The killing of Chrissie Treacy has left a lasting mark on the small farming community where she lived, according to the solicitor who tried to “protect her” before she died.
s Treacy (76), who had lived with her brothers on the farm at Derryhiney, Portumna, Co Galway, died when her nephew Michael Scott (58) reversed a teleporter over her in the yard outside her home in April 2018.
Scott, who leased his aunt’s farm, went on trial for her murder in what the prosecution argued was a deliberate act of revenge in a dispute over land. Scott, who pleaded not guilty to murder, was found guilty by a jury of manslaughter in a verdict delivered last Thursday.
Brendan Hyland, a solicitor with a practice in Roscrea, said the evidence that emerged at the trial has resonated beyond the rural farming community where she lived.
“It touches on loneliness, and a sense of helplessness that is hidden from view sometimes, and it touches on that whole thing about how land can drive people,” he said.
Within the parish, her killing is a tragedy that has impacted the entire community.
“In a sense it’s almost an attack on their own peaceful lifestyles,” Mr Hyland said. “It has affected the whole community very badly. There is a very strong community spirit there, centred around the local hall. If anyone got into trouble, families all support and help one another.”
Mr Hyland, who testified for the prosecution at Michael Scott’s trial, was the long-standing solicitor for Chrissie Treacy’s late brothers, Willie and Michael.
He got to know Ms Treacy in later years when she was experiencing “difficulties”.
“And I did my best to try to help her, to protect her, to give her support,” he said. “She was a very fine and admirable lady. She never married and lived with her brothers. They were excellent farmers. They were known far and wide for the quality of their farming and they were ahead of their times. They worked to a very high standard and were very highly admired in the whole agricultural community in the area.
“Not only that, they were regarded as very fine neighbours and friends to the entire community, and nobody had any bad word to say about them.”
Chrissie Treacy had lived all her life on the farm at Derryhiney.
After the death of her brothers, in 2003 and 2009, she inherited half the 140-acre holding, and the other half was left to the children of her late sister Maureen, including Michael Scott.
Michael Scott came to an agreement with his siblings to take over their portions of land. He leased the other half from Ms Treacy. The court was told that for this, Ms Treacy received €6,000 a year.
According to her neighbour and long-time friend Regina Donohue, Ms Treacy was in a “very poor” situation financially.
In evidence heard in court, difficulties with Michael Scott intensified after Ms Treacy tried to lease her portion of the land out to another tenant to get a better return.
She contacted solicitor Mr Hyland, who gave evidence about his attempts to act on Ms Treacy’s instructions and about the subsequent harassment of his client.
The court heard how on four occasions Mr Hyland wrote to Michael Scott’s solicitors, asking him to stop the threatening behaviour.
The behaviour ranged from damaging electric fencing on her land to interfering with her efforts to lease the land to another tenant. Scott denied the behaviour.
After one such letter, Mr Hyland testified that Scott phoned him in a rage before hanging up, and then phoned back within the hour to apologise. The trial also heard from carers, friends and professionals who were increasingly concerned about Ms Treacy.
The court was told the HSE had escalated to gardaí their concerns for Ms Treacy’s welfare arising from her difficulties with Michael Scott.
Carer Susan Keane told the court she tried to encourage Ms Treacy to walk around outside her house to keep active. However, Ms Treacy did not want to in case Michael Scott was there.
Ms Keane noticed he had stopped taking Ms Treacy’s rubbish, as he used to do, and his wife stopped taking her to day care, the court heard.
Shortly before Ms Treacy died, Ms Keane told her employer she had concerns about the old woman’s welfare as a result of the “ongoing difficulties” with Michael Scott over land.
Caitríona Starr, another of Ms Treacy’s carers, noticed the “tension” between Michael Scott and his aunt in the year before her death.
About six months before Ms Treacy died, Ms Starr heard Scott arguing with her: “I could hear his loud voice and I heard him banging on the table,” she said.
One of the most devastating events for Ms Treacy was the disappearance of her dog, Bradley.
He was an 11-year-old Jack Russell, overweight and “worshipped” by Ms Treacy. The dog disappeared two months before her death.
Ms Keane recalled that she last saw Ms Treacy at the kitchen table, and Bradley on a cushion at the bottom of the range. Ms Treacy was waiting for a bus to arrive to take her to the day care centre. When she got home that evening, the dog was gone.
Ms Starr told the court that when she spoke to Michael Scott about Bradley, he said the dog “went out the window”. But she said there was “no way the dog went out the window. He was too fat and too lazy. He just wouldn’t be able to get up to get out of the window”.
Ms Starr was also at Ms Treacy’s home on the day she died — April 27, 2018. She told the court Ms Treacy was in “good form”, listening to music on Galway Bay FM and looking forward to shopping later that day with Ms Donohue.
Scott later told gardaí he had gone to Derryhiney to move a drinking trough on the land with a teleporter. He reversed out of the shed. He hit something, and thought it was a trailer.
He saw Ms Treacy on the ground and at 3.26pm phoned his neighbour: “Something terrible is after happening,” he said.
Francis Hardiman, a neighbour and cousin of Ms Treacy, told the court that when he arrived at the farm, he saw Ms Treacy face down on the concrete yard.
He found Scott, “hysterical” in a shed. Scott took a shotgun from his jeep, saying: “I can’t deal with this.” Mr Hardiman took the gun from him.
The court heard evidence of Ms Treacy’s injuries: her left forearm and hand were crushed, as well as her right leg. Tyre marks consistent with the teleporter were found over the back of her trousers. Her panic button was still around her neck.
The court also heard Scott went to check if she was all right. He told gardaí he did not check her pulse, as he would not know how, and did not call emergency services because he did not know the number.
In closing arguments, the prosecution said Scott had deliberately reversed over his aunt in the yard that day, out of a “sense of entitlement” and for revenge.
The defence said Ms Treacy died in a tragic accident and argued that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defence asked the jury not to look at the case from the perspective that Scott was a “monstrous person”, but to consider the case coldly and without fear no favour.
The jury acquitted him of the murder of Ms Treacy. He will be sentenced for manslaughter on June 12.
Mr Hyland said this weekend: “When she came to me, Chrissie was in a lot of difficulty. She was suffering from depression. She was harassed and threatened, and all of that evidence came out in court. I was in the eye of the storm in trying to protect her as best I could.
“She had this wonderful dog, very intelligent, protected her, her best friend, really, apart from Regina Donohue.
“When she lost the dog, she was at such a low ebb we were very concerned about her, and that was a guiding motive for us to do what we could to protect her.
“The picture of the dog and Chrissie is representative of her and it is very sad. It represents her vulnerability, if you like — he protected her and he was a friend who was there with her all the time.”