A 64-year-old gravedigger of “integrity, decency and honesty” had some kind of breakdown which left him with no memory of causing criminal damage to 16 gravestones at a cemetery in Ballincollig.
Judge Olann Kelleher said that in all of the circumstances of the unusual incident he was putting the defendant on a probation bond for 12 months and giving him the benefit of a dismissal of the charges under the Probation of Offenders Act.
“I don’t think he deliberately set out to damage persons or their property. I have to take into consideration the devastating effect on the victims and their families but it appears the victims have genuine warmth towards him.
“There are a few hours he cannot account for and he will never remember. He intended to go to his sister’s grave in Carrigaline. For whatever reason, he ended up in Ballincollig where these incidents happened and he was in hospital afterwards for almost two weeks and under psychiatrists from CUH.
“I am concerned he might get some episode in the future. But in the very unusual, strange circumstances, taking into consideration his age and the view of the victims and that he lost his business, I am going to deal with it by way of a probation bond,” Judge Kelleher said at Cork District Court.
Pat MacSweeney of Marian Terrace, Douglas Road, Grange, Cork, pleading guilty to all 16 charges brought against him by Garda Gary Brennan. As soon as he was charged he replied, “I can’t argue with that.” The 16 charges are contrary to the Criminal Damage Act and refer to criminal damage caused to 16 different gravestones at St. Mary and St. John’s Church, Station Road, Ballincollig, County Cork, on Saturday, March 13.
Sgt. John Kelleher said that the damage consisted of black spray paint on some of the headstones and the breaking of other headstones. He said CCTV showed the accused arriving at the graveyard where damage was caused and then returning later and causing more damage.
Frank Buttimer, solicitor, said Mr McSweeney paid the total cost of damages was in the region of €2,500.
The solicitor said the case had caused major distress for the defendant who was before the court a number of times last year in relation to the matter and faced surgery for an unrelated issue next week.
Mr Buttimer said, “The last person gardaí would have expected could have been responsible was Mr McSweeney – a man of integrity, honesty and a very honourable gentleman who tended to the graves in the cemetery and had a family connection with the graveyard.”
The solicitor said that when he got a call to Togher garda station following the defendant’s arrest, “I met this extremely decent but extremely fragile man who had no recollection of his actions and was aghast at being arrested.
“He could not come to term with it. He was extremely ashamed and distressed for the families – people he knew.
“Yet at this stage he did not know what was wrong with him. What was wrong was effectively a breakdown situation – health, stress levels, bereavement in his family, Covid 19 – that caused his effective collapse.”
Mr Buttimer said it might have been a case where limited capacity could have been contested but he did not think it had reached that threshold.
“He has lost his business as a consequence. That was another catastrophe. Families (whose headstones for loved ones had been damaged) became aware of it. A number of them expressed their concern for Mr McSweeney.
“No family members were so upset as to want to come in to court and admonish Mr McSweeney. There is no bitterness or so on towards him.
“He is deeply sorry for his behaviour. He is asking for the court’s mercy,” Mr Buttimer said.
Medical evidence was given last year of the possibility that the defendant suffered an episode of temporary global amnesia which relates to confusion and disorientation.