Shots fired, two dead in Westmeath family dispute

Farmer’s son arrested for killing father and shooting sister and her child

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Published: 1 December 1913

The small town of Kilgarvin, Co. Westmeath, is in shock following the recent tragic death of an infant child, after shots were fired into the farmhouse of the elderly Thomas Hickey. In the house at the time was Mr. Hickey’s daughter and grandchild. Mrs Coughlan was sitting near the hearth of the fire with her baby on her lap and her father sitting opposite her. The child, aged one and half, was killed instantly, while the mother sustained serious injuries to the head and was left for dead. Her condition remains serious and she has been removed to Athlone hospital.

Following the shooting, Mr. Hickey went to seek out help for his daughter, falling, it seems, into a drain when attempting to cross a little bridge in the darkness of the night.  When his body was found by the police at daylight, it was initially thought that he had died of exposure, but a closer medical inspection revealed the lifeless man to have been ‘literally riddled’ with bullets. Two shots had been fired at the pensioner from close range.

A confidential police report for Westmeath for December 1913 makes reference to the Kilgarvan tragedy. Following the murder of his father-in-law and his child on 29th November, 'personal protection' by patrol was now being afforded to Kieran Coughlan. Click on image for full document. (Image: National Archives UK, CO 904/91)

Mrs Coughlan’s husband, Kieran, returned to his home at 9pm to find a pane of glass broken and, inside, his wife lying motionless on the floor. He called out in vain to his father-in-law and, on moving into the bedroom, found his infant lying dead at the foot of the bed.

Nothing about the incident or scene would suggest that this was anything but a deliberate act. Dr Everard, who attended to the victims at the scene, stated that he found no fewer than nine pellets on the right side of the baby, while two others entered the heart causing instantaneous death. 

Mr. Hickey’s son, John Hickey, aged 45, has been arrested in connection with the shootings and charged with murder of the child and attempted murder of his sister. He has been brought to Brawney Police station.

The tragedy has its roots in a dispute over the 30 acre family farm. It is understood that Hickey junior wanted tenancy of the farm which was occupied by his father, whose daughter, Mrs Coughlan, her husband, Kieran Coughlan, and child lived with him. John Hickey had left the farm sometime previously and was residing elsewhere, though always with the intention, it appears, of returning to take possession.  It is understood that he spent some time in America and on his return, was given 10 of the 30 acres, on which he built a house and started “up on his own”. Although a subtenant to his father, it was stated that he did had not paid rent and that this had been the cause of a recent court proceedings.

That litigation ended with the county court finding in favour of John Hickey but it had been appealed by Kieran Coughlan, his brother-in-law, and his wife.

The murders have shocked the local community and is only topic of conversation in the Athlone and south Westmeath area.  The inquest begins today.

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