A DISTRICT court judge said he wondered at times if a case involving feuding family members in Dunmanway was from a ‘Martin McDonagh play or the D’Unbelievables.’
Judge James McNulty was scathing of the events resulting in assault claims involving a son and father which were heard at Clonakilty District Court last week.
‘There’s a touch of the D’Unbelievables about this, as it’s unbelievable.
‘There’s also a touch of insanity about all this and do you allow insanity to become a tragedy?’ asked Judge McNulty.
The court was told that assaults arose over issues with a disputed container on land and padlocks being broken to access them.
John Brennan (30) of Knockduff, Dunmanway contested an assault charge against his dad, Jerry Brennan at Ballyhalwick, Dunmanway on January 3rd last year. He was also charged with the criminal damage of a padlock belonging to his parents.
Jerry Brennan (75), with an address at Longbridge, Ballyhalwick, Dunmanway denied assaulting his son John on the same date. He was not represented in court.
Gda Paul Breen of Dunmanway Garda Station said that at 2pm on January 3rd last year he received a call from Jean Brennan about a disturbance at a property at Ballyhalwick.
‘Shortly afterwards John Brennan and his brother Jerry Jr turned up outside the station with the same complaint. I took their details and saw that John had a grazed thumb on his left hand,’ said Gda Breen.
Gda Breen read out a statement made by John Brennan, which said that he and his brother, Jerry Jr, went to the yard in Ballyhalwick to collect items in the container. He said his mother Jean was constantly putting locks on it.
He said his parents came into the yard and that Jerry Sr shouldered him while he was cutting the lock and he ended up cutting his thumb.
Gda Breen also read out Jerry Sr’s statement where he said he and his wife went to the yard that day and saw their sons.
‘I met John with a bag of tools. He began cutting the padlock on the container and he told me to f*** off and threw away the lock. He pushed me backwards.’
The court also heard that another brother, William, accompanied his parents to the yard that day and is a co-owner of the land with his two brothers.
Solicitor Jim Brooks, representing John Brennan, asked Gda Breen if there is ‘bad history’ within the family. Gda Breen replied that there have been previous incidents of locks being removed and that there had been complaints made by neighbours about Jerry and Jean Brennan.
The court heard that Jean Brennan is putting the locks on the container to keep it safe and that she has permission to have it in the yard as William is part-owner of the land.
Mr Brooks queried if Jean has permission to lock her two other sons out of their property and was told that she would supply keys to everyone involved. Giving evidence, Jean said they arrived in the yard and saw John cutting the lock off the container and he threw it over a ditch.
‘He then shoved my husband and I wasn’t videoing it, but was trying to ring the guards. He could have easily asked me for a key,’ said Jean Brennan.
Insp Debra Marsh asked if it was fair to describe the family relationship as ‘toxic’. Judge McNulty then asked: ‘Are they Hillbillies? You need to divide up this land fairly sharply as it’s a recipe for disaster and there should be no co-ownership,’ said Judge McNulty, who told them they should look at the written works of playwrights like Martin McDonagh and Enda Walsh.
‘Between these two writers they look into the dark side of Irish families and some of them lead to a bad end. This sounds like 20 years of festering within this family.’
John Brennan told the judge that he works abroad as a chief engineer on a yacht for some famous clients, including the Clintons.
He listed some of their guests, such as a US attorney and former UK prime minister, David Cameron.
However, Judge McNulty interjected and said that Mr Brennan might be better off not giving any more names of guests who visit the yacht, due to confidentiality and security issues.
Mr Brennan then said he bought the shipping container in 2016.
Judge McNulty said he is very apprehensive of this ‘getting out of hand’ with unintentional consequences.
‘The court is expressing its concern about a risk of tragedy and this will end badly. Jean will be a widow but might also be grieving one son who is dead and another doing time.’
He added that the case would ‘be funny if it wasn’t so tragic’ and that at times there was ‘a touch of the D’Unbelievables about it … as it’s unbelievable.’
‘I’m hearing about a family heading for the rocks and wonder would they think again and consider mediation?
‘This property has to be partitioned and maybe John and Jerry Jr should buy William out?’
He said this would ensure that there would be no more visits by the parents and that Jean could take her container away.
All the members of the family agreed to take part in mediation and Judge McNulty said he had someone in mind who would facilitate this.
Judge McNulty said the charges against both men were proven but he was going to ‘hold fire’ and not proceed to conviction. He instead chose to refer the family to Dr Helen Finucane.
‘This court is directing them to mediation under her guidance and I will adjourn the matter to July 4th and I want to see progress by then to avoid tragedy and misery.’
Judge McNulty concluded by warning them all that no one is to put a lock on any gate. He requested an interim report on July 4th.