Limerick farmer’s signature on will was not forged

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Limerick Circuit Court

A JUDGE rejected the evidence of handwriting experts when he ruled that the signature on a will dividing out valuable farming land in County Limerick was not forged.

Judge Brian O’Callaghan told Limerick Circuit Court that experts were wrong in concluding the signature was forged on the will of bachelor farmer, Conor O’Donnell (66) of Ballyea, Ballingarry, Rathkeale who died in 2014.

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Mr O’Donnell’s three sisters, Christina Greaney, Kilneash, Ardagh; Catherine Anna Kelly, Roscahill, Galway and Margaret O’Donnell, Home Farm Park, Dromcondra, Dublin failed in an application to prevent the executors of their brother’s will having it approved by the court.

Judge O’Callaghan was told that a number of people were arrested and questioned over fraud allegations although no charges were issued.

Executors Josie Ahern, Kilrea, Croagh and John Chawke, Duxtown House, Rathkeale sought to have the will approved for its beneficiaries including County Limerick solicitor Michael O’Donnell.

The trial heard that IFA County Limerick chairperson Mary Mullane, had previously helped Conor O’Donnell fill out various farm schemes forms and had helped 20 other farmers draw up their wills without any issue.

Josie Ahern called her on May 18, 2012 to come to her house where she was met by Ms Ahern and Conor O’Donnell who had written out the details he wanted included in his will on an A4 sheet. Mr O’Donnell identified the land, cash, animals, Kerry Group shares and machinery that he wanted shared out and to whom.

The will was competed and witnessed by the two women and the original paper burned. The will was kept in a wardrobe until after Mr O’Donnell’s death.

A Garda investigation was launched three years later in September 2015 and the two women were arrested and taken to Henry Street Garda Station but never charged.

Ms Mullane said: “I was never arrested in my life and all I did was help farmers; that was the way I was brought up to help neighbours. Being put into a cell, that was new to me.”

Both women were emphatic that Mr O’Donnell signed the will.

During the trial earlier this year, three handwriting experts, including two from the Garda fraud squad, said that the signature on the will was not that of the late Conor O’Donnell.

During a 40 minute ruling last Friday, Judge O’Callaghan noted that all the witnesses, including Ms Mullane and Ms Ahern, were strong witnesses who gave clear answers.

“Neither of them had anything to gain or lose from the will. They had no reason not to tell the truth and there was no conspiracy between the two women and the principal beneficiaries, the O’Donnell nephews.

“There are just too many unknowns, too much missing from the evidence to enable the court to find that the allegation of forgery has been proven. Too many inconsistencies between the grounds upon which the experts arrived at more or less the same conclusion of a simulated signature”.

After approving the will, Judge O’Callaghan ordered that a copy be held in the court records in the event of an appeal.