The witnesses’ stories: timetable of last hours in Mr Moonlight mystery Catherine Costello remembered the phone call days after Bobby Ryan went missing. “I was told his van was found abandoned in the woods and it was a potential suicide,” she recalled. His daughter…

Gardaí at the scene where the body of Bobby Ryan was found near Tipperary town.Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
Gardaí at the scene where the body of Bobby Ryan was found near Tipperary town.Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
Mary Lowry arrives at the court. Picture: Colin O’Riordan
Bobby Ryan’s daughter Michelle and former wife Mary. Photo: Collins Courts
Bobby Ryan
Patrick Quirke. PIC: Collins Courts
Mary Glasheen. PIC: Collins Courts
Tommy Lowry. PIC: Collins Courts
Catherine Costello. PIC: Collins Courts
Michelle Lovelock. PIC: Collins Courts
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

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  • The witnesses’ stories: timetable of last hours in Mr Moonlight mystery
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    Catherine Costello remembered the phone call days after Bobby Ryan went missing. “I was told his van was found abandoned in the woods and it was a potential suicide,” she recalled. His daughter Michelle was “desperately seeking help”.
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Catherine Costello remembered the phone call days after Bobby Ryan went missing. “I was told his van was found abandoned in the woods and it was a potential suicide,” she recalled. His daughter Michelle was “desperately seeking help”.

Ms Costello, who lives in Croom in Co Limerick, was in a position to assist. She had been involved in the voluntary organisation, Searching for the Missing, for more than 10 years. Soon she was in Kilshane Woods, outside the village of Bansha in Tipperary, examining the area where the van was found, assembling teams of searchers to “eliminate a suicide”, and speaking to family.

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She recalled how Mary Lowry, Bobby Ryan’s girlfriend, was upset. “She’d have a tissue in her hands she’d be dabbing at the eyes and she was saying ‘please God he’ll be home, maybe he’s just gone away for a few days’,” Ms Costello, wearing a red scarf and with glasses perched on her head, told the Central Criminal Court last week.

At the end of a day’s search one evening, Ms Costello was pulling out of a petrol station in Bansha when Ms Lowry phoned. She wanted to meet and arranged to come down to the petrol station. When she arrived, Ms Costello got out of her car and into Ms Lowry’s.

Ms Lowry, in tears and “hysterical”, disclosed to Ms Costello the history of her affair with a man named Patrick Quirke.

“She was severely distressed,” recalled Ms Costello. “She was so hysterical that I would have been worried about her driving on the road.”

Ms Costello told her to go “urgently” to An Garda Siochana.

Twenty-four hours later, Ms Costello rang Ms Lowry to check whether she had gone. She hadn’t. “She didn’t want to walk into the front counter and encounter a male garda,” said Ms Costello. She rang gardai in Tipperary herself.

Ms Costello was testifying at the trial of Patrick Quirke for the murder of Bobby Ryan at the Central Criminal Court, before a courtroom packed with lawyers, investigators, family and friends of the victim, and onlookers crammed into the back.

The prosecution’s case is that Mr Quirke (50) murdered Mr Ryan (52) between June 3, 2011 – the date when he was last seen – and April 2013, when his body was found naked in a slurry tank on Mary Lowry’s farm at Fawnagowan. Mr Quirke is pleading not guilty.

Michael Bowman, for the prosecution, summarised the case in the opening days of the trial. After the death of Ms Lowry’s husband, she and Mr Quirke began an affair, he said. Mr Quirke, who is married to Ms Lowry’s dead husband’s sister, Imelda, had leased the widow’s farm.

Ms Lowry ended the secret affair and met Bobby Ryan, a truck driver and a popular DJ whose stage name, Mr Moonlight, was emblazoned on his van.

The prosecution contends that Mr Quirke murdered his “love rival” because he wanted to rekindle his affair with Ms Lowry, and “staged” the discovery of his body in a run-off tank on her land when his lease was coming to an end.

The events unfolded in a small community in rural townlands outside Tipperary town and the village of Bansha, with witnesses evoking the vibrant dance scene in the clubs, hotels and pubs where Mr Ryan frequently entertained.

Having zoned in on Ms Lowry’s relationships with Mr Quirke, who she said was “controlling” and Mr Ryan, who was a “breath of fresh air”, the focus moved on last week.

The court heard from other family members, including Ms Lowry’s eldest son, Tommy, and from a succession of unconnected passers-by, including motorists, mothers and dog walkers, drawn in because of certain things they saw.

Tommy Lowry, who is 21, spoke calmly and clearly recalling how Patrick Quirke rented his late father’s land “almost straight away” after his death. He was nine years old at the time.

“In the beginning, he [Patrick Quirke] went around on his own business on the farm. As time went on, he came to the house a lot more. I didn’t feel that he belonged outside my house, but he was there,” said Tommy. He used to “give out” about things going missing. “It would always be us that were blamed,” he said, meaning him and his two younger brothers.

Asked about family holidays they went on with the Quirkes, he said: “I didn’t like to spend time with him. I didn’t like it one bit. It was just the way I was.”

There was “no problem” with Bobby Ryan, he said. Bobby was “funny”, “always trying to crack a joke”. He bought a “field car”, a Toyota Corolla, that they drove around the land.

Tommy Lowry admitted under cross examination that his younger brother Jack did give Bobby “a hard time” and “slagged him about being bald”. He was young at the time, he said. “It was all a bit of fun and games.”

After Mr Ryan disappeared, and “missing posters” went up around the area, it was “upsetting”, he said. They “could not get a grip of what was going on”, especially the younger children, he told the court.

Bobby Ryan’s children, who were older, offered a different opinion of their father’s relationship with Ms Lowry. Robert Ryan Junior said while the relationship seemed more serious than others, Ms Lowry seemed jealous and his father’s phone was always “hopping” with text messages from her.

His daughter, Michelle, was particularly close to her dad. When her parents’ marriage ended, she called him every 20 minutes because she was concerned about him. Ms Lowry was “OK at first”, she told the court. One night Ms Lowry watched her father “like a hawk”. On hearing about a row they’d had on a dancing weekend in Bundoran, she advised her father to give Ms Lowry her “P45”.

The night before Bobby Ryan disappeared, he was watching television with his son’s partner, Leanne Hallissey. He was getting an awful lot of texts from Ms Lowry, she said. He said he’d “better go across and see what’s wrong with her”, she told the court.

He also contacted Mary Glasheen, a former girlfriend and a good friend. Ms Glasheen said she was “happy” when he met Ms Lowry and she socialised with them, the told the court. But she admitted telling gardai that Ms Lowry once made a “bitchy” comment about her loud laugh.

Mr Ryan told her he was going up to Mary’s and he might call into her later. She texted him at 10pm that night but he never replied, which she found unusual.

The court had previously heard from Ms Lowry that Bobby Ryan spent that night of June 2, 2011, with her at Fawnagowan. He put on his navy tracksuit and left the following morning at 6.30am, as she lay in bed waiting to hear the noise of his silver van crossing the grid over her driveway.

Clare O’Grady, who lives close to Fawnagowan, told the court that she left for work as usual at 6.45am. She noticed a silver van parked in the laneway to her home, its rear sticking out on the road, so she had to drive around it. She had never before seen cars parked there at that hour, she said.

Two dog walkers and a passing motorist said they saw a white or silver van that was “similar” to Bobby Ryan’s in the circular car park at Kilshane Woods at around 8.15am.

Edward Hogg, from Bansha, who walks his dogs there every day, saw a maroon car and a “white or silver” van, parked on the right. He could not say whether the van was still there when he returned from his walk.

Michelle Lovelock, who also walked her dogs there at 8.10am or 8.15am each morning, noticed the van. “I had never seen it there before. It was strange to me,” she said. It was gone when she returned to her car at 8.50am, she said.

Joseph McLoughlin, a courier whose route that morning took him past Kilshane Woods, noticed a van through a gap in the hedge at about 7.45am and 8am. All he could see was the roof and sign across the sun visor that said ‘Moonlight’.

Two more witnesses told the court they thought they saw Bobby Ryan that morning.

At around 8.40am, Jim Cully, a bus driver, was driving towards Dundrum village when a van he was almost sure was Bobby Ryan’s passed him from the opposite direction. He knew the Mr Moonlight sticker across the front windscreen. “Whoever it was saluted me and I saluted back,” he said. “I am almost sure it was Bobby because he would know me but I cannot be certain.”

At around 8.50am, Siobhan Kinnane, who lives in the townland of Cordangan, was driving her children to school in Tipperary. She said she saw a man walking towards her, as she rounded a hairpin bend, bald and wearing a navy tracksuit with a flash of white on it.

She described him in her Garda statement as looking “sweaty and red-faced”. Her Garda statement said she was “positive” this was the same man who was reported missing. When cross-examined, she said: “I didn’t say I was positive. I said I was ‘almost sure’.”

The search for Bobby Ryan began within hours. He hadn’t turned up for work at the quarry, the court heard.

A colleague called to his house, alerting his son. Robert Ryan called to Ms Lowry’s, and told the court she was “shaking” and “crying” and told him: “We didn’t have a fight.”

Michelle Ryan reported her father missing. She could not explain her feeling that her father’s van would be in Kilshane Woods. That was where she and Ms Lowry found it abandoned.

The van was unlocked, and in gear, and the seat was not in its usual position. She told gardai her father was not the last person to drive that van, the court heard.

The case continues before Ms Justice Eileen Creedon and a jury of six men and six women.

Sunday Independent

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