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Who was Tim O’Sullivan? Private man whose body lay for two decades in derelict Mallow house had ‘a broken heart’

Tim O’Sullivan, the 61-year-old man who died alone and lay undiscovered at his home in Mallow in North Cork for over 20 years, was born in Cahersiveen Hospital in Co Kerry on September 19th, 1939, just weeks after the outbreak of World War II.

His parents, Michael and Molly O’Sullivan, emigrated soon afterwards to the UK where the rest of their four children, Pat, Maureen, Noreen and the late Denis were all born. The family used to come back to south Kerry on their holidays.

According to a statement released by the family after Mr O’Sullivan’s remains were found last January, Tim O’Sullivan worked as a compositor in a printing works in the UK and was “a very bright, intelligent and able man and came to Kerry often on his holidays with his wife”.

Mr O’Sullivan’s largely skeletal remains were found in his boarded-up house at Beecher Street in Mallow, Co Cork, on January 13th last after Cork County Council staff entered the property after complaints of vermin.


On Wednesday, the inquest heard more details about Mr O’Sullivan from a statement made to gardaí by his sister, Maureen. She moved to Dromid in Kerry in 1972 after she married her Kerry-born husband Mikey ‘Shine’ O’Sullivan, whom she met when he was working for Murphy Construction in London.

According to Ms O’Sullivan’s statement, “Tim used to come over [to Ireland] on holiday and stay where my mam and dad are from – not long before my mam passed away in January 1990, Tim moved over to Ireland. Tim was married when he moved to Ireland, he was late getting married.”

Ms O’Sullivan revealed that her brother had married Londoner Barbara Johnson, and while she wasn’t sure when exactly they got married, she did know that they were not long married when Ms Johnson moved back to England.

Last January, following media coverage of the discovery of Mr O’Sullivan’s body, the family issued a statement in which they took issue with media reports that their brother had struggled with his mental health. They said that was not the case – rather he found his marriage break up very difficult.

“Reports have been made in the media in recent days that Tim struggled with his mental health but really it was more a case of a man with a broken heart, who wished for privacy and time to be alone to come to terms with his separation, as was his right,” said the family.

Family calls for review of derelict properties law after man lay undiscovered in Co Cork house for over 20 years ]

They also said that, while the Ireland of 25 years ago was not like the Ireland of today with mobile phones and messaging apps, Mr O’Sullivan kept in regular contact with all of his family, including his late brother, Denis, before they lost touch with him.

“He spoke about returning to the UK again, but nothing was set in stone. However, then after a while, communication with Tim ceased. His family made every effort to locate him, they visited the house in Mallow several times but had no method of access without breaking and entering.

“It was reported to the authorities, who said that the matter was looked into thoroughly, that there was nobody living in the house and that from investigations made locally, it was certain he had returned to the UK and that was where the family should continue to search,” they said.

On Wednesday, the inquest heard evidence from Mr O’Sullivan’s other sister, Noreen Foster, who lives in Australia. She told gardaÍ that she had returned to the UK and Ireland in 2003 and after flying into Cork Airport, she and her husband called to Mallow to try and meet with Mr O’Sullivan.

Mr O'Sullivan's house in Beecher Street, Mallow. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

“Timothy was my eldest brother and as we live in Australia, we always received a Christmas card from him every year but in 2002, we did not,” said Ms Foster, who told of how they called to the house in Beecher Street to find no trace of her brother.

“We tried knocking on the door but received no answer and we looked through the windows to see if there was any sign that Tim was living there, and we could see into the living area and it looked like nobody had been living there for a while,” she said.

“Even though there were things on the table they looked like they hadn’t been disturbed in a while - we then knocked on the door of the house on the right and the lady there said that the last time she had seen Tim was at Christmas time at the bus stop.

“We then went across the road to the pub to see if anyone there could shed any light on where Tim was. The man we spoke to said he knew Tim but had not seen him for a while and that maybe he had gone to collect his dole.”

Ms Foster went to Mallow Garda Station and spoke to a garda there who knew Mr O’Sullivan. The garda knew that he had another brother living in the UK and presumed he had gone there.

“The prevailing narrative among local residents and gardai at the time was,” as Mr O’Sullivan’s nephew, Aidan Shine said on Wednesday, “that Tim had possibly returned to the UK.”

The family had assumed gardaí would carry out a welfare check to confirm the house was vacant, but this was not done.

The picture of the late Mr O’Sullivan as a quiet and private and somewhat reclusive man, who was kind to his family, was confirmed at his funeral mass in Mass at Our Lady of The Valley Church, Cillín Liath, on January 25th last before he was laid to rest in the nearby Dromid, Co Kerry, graveyard.

Funeral celebrant Fr Gerard Finucane recalled the late Mr O’Sullivan’s love of music and his talent for banjo. His love of his nieces and nephews, whom he taught to swim when he used to travel over on his motorbike to visit his sister and her family in Kilmackerin in South Kerry, was also remembered..

Speaking to The Irish Times before the funeral, Fr Finucane said: “It’s a very sad story to think he was there in Mallow all these years when they were looking for him but now at least now they know in a sense what happened to him – it brings some sort of resolution and closure for them as a family.”