheard part of the conversation at the garda station and had heard Mr Hennessy repeatedly insist everything was OK and that there was no need for gardaí to call to the farmyard.

However, Elaine Hennessy, Paddy's daughter, became worried about her father when he failed to return home and at 11pm decided to call to the farmyard to see if everything was alright.

There was no answer to any of the three brothers' phones.

She travelled to Corragorm with her mother, Stephanie.

As they drove into the farmyard, the headlights of the car highlighted a body on the ground.

"Mam said that's a body – I could see it too. I knew it was Dad because I recognised his clothes. I could see it covered in blood."

Both women immediately called gardaí and locked the car doors amid concerns for their safety.

"I knew he was dead. It looked gruesome."

Paddy's body was found in a farmyard with multiple head injuries while his brother Willie's body was found in a nearby shed, also with severe head injuries.

Both had to be formally identified from dental records.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said both men would have died quickly from multiple severe blows from a 3.5kg timber axe.

Dr Bolster conducted post-mortems on Willie and Paddy at Cork University Hospital (CUH) on February 26.

Willie Hennessy died from blunt force trauma to the head with a severe brain injury as a result of multiple blows from a blunt weapon (axe).

He also suffered fractures to his skull, jaw, face and vertebrae.

Possible defence-type wounds were found on his hands and arms.

Paddy Hennessy also died from blunt force trauma to the head and a severe brain injury caused by multiple blows from an axe.


Paddy Hennessy also suffered fractured ribs after suffering a blow to the chest.

He had no defence injuries.

Dr Bolster conducted a post-mortem on Johnny Hennessy on February 27 and ruled he died from cardio-respiratory failure as a result of drowning.

Minor injuries to his hands were consistent with a body recovered from the water.

The brothers had run a successful firewood business from the isolated farmyard outside Mitchelstown – supplying timber across north Cork.

They lived a spartan life but were always together and had no history of disputes.

Paddy Hennessy's partner, Kitty Russell, said they all got on well together.

"Johnny was set in his ways – but there was never a mention of Johnny being violent or threatening. I never heard a bad word between the brothers."

After killing his brothers, Johnny Hennessy apparently drove his Toyota Corolla van the short 4km distance to Killacluig Church from Corragorm where he parked and walked over several fields.

His body was recovered shortly before lunch on February 26 from the River Funshion following a major garda search operation, including the use of the garda helicopter.

Traces of Willie Hennessy's blood were later found on Johnny's T-shirt.

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