A CORK priest who was in a joyful mood after he learned he wasn’t on the transfer list to another parish went for lunch only to leave the restaurant and lose his life.
He was struck by a bus which went out of control after the driver suffered a cardiac episode which also resulted in his death, an inquest has heard.
The joint inquest in to the deaths of Fr Con Cronin (72) and father of two Mark Wills (51) was heard in Midleton courthouse today.
The inquest heard from Catherine Concannon, who was parish secretary of the Harbour Parishes in the Lower Harbour area in Cork. She went for lunch with Fr Cronin in the Bosun Restaurant at 12.40pm on August 3, 2021.
She said that Fr Cronin was “extremely happy” as he had learned that he was to remain in his beloved parish in Cork. The pair left the restaurant at about 1.30pm as Ms Concannon had an appointment that afternoon and Fr Cronin “was concerned” she might miss it.
Ms Concannon said that she was shocked when they were about half way across the road as she saw a bus “speeding across the road” on to the footpath.
"The bus was scaping the wall at speed. I thought. ‘Why is the bus parking the wrong side of the road?’ Next thing I remember was the bus had passed me and I was standing on my own screaming ‘Where is Fr Con?’
"A girl was on the phone crying. I went around looking for Con. I saw the blood under the bus.
"(A man) was comforting me and shielding me from the bus.”
The inquest also heard from Rosemary O’Connor who was having lunch outside the Bosun Restaurant on the afternoon of the accident. She saw Ms Concannon and Fr Cronin as they left the restaurant.
As he passed Fr Cronin addressed her and her husband Maurice and said “Isn’t it beautiful here? It is like living in the Caribbean.”
She said that her husband told Fr Con that it was “better (than the Caribbean) because you don’t have to get on a plane.”
She and her husband then witnessed the crash which “happened so fast". The jurors were also read a statement from Des Tobin whom the inquest heard had miraculously saved the life of his 13-year-old daughter Vivienne in the incident.
He was getting his fishing gear out of his car when he saw a bus coming towards him and his daughter Vivienne. He pushed Vivienne out of danger. He said the bus had "just missed him".
“Vivienne was taken to CUH and released the following day. She was bleeding from the mouth and the foot.”
Evidence was also heard from Keith Fitzgibbon who was at the scene on the day.
He heard the sound of a crash behind him after it had gone to the wrong side of the road.
He saw the bus go on to the footpath and then careering in to parked cars.
“I watched it as it came to a stop. I saw a young girl lying on the footpath. I saw the driver slumped over the steering wheel. I went to the driver's window. I leaned in and felt for a pulse. I couldn’t get a pulse.
“The inquest also heard from Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster, who said that a post mortem had indicated that Mark Wills had died after he suffered a cardiac arrhythmia whilst driving the bus.
The inquest was told that all of his medical checks with Bus Eireann were up to date and that he had passed them all.
Dr Bolster said that Fr Cronin died of blunt force trauma with severe chest trauma in keeping with a collision.
The inquest also heard evidence from a Forensic Crash investigator, Garda Ray Sweeney, who said that the bus had entered the wrong side of the road hitting five parked cars. The bus mounted a footpath and struck a wall.
He said that it was “remarkably fortunate” that other people weren’t struck in the incident. He said that the actions of Mr Tobin “saved his life and his daughter’s life".
“What he did was unbelievable. He grabbed the child and flung the child (out of harms way) and then ran himself.”
The court also heard from various investigators who concluded that the vehicle was roadworthy and had no issues on the day. The bus was travelling for just 55 seconds when the collision occurred. It was travelling at a maximum speed of 38 kilometres per hour.
The jury concluded that Mr Wills died of natural causes whilst a verdict of accidental death was recorded in relation to Fr Cronin.
Coroner Frank O’Connell described the incident as an "extraordinary occurrence".
He said that he knew Fr Cronin very well. He described the Kiltegan Father, who had conducted missionary work overseas for over two decades, as a "tremendous character".
He told Fr Cronin’s nephew Colm that Con had served his parish “so brilliantly” and that locals were “deeply upset” at his passing.
Mr O’Connell also offered his condolences to Mrs Deirdre Wills, the wife of the deceased, offering his sympathy at the loss of "quite a young man".
Meanwhile, Inspector James Hallahan extended his condolences to Colm Cronin and remarked on the huge turnout at the funeral of the late Fr Con who was a native of Bantry in West Cork.
He also paid tribute to Mark Wills whom he said was “well known” to locals on his bus route whilst offering his condolences to the family of the deceased and to his Bus Eireann colleagues.
Solicitor Paul Clune, representing Bus Eireann said that Mr Wills was a “most popular man” who was missed by his colleagues. He also offered his heartfelt condolences to the two families impacted by the tragedy.
Colm Cronin offered his sympathies to the family of the late Mark Wills and thanked all those who had come to the aid of Fr Cronin on the day of the crash.