Carrickmines fire: Parents Sylvia and Thomas were devoted to their children and 'a match made in heaven', funeral hears
A tribute was paid to the courage of a young Traveller man who risked his own life in an attempt to save his loved ones, at the funeral of the Connors family.
The funeral of Thomas Connors (27) and his wife Sylvia (25) and three of their children, Jim (5), Christy (2) and five month old baby Mary, took place at the Church of the Ascension of the Lord in Balally, co Dublin.
They will be buried together in Wexford tomorrow.
The couple's two surviving children Michael (6) and four year old son, Tom have been left orphaned by the tragedy.
Mourners who attended the funeral included Thomas' parents, Jim and Jojo, his brothers Jim, Dan and John and sisters Kathleen and Maggie.
Sylvia's brothers John and Ben were also present, together with her sisters Tina, Annamarie, Josie, Bridget, Teresa and Caroline.
The President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp, Colonel Michael Kiernan and the Taoiseach by his aide de camp, Commandant Ciaran Carey.
Gerry Adams, senator Shane Ross and Richard Barrett TD were amongst those present.
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Thomas and Sylvia Connors were 'a match made in heaven' and they never left each other's side, mourners heard. They never seemed to fall out or have any serious arguments.
Chief Celebrant, Fr Derek Farrell, Parish Priest of the parish of the Travelling People, also paid an emotional tribute to their children, recalling Jim as a "lovely boy, a very happy boy."
Christy was "full of life" though quiet at times and up until baby Mary's arrival had been "the little babbie."
Jim and Christy were very close brothers, clever for their age and had both been waiting on their birth of their baby sister.
Little Mary was just five months old and when she arrived, was "much treasured by the whole family," said Fr Farrell.
He also spoke of the couple's two surviving children. Michael and Tom, along with little Jim had just started in the local Gaelscoil in Ballyogan last month.
Michael had been named after an uncle, Thomas' brother, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident eight years ago, he said.
Tom, now thankfully out of hospital after being injured in the inferno, is back with Mochael and the extended family thanks to "the outstanding courage and bravery" of his young uncle, John (15) who risked his own life to save others. "A hero and a great source of pride," commented Fr Farrell.
"As a family, the parents of Thomas put it very simply: "they were a lovely family, lovely children. We loved them."
Fr Farrell said the outpouring of sympathy for the devastated Traveller community has been against a context of new close relationships and interactions between settled and Traveller, United in various forms of solidarity and prayer.
"We need to build on this," he said, describing it as a watershed moment which demanded a new departure.
"We need together to make the deaths and the loss involved in this tragedy matter, not just to this family, but to all in our society, Traveller and settled."
"As a lasting meaningful tribute to those devastated in this tragedy we must build on the immediate features of generosity and sympathy," said Fr Farrell.
"There are important lessons to be learned."
He described the devastating fire on October 10 at Carrickmines as “an earthquake of devastating grief” from which “shock waves spread out through the land”.
“Thomas and Sylvia, as a couple, were seen as ‘a match made in Heaven’. Deeply loving and devoted to each other, they never left each other’s side. They never seemed to fall out or have any serious argument,” Fr Farrell said during his homily.
“They were very close as man and woman, husband and wife. Married nearly eight years, they first met in Bray. After their wedding, they moved in immediately with the extended family in Burton Hall, then for a short while in Rathmichael, before the move over seven years ago to their Glenamuck home.”
“They were, it’s said, ‘the best father and mother that any children could ask for’. Thomas loved his family, his family was his life,” Fr Farrell said.
Thomas was a young father who was very much devoted to his family, the congregation heard.
“He would help out in many ways, do the daily school runs with the children, and would do anything for his family. It was a lovely memory of Thomas and Sylvia here in the Parish that Fr. Dermot shared with us last evening, Thomas ‘swinging by the Parish with Sylvia in the van to announce the birth of Thomas and to request the Christening of his new son… and Thomas saying, with a glow in his face, we expect to be back again next year, and sure enough they were back with baby Christopher.’”
Fr Farrell added: “Sylvia, in the words of her mother-in-law Jojo, was ‘the best girl you could ask for’. You wouldn’t see a better person, and the same could be said for Thomas. Before marrying Thomas, Sylvia took very good care of her now late ailing mother, Mary. Anywhere you’d see her mother you’d see Sylvia. She loved being a mother herself, and was a very good mother. Her husband and her children were her life.”
He said: “As a family, the parents of Thomas put it very simply, ‘They were a lovely family, lovely children. We loved them.’”
“Jim (5), loved to stay with his grandparents Jim and Jojo. He was a lovely boy, a very happy boy.”
“Christy (3), was full of life, by times quiet, a big boy for his age, Daddy and Mammy’s little boy, and up until Baby Mary’s arrival, ‘the babbie’,” Fr Farrell said.
“Jim and Christy were very close brothers, very close to their aunts and uncles, and very clever for their age, and both were waiting on the birth of their baby sister.”
“Baby Mary was aged just five months. When Baby Mary came she was much treasured by the whole family,” Fr Farrell said.
“Thomas and Sylvia’s surviving children are young Michael and Tom. Michael, Jim, and Tom had just started in the local Gaelscoil, Ballyogan last month. Michael was named after his uncle, Thomas’ brother Michael, who himself died in a tragic motorbike accident eight years ago. Michael was Thomas and Sylvia’s pride and joy, and very close to his grandparents.”
“His young brother Tom, now thankfully out of hospital, and back with him and the family, thanks to the outstanding courage and bravery of his young uncle John, who aged 15 years risked his own life to save others, a hero and a source of immense pride.”
Acknowledging the outpouring of public support following the Carrickmines tragedy, the priest called for inequalities to be addressed.
“The widespread instinctive outpouring of support for the families has been, and will continue to be so important. There has been so much good done, and goodwill shown. The flowers, messages, books of condolences, prayer vigils, Masses, the shrines, the prayers, the songs,” he said.
“And all of this has been in a context of often-new close relationships and interactions between settled and Traveller, united in various forms of solidarity and prayer over the past week.”
“We need to build on this. This is a watershed moment which demands a new departure. We need together to make the deaths and the loss involved in this tragedy matter, not just to this family, but to all in our society, Traveller and settled. As a lasting meaningful tribute to those devastated in this tragedy we must build on the immediate gestures of generosity and sympathy.”
He told mourners: “I can do no better at this stage than to endorse and draw on the words of the Connors family’s local parish priest here in Balally, Fr. Dermot Lane, in his welcoming address when he said:
“This tragedy has rightly disturbed the consciences of all of us… It has raised serious questions on issues about the provision of adequate, safe and culturally appropriate housing and accommodation for the Traveller Community, issues about the persistent reality of social inequalities between the Traveller Community and the wider settled community, and issues about deeply ingrained cultural prejudices.”
“There are important lessons to be learned. We must learn, above all, to walk in the shoes of the other if we are to develop genuinely inclusive and pluralistic societies. Many of us in the settled community have failed to walk with empathy in the shoes of our brothers and sisters in the Traveller Community.’”
“We in the Parish of the Travelling People, and I know the same for the various National and local Traveller organisations and groups, are open for dialogue and progress. A generous and committed response is needed from all quarters and at all levels - personal, community, Church, and State. The building of mutual relationship, respect and understanding, recognition and valuing of identity is possible and with goodwill and determination, within our grasp.”
“Perhaps for now we can draw consolation and hope from the good we have witnessed and must build on, and from the Resurrection of Jesus that tells us that love is stronger than death, love calls us to eternal life.”
“Again, dear Jim and Jojo, and all the members of the Connors, the Lynch, and Gilbert families, may the promise and hope of the Resurrection comfort you, may our coming together fortify and strengthen you. May you continue to find comfort in the community of family, comfort in the community of faith, in the community of Travellers, the community of neighbours, the community of fellow Irish men and women, and people of goodwill everywhere.”