Friday 18 August 2017

Tragedy heaped upon tragedy for Traveller families facing into funerals after latest fire

Victims of Clondalkin fire. (From left clockwise) Holly (3), AnneMarie (27), Biddy (aged in her 30s), Jordan (4) and Paris (2) O'Brien
Victims of Clondalkin fire. (From left clockwise) Holly (3), AnneMarie (27), Biddy (aged in her 30s), Jordan (4) and Paris (2) O'Brien
Annemarie O'Brien
Biddy O'Brien
Holly O'Brien
Local residents left teddy bears and flowers as tribute to the victims of the fire in Clondalkin. Photo: Arthur Carron
Jordan O'Brien
Paris O'Brien (2)
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

A safe place to live and a candle of comfort to light the darkness. It's what anyone would want in life. And for Annemarie O'Brien, surely that was no different.

Tucked up in the Cluainin Cronan apartment complex in Clondalkin, run by the Sonas charity for people affected by domestic violence, both Annemarie and her two-year-old daughter Paris were out of harm's way.

At seven months' pregnant, Annemarie was excited about the birth of her first son, who was due before summer.

Her friend Joanne Moorehouse told how the expectant mother was happy when she visited Holles Street just last week.

"She told me she was expecting a boy and was really excited," she said.

"She said she was looking for a house to bring up Paris and the new baby in."

But all of that comfort, all of that security, and all of that hope went up in flames in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Not only did the fire claim the lives of Annemarie and Paris, it also snuffed out the lives of Holly and Jordan O'Brien, aged three and four, and left their mother, Biddy O'Brien, battling for life.

Biddy remains in a critical condition but her family last night said they were hopeful she would recover following surgery. She suffered severe burns in the fire.

Biddy and her children had been visiting Annemarie and Paris. They were first cousins but reared liked sisters.

Local residents left teddy bears and flowers as tribute to the victims of the fire in Clondalkin Picture: Arthur Carron
Local residents left teddy bears and flowers as tribute to the victims of the fire in Clondalkin Picture: Arthur Carron

Since the tragedy, family members have spoken of the bond between the two. Photos posted on social media show the two posing together, happy and smiling.

Investigators from An Garda Síochána and Dublin Fire Brigade, who spent two days searching the first floor apartment for forensic clues, now believe a candle burning beside the television was the source of the fire.

If there is a lesson at all to be learned, it is the reminder of how smoke is a silent killer, and can claim its victims even while they sleep in their beds.

From the outside, you would scarcely believe there had been a fire in the apartment at all.

The only visual clues were a blackened window and a soot stain above an air vent.

Sadly, it would later emerge that the wider O'Brien family had been here before and experienced this particular grief, just 17 months earlier counting their dead after the Carrickmines fire that turned a halting site into an inferno.

That blaze left five adults and five children dead. One of the women who died was also pregnant.

In that case, it is believed an oven caused the fire in the unit the victims slept in, and smoke inhalation was the cause of death.

Annemarie was related to the Lynch family, members of which were among the deceased in Carrickmines.

She attended the funerals of all those who perished and friends told how she was deeply affected by the deaths.

And even before that, Annemarie had lost a brother, Andy, in a fire in a prefab behind a Bray church where he was sleeping in January 2011.

Tragedy heaped upon tragedy, tightly bound with bands of sorrow, sodden with tears.

It is hard to find any positives in such circumstances, especially when what happened in Clondalkin took place against the backdrop of International Women's Day - a day when womanhood, sisterhood and motherhood were celebrated worldwide.

And just days earlier, the wider Traveller community were celebrating being recognised as an ethnic minority in Ireland - a move they hope will help Travellers attain human rights and improve living conditions.

But if any positive exists, it is in the reaction from all of society to the anguish and hurt the O'Brien families and the wider Traveller community are suffering.

The residents of Cluainin Cronan are all in short-term accommodation, but people, Traveller and non-Traveller, came in their scores to pay their respects to those who perished in the apartment.

A spokesperson for the Bray Travellers Community Development Group, Jim O'Brien, said the "grieving is absolutely unreal".

Mr O'Brien is also a cousin of Annemarie O'Brien.

"We have seen with our own eyes the expressions of grief from the wider community, and we have acknowledged and embrace that," he told the Irish Independent.

The next step now for the O'Brien families is trying to organise funerals for Annemarie, Paris, Jordan and Holly next Monday, and pray for Biddy, who does not yet know her two children, a woman she grew up with as a sister, and little Paris, are gone.

Irish Independent

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