A busker died five days after being hit by a rival busker outside Dunnes Stores in Castlebar but a report by a deputy state pathologist showed that the incidents were not connected.
Martin ‘Gus’ Sweeney (52) of 1, Oak Park, Newport pleaded guilty to assault causing harm after he hit Breffni O’Rourke outside Dunnes Stores on May 18, 2011.
Detective Garda Gary Walsh told Castlebar Circuit Court that an altercation took place on the date in question between Sweeney and O’Rourke over who had the right to play at a certain spot outside Dunnes Stores.
It resulted in Mr Sweeney hitting O’Rourke and knocking him unconscious, Detective Walsh told the court.
He said that the following day he received a call from the family of Mr O’Rourke that he was not answering their calls. Gardaí entered his home and found him unconscious. He died on May 23 at 2.30pm as the result of a stroke, the court heard. The blow from Mr Sweeney was not a factor in the death according to the post-mortem.
Eoin Garavan, counsel for Gus Sweeney, said that if it wasn’t for Mr O’Rourke’s unfortunate death, the incident at Dunnes may not have gone to court. He said the pair were competing buskers and would often play alongside each other and normally had a good relationship.
He said that on the day in question Mr O’Rourke said offensive things about Mr Sweeney’s Traveller heritage, including calling him ‘a dirty knacker’ and Mr Sweeney stayed calm. However when the deceased spat in Mr Sweeney’s face, he lashed out in anger. The court heard that there was ‘extreme bruising’ on Mr O’Rourke’s jaw and face as a result.
‘You’re a grand man’
The court heard that Mr Sweeney was immediately remorseful, sat Mr O’Rourke up, got him a tissue and a drink of water, collected all his takings to put in O’Rourke’s pocket and then arranged to drive him home and made sure Mr O’Rourke got into his house safely.
Eoin Garavan told the court that when O’Rourke came to outside Dunnes, he said he must have fallen. Mr Sweeney said that he hadn’t, that he had hit him and asked O’Rourke why he called him ‘a dirty knacker’. “Ah, you’re a grand man,” Mr O’Rourke is reputed to have replied.
Mr Garavan said that the Gardaí had to treat this as a possible murder case until the post-mortem results became known and that Mr Sweeney was ‘very remorseful’. He said it was ‘a spur of the moment’ incident and that Gus Sweeney generally goes about life in a quiet and dignified manner. He said he was ‘genuinely contrite and embarrassed’.
Detective Walsh said that while Sweeney had seven previous convictions, they were mostly for road traffic offences and this incident appeared to be out of character.
Judge Thomas O’Donnell said that it was ‘a very sad case’ due to the death of Mr O’Rourke a number of days later. He said he took into account the name-calling, the fact that Sweeney helped the injured party and his genuine remorse.
He handed down a suspended sentence of ten months in jail on the condition Mr Sweeney be of good behaviour for two years.