Supporting Local News

Pensioner gets suspended sentence over pitchfork threat

A dispute over a stone boundary wall led a Conamara pensioner to threaten his neighbour with a pitchfork.

Martin Staunton (67) of Leitir Caladh, Leitir Mór, was handed a three-month suspended prison sentence for producing a pitchfork during the course of a dispute, which was capable of inflicting serious injury, to intimidate his neighbour, Matt Flaherty.

Staunton had denied the charge during a lengthy contested hearing at the July sitting of Derrynea District Court.

Before sentencing, Judge Mary Fahy said it was the “age old story – it’s all about land or boundary walls”.

“Life is short. Land and walls will be there long after us,” she added.

Matt Flaherty told the court that on April 16, 2019, he was working on his land and chatting to a friend, Oliver Conroy, when the defendant and his partner, Peggy Keane, pulled up in a black jeep.

He said Peggy Keane got out of the car and shouted abuse at him. She warned him to “F*ck off” and “leave the wall alone”, he said.

He said that Staunton got out of the jeep with a pitchfork and threatened him and went after him with it. In reply to defending solicitor, Michael McDarby, he denied there was a feud. “He attacked me out of the blue,” Mr Flaherty said.

Mr McDarby said that Mr Flaherty had been interfering with the boundary walls of his client for some time; he denied this.

Nora Coyne, a niece of Staunton’s and partner of Mr Flaherty’s, called Gardaí on the day. She was working in a nearby clinic, when she saw Staunton in her garden with a long implement in his hand. She said she panicked, and rang Mr Flaherty, who told her to ring Gardaí.

Ms Coyne told the court that Staunton was her favourite uncle of sixty years, and Mr Flaherty was her partner of 24 years. “My heart is broken,” she said.

In his evidence, Oliver Conroy, said he was chatting to Mr Flaherty when Staunton and Peggy Keane, who he did not know, pulled up in a jeep. Ms Keane, he said, got out of the jeep and was screaming and shouting and told Mr Flaherty to “get away from the wall”.

At first, Mr Conroy said, he thought it was a joke. “I didn’t understand what was happening, so I said, ‘how are you?’ to her”, he said.

Mr Conroy said that Staunton took a pitchfork from the vehicle and threatened Mr Flaherty with it.

He confirmed that Staunton was on Mr Flaherty’s land, and that Mr Flaherty had to retreat away from him.

“He was walking fast towards him with a pitchfork,” he said. When he knew Mr Flaherty wasn’t injured, he left because the dispute had nothing to do with, Mr Conroy added.

Ms Keane said she was returning from the local shop with Staunton, when they saw “Matt with our wall knocked”.

She confirmed she told Mr Conroy to leave and told Mr Flaherty to leave the wall alone.

“He (Matt Flaherty) called me every name under the sun. I’m well used to it. I probably gave it back to him as well,” she said.

Ms Keane and her partner both denied that Staunton had taken a pitchfork from the back of his vehicle.

They both said that Mr Flaherty had a pitchfork in his hands while working at the wall, and Staunton had taken the pitchfork off him.

Staunton denied that he was a danger to Mr Flaherty. He said that he jumped out of the vehicle, took a pitchfork off Mr O’Flaherty and told him to go home.

Judge Mary Fahy said that pitchforks and threats were not the way to deal with land disputes or disagreements over boundary walls. She said that if there was an issue with a boundary wall, then they should’ve contacted their solicitor and initiated legal proceedings.

The court heard that Staunton had two previous convictions from the early 1990s, for which he received prison sentences.

Judge Fahy imposed a three-months suspended sentence and ordered Staunton to have no contact with the complainant or witnesses.

The hearing proceeded in both Irish and English. It was adjourned previously because of the unavailability of an Irish language interpreter. Despite another request for an Irish interpreter, none was in Derrynea for the hearing and Judge Fahy translated evidence heard in Irish for the benefit of Mr McDarby and others, who did not have Irish.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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