High Court reporters
A deceased farmer in Co Galway did not care for and referred to the main beneficiary of her contested will as “O’Toole the fool” and “Only Fools and Horses”, the High Court has heard.
Maureen Donnellan, who is a distant cousin of the late Margaret Hernon, told the court that from her early childhood she spent a lot of time with the deceased, assisted her in her later years, and knew her extremely well.
Mrs Donnellan, whose mother is a first cousin once removed of the deceased, said she was very surprised when she heard several months after Mrs Hernon’s death that the deceased had left the bulk of her estate to another cousin, Peter O’Toole, of Leagaun, Moycullen, Co Galway.
She said Mrs Hernon did not like Mr O’Toole, did not want to spend time in his company, and had a nickname for him. She said the late Mrs Hernon, who knew about his criminal convictions, called him “O’Toole the fool,” and “Only Fools and Horses”, which she said was a reference to an alleged failed attempt by Mr O’Toole to rob a horse box.
She said Mr O’Toole had approached her several times and asking her to bring Mrs Hernon to his home so her could show her his Charolais cattle. Those invitations were generally refused by Mrs Hernon, Ms Donnellan said.
She said that following Mrs Hernon’s death, Mr OToole had arrived at her mother’s home in Galway, which is next door to her house, in July 2017 and had banged very loudly on the door.
When Mrs Donnellan spoke to him that night Mr O’Toole said: “How could you be so f**king stupid as to lose everything.”
She said his comment was in reference to the belief at the time that Mrs Hernon, who the witness said could be indecisive at times, had died intestate.
She also claims that Mr O’Toole had contacted her saying that if she helped him that she would be looked after, and that he had a solicitor in Dublin who could help. These offers came before September 2017, when it was revealed that the late Mrs Hernon had made a will before a solicitor in 2006.
Ms Donnellan was giving evidence on the second day of an application brought by Agustus ‘Gus’ Kelehan, who is one of children of the deceased’s first cousins, against the executor of the estate, retired solicitor Liam O’Gallchobhair, of Highfield Park, Galway, seeking to set aside the 2006 will.
It is claimed the will was procured by deceit.
The claims are denied.
The plaintiffs are no longer pursing their allegations that the will was obtained by forgery or by undue influence, Mr Justice Cian Ferriter heard on Wednesday.
The court also heard that Mr O’Toole is not contesting the plaintiff’s evidence that he has several criminal convictions, including one for possession of a gun that had been used by others in a robbery in Galway city in 1974 when an innocent man was shot dead.
He was also convicted in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s for offences, including obtaining property by deception and forgery.
In her evidence to the court, Mrs Donnellan held a photograph of the late Mrs Hernon and became upset while speaking about the circumstances of her death.
She was with Mrs Hernon when she died, she said, adding the deceased had often confided in her.
In reply to David Kennedy SC, she said she was a frequent visitor to Mrs Hernon, particularly in her final years, sometimes twice a day.
Mrs Donnellan added she helped her manage her affairs without trying to infringe on her dignity and independence.
Mrs Donnellan told the court she was suspicious about the will and made a complaint to the gardaí.
She said she never saw Mr O’Gallchobhair at Mrs Hernon’s house, and when it came to legal matters was only aware that the deceased had been dealing with another firm of solicitors.
She also said that while Mrs Hernon had lots of visitors when in nursing homes prior to her death, she never saw Mr O’Toole’s name on the visitor’s register at any of the facilities where the deceased had resided.
Under cross-examination by Michael Houricam SC, Ms Donnellan said while names included on a draft will were similar to those on the 2006 will, she did not accept that will is correct.
She said she was suspicious of the will, adding she works in the insurance sector, as the document had no headed paper and no official stamp. She said she could not understand why one person was included in the 2006, nor the amounts included in the document.
In response to counsel, she said that she was of the opinion that the names on the will, other than Mr O’Toole, had been “randomly plucked out of the air”.
When concluding his evidence under cross-examination on Wednesday, Mr Kelehan said he was surprised that no relative of Mrs Hernon’s late husband were included in the 2006 will.
Frank Hernon had one nephew in particular to whom he was very close, Mr Kelehan said.
Mr Kelehan also denied Mr Hourican’s contention that the claims he was making against the will was “an attempt to blacken the names” of both Mr O’Toole and Mr O’Gallchobhair.
Previously, the court heard that Mrs Hernon, who had no children and was an only child, died aged 91 on March 16th, 2017. She was pre-deceased by her husband Frank in 2005, and all of her first cousins.
She left a valuable estate include the farmhouse where she resided at Barnacranny, Bushypark, Galway, with adjoining 13 acres of farmland on the edge of Galway city, lands in Athenry, Co Galway, and a significant quantity of cash.
It had been believed that she had died intestate, having never completed a will that she had been drafting.
Six months after her death, her family was informed she had made a will before Mr O’Gallchobhair in 2006, who was also nominated to act as executor of her estate. The court heard Mr O’Gallchobhair had ceased practising law in 2010.
In her will she had left sums of money to a few family members, including Mrs Donnellan and her mother, and the local Catholic Church totalling €22,000, while the rest of the estate was left to Mr O’Toole.
Mr O’Gallchobhair denies the claims against him, and in a counterclaim seeks an order formally proving the 2006 will.
He claims he knew the deceased for many years and drafted the will after he met her in Galway city in 2006.
He further alleges that he and another man, John Concannon, a farmer from Truskey East, Barna, Co Galway, had witnessed Mrs Hernon sign the will. Mr Concannon died in 2017, a few months after Mrs Hernon passed away, the court heard.
Mr O’Gallchobhair accepts he knows Mr O’Toole and had acted for him, but denies all of the allegations that he colluded with him regarding the will.
Mr O’Toole denies any wrong-doing and claims he had a good relationship with the deceased.
The hearing continues.