'I know what the families are going through, God help them'
The slaughter of tourists in Sousse, including three Irish, shocked the civilised world. For one father, whose son was murdered in the London bombings in 2005, the pain hasn't been eased by the passage of time.
Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30
'Unconfirmed reports are coming in that scores of people, including Western holidaymakers, have been shot dead in a terrorist attack on a beach in Tunisia," said the BBC reporter calmly. Sean Cassidy sat down, his head in his hands - the devastating news triggering bitter and all too familiar memories.
Sean and his wife Veronica lost their only son, Ciaran, in the London bombings of July 7, 2005 - a decade ago next Tuesday.
Originally from the village of Swanlinbar in Cavan, Sean knows only too well that feeling of devastation, of helplessness and heartache, now felt by the families of the victims caught up in the Tunisia massacre.
He, and his wife Veronica, from Enniskillen, have had to live with those emotions for 10 long years.
"When someone goes out with the intention of deliberately murdering your child, that's impossible to get your head around. Losing my son in this way was an unnatural event. We might have lost Ciaran 10 years ago but it still feels like yesterday, that kind of pain never goes away," Sean told Review from his home in north London. And, the former postman said, hearing of the terrorist murders in Tunisia last week brought it all back - "I know what the families of those victims are going through, God help them all."
The world recoiled in disgust at what had happened on that beach as innocent holidaymakers were gunned down by 23-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui - a Tunisian aviation student who was radicalised by the extremist organisation Islamic State.
After he roamed the seafront, dressed in all black, and with a Kalashnikov rifle hidden in an umbrella, the gunman then entered the hotel complex and selected Western tourists to kill - allowing locals to leave unharmed.
The white sands turned red, people were shot as they rested on sun loungers, as they sat in the shade of a beach umbrella and as they tried to escape.
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A place of such natural beauty suddenly became a sandy graveyard as gunshots rang out into the mid-afternoon air.
Thirty-eight people shot dead in a massacre -three of them Irish citizens preparing to return home.
Larry and Martina Hayes, a couple in their 50s from Athlone, were on the last day of their holiday at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel on the beach in Kantawi when they were killed.
As was Lorna Carty, a nurse from Robinstown, Co Meath. She had gone for one last walk along the waterfront while her husband Declan waited in their hotel room.
The Cartys, who had received the Tunisian holiday as a gift from a relative as Declan was recovering from heart surgery, were due to leave Tunisia later on Friday evening.
As the devastated families try to make sense of what happened, they have called for answers.
Billy Kelly, brother of Martina Hayes, said: "They shot my sister and her husband in cold blood. They were a hardworking family, my sister Martina was a very proud housewife and they were a loving family," and referring to those who carried out the barbaric Tunisian attack, he said: "The world deserves to know what those people did."
And a family friend of the Cartys explained how Lorna got caught up in the terrorist attack.
They said: "Declan was in the hotel and Lorna went out to get a last bit of sun before leaving. They were due home (on the day of the attack). When Declan heard all the commotion he went out, then he recognised the towel and the blood on it. He's devastated."
Sean Cassidy knows only too well how that devastation feels and how it lingers every day in the heart and mind.
He'd just finished his day's work on July 7, 2005 and returned home when alarm bells started to ring.
"Of course we'd heard of the bombs in the morning on the news but didn't for one second think Ciaran was involved. Just after 1.30pm the telephone rang, it was his boss asking why Ciaran hadn't showed up for work as a shop assistant for a printing company in Chancery Lane," recalls Sean.
Still Sean, Veronica and their daughter Lisa presumed Ciaran's non-arrival at work was due to other factors.
They tried calling his mobile - no answer. The minutes turned into hours, the minor concerns turned into major fear. Surly the terrorists hadn't killed their darling 22-year-old Ciaran, had they?
Family members started calling hospitals, someone called an emergency line set up by the police - "they were in a room somewhere staring at four walls, they knew less about what was happening than we did," says Sean. The search for Ciaran continued.
The Cassidys waited for news, perhaps their boy had been injured but police had not been able to identify him, perhaps he hadn't been caught up in the terrorist attack at all, perhaps anything but death on a lonely London underground train.
And then on Sunday afternoon, a full three days after the attack, a policeman called at the Cassidys' front door. It would take six days until the family received official confirmation that Ciaran was one of the 52 civilians killed in the 7/7 attacks.
"The waiting was unbearable. I'm sure the poor families affected by the Tunisia attack are experiencing the same thing now. Waiting for identification, confirmation and to be able to bury their loved ones," says Sean.
Ciaran, an Arsenal FC supporter who was described as a happy-go-lucky, friendly young man who loved his family, friends and football, was saving up for a trip to Australia at the time of his tragic death. His mother told his inquest: "Ciaran came from a very large extended family of 25 aunts and uncles and 42 cousins living in Ireland."
He died in the Russell Square Tube bombing at 8.50am on July 7 when 19-year-old Islamist terrorist Germaine Lindsay detonated a bomb that killed 26 innocent people on a train travelling on the Piccadilly line between the King's Cross St Pancras and Russell Square Tube stations.
"The anger is the hardest thing to deal with I suppose. It doesn't go away. In many ways it's worse than the grief because it can change a person, can lead to bitterness," Sean told Review.
The Hayes and Cartys are the latest Irish families grieving as a result of a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic fundamentalists.
In total, six Irish citizens were killed in the 9/11 attacks in the USA in 2001.
They included 35-year-old Ann Marie McHugh from Tuam who worked on the 84th floor of the South Tower at the time of the attack. Her parents said the passage of time doesn't make their suffering any easier.
"People say time is a great healer but the problem is we're reminded of that day constantly, so it's a never-ending affair for us," said her father, Padraic.
Cork born Ruth McCourt was taking her four-year-old daughter Juliana on a surprise visit to Disneyland when their plane, United Flight 175, was hijacked after take-off at Boston. Mother and daughter were on the flight that hit the South Tower in New York.
And in the Bali attacks of 2002 in Indonesia, Trinity College graduate Ed Waller lost his life. His remains are buried in Tipperary.
After living through decades of homegrown terrorism, Irish people are now as likely to encounter Islamic fundamentalism as any other nationality.
On a beach in Tunisia when the cyan-coloured waters shimmered and people, with their guard down, closed their eyes and soaked up some sun, that became so painfully apparent.
Local communities lent their love and support to the Hayes and Carty families this week as the bodies of the deceased were repatriated and laid to rest.
But Sean Cassidy believes the most difficult time for those left behind will come when the mourners leave.
"After we lost Ciaran our house was full for a few weeks with people coming to sympathise with us. When I'd walk into a pub locally, someone would always come up to buy me a pint and say how sorry they were. But after a few weeks that stopped and our house emptied. We needed that time to grieve in silence but that really was so difficult," says Sean.
Today in the St Mellitus Catholic Church in Finsbury Park, the Cassidy family will be joined by friends of Ciarans to remember him on the 10th anniversary of his death.
"It never gets easier," says Sean, "but perhaps we get better at remembering the good times and focusing on those positive memories. Maybe it's the only way to make it from one day to the next when something so awful like this happens."