Deaths echo long-buried sectarianism

by
29 February 2012

by Gregg Ryan, Ireland Correspondent

GARDAI and fire brigades in Co. Carlow, Ireland, were called to the farm of George Rothwell, aged 68, a member of the Church of Ireland, after a fire in the early hours of Wednesday last week. Shortly afterwards, his body was found at his home, Ballycormick House. He had been shot. His legally held firearm was found beside the body.

Mr Rothwell’s sister, Hilda, lives on the adjoining farm. Her husband, Michael Jordan, a Roman Catholic, was discovered hanging in an outhouse. His own legally held shotgun was found in a field near by.

The deaths, which took place in a small agricultural community, have echoes of sectarian attitudes that people in rural Ireland thought had been consigned to history.

After the release of their bodies, and on the direction of Mrs Jordan, a joint wake was held for the two men before they were buried on Monday — Mr Jordan after a requiem mass at 11 a.m. in St Andrew’s RC Church, Bagenalstown, and Mr Rothwell at 2.30 p.m. at Lorum C of I Church. Clergy of both traditions participated in both services.

There was speculation in the local and national press that the men had fallen out over the Rothwell farm, which had been left jointly to George and Hilda Rothwell, but had been run continuously by Mr Rothwell.

The fact that Mrs Jordan did not marry until after the death of her parents suggested to many that, as had been typical in many rural Protestant families in Ireland in past times, marriage to a Roman Catholic was strongly opposed, owing to the Ne Temere decree, by which Rome ordered that all children in “mixed” marriages had to be brought up in the RC tradition. There was a consequent effect on succession rights to land and other property, as well as the decimation of the Irish Anglican population over the years.

Gardai were this week investigating the theory that, after a dispute between the two men, Mr Jordan had murdered his brother-in-law, and then taken his own life, possibly in a row over land inheritance.

At Mr Jordan’s funeral, the chief celebrant, Fr Declan Foley, said: “There is only one community — a community that belongs to two traditions, but bonded in friendship and farming, supporting each other in good times and in bad, always there with, and for, each other.”

Preaching at Mr Rothwell’s funeral, in Lorum Church, the Rector, the Revd Charles McCollum, said that the dead man was popular with everyone. “We are helpless in the face of deaths like these. But, in that helplessness, we see clearly the fragility of our own lives, of our expectations.

“If everything depended on what we could achieve, and what we could endure, we would be lost. We do not meet in Christian worship in order to condemn those who have killed, or to praise the association to which the dead belonged,” he said.

Forensic and ballistic tests continue.

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