Judge: Slash-hook assault in farmer burial plot row ‘the stuff of John B. Keane’

By Gordon Deegan

An 81-year-old farmer told a court today that but for the fact that he was on consecrated ground, he would have been killed instantly when assaulted by a man armed with a slash-hook in a graveyard.

At Gort District Court today, Thursday, June 25, the victim described to the court what he called the “ferocity” of the attack on him by the 68-year-old graveyard owner and farmer on October 1 last.

During the assault, the defendant told the complainant “I’m going to cut the f**king head off you” in the row over burial plots.

In the case, the defendant has pleaded guilty to the assault at the graveyard in the Kinvara area of Co. Galway.

In a victim impact statement read out by Judge Patrick Durcan,the complainant stated: “The incident has been a great distraction in my life and has caused me great mental anguish.

“It took a few days for the ferocity of this attack to sink in.”

He added: “Ever since I have been haunted by the vision of the blade in his hand less than 12in from my bare head.

“But for the grace of God and the fact that we were on consecrated ground, I’m convinced that I would have been killed instantly.”

After reading out those lines, Judge Durcan commented: “This is the stuff of John B Keane.”

Solicitor for the defendant, Colman Sherry, stated that he “would challenge much of what is in the statement but I’m leaving it to the court to make its own judgment”.

Sherry stated: “The blade [of the slash-hook] never came near the head of that man. It was the handle.”

In recalling the assault in his victim impact statement, the complainant stated:

I managed to get a grab a hold of the slash-hook handle. My life was saved. I had got a burst of energy and eventually wrenched the slash-hook from the defendant. He fell back on the grass and I grabbed it off him.

He added: “We both got to our feet and he went to his Jeep, came with a strimmer and proceeded to strim the grassy grave.”

He stated that: “Three days later I was working on my farm with two other men and the defendant came and he apologised for what he did and said and that he was 100% wrong.”

Providing background to the assault, Garda Sergeant Daithí Cronin stated that “there had been an ongoing dispute with the defendant, the complainant and other people in relation to burial plots at the graveyard”.

Sgt Cronin stated that what occurred was a technical assault and it was all over within a matter of seconds.

Sherry told the court: “In cases like this, the less said the better. There is history and suffice to say there are very few burial plots left.”

Sherry stated that three generations of the defendant’s family have been buried in the graveyard and that his client has looked after the graveyard all his life.

Mr Sherry stated: “He pleaded guilty on the very first day. He has no previous convictions. He is extremely contrite and has apologised to all of the parties.

He commented: “The only person who got injured was the defendant himself when he fell back. The defendant has lived in [the area] for 20 years and has had no issue with any of those neighbours.

Sherry stated that the defendant travelled to South Africa on two separate occasions with the Niall Mellon organisation to build houses.

Judge Durcan told the complainant that he was going to strike out the case against the defendant.

Judge Durcan told the man: “What happened was something that shouldn’t have happened. You had a very bad experience.”

He stated: “You have heard the phrase ‘seed, breed and generation’ when rows go on and they get deeper and deeper and there is a winner and a loser.”

Judge Durcan stated that justice has been done in this case and that it was to the defendant’s credit that he had apologised within three days.

The complainant stated that he accepted the defendant’s apology.

Judge Durcan told the two: “One or other of you will have to follow the other into the graveyard and hopefully one of you will be able to walk after the other.

“And not too long after that, the other will be brought in and there you will rot together – that’s life.”

Judge Durcan added: “I am not going to have the good name of the community there be damaged by criminality. This case is over. Justice is done. This battle is over now. I’m striking the case out.”

He added: “I want to wish you both well and commend the good work you have done for the community.”