'Nicola is gone... but her baby Lily Rose will not want for love'
Published 10/09/2016 | 02:30
Semple Stadium was decked out in blue and gold and Slievenamon was being belted out by a jubilant crowd who had gathered for the long-awaited homecoming of the victorious All-Ireland-winning hurlers, both seniors and minors.
But just a few streets away, in a house in Kennedy Park, so close that the celebrations would have been all too painfully audible, a family with a strong hurling pedigree of their own was reeling amid the devastation of the cruellest blow imaginable.
Nicola Kenny (26) was a grandchild of the former Tipp marksman Paddy Kenny, who won three All-Irelands in a row from 1949 onwards.
She was a popular, familiar face at the Tesco branch in Thurles where she worked, and was known for her love of fashion, as an Olly Murs fan, and as someone who would readily organise a trip to a gig at the drop of a hat.
A vivacious, fun-loving young woman, ordinarily she would have been at the heart and soul of the party - but she would have had no plans to attend the homecoming last Monday evening.
She had just given birth the day before, in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Her daughter, Lily Rose, was born in South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel but later on Sunday, developed a temperature and was transferred to Temple Street Children's Hospital out of concern for her health.
Nicola was discharged from hospital and the worried new mum was on her way to Dublin with her own mother Ann Kenny and her aunt Irene Whelan. Her sole aim was to be with her tiny daughter in hospital on Monday, and they hoped to arrive before lunchtime.
But on the way, she had a phone call and the car pulled into the hard shoulder between Cahir North and Cashel South, near Rockwell College.
It was good news. Little Lily Rose was out of danger and was being transferred back to Clonmel hospital - there would be no need to make the trip to Dublin.
Flooded with relief, the three women sat in the car for a moment, debating as to whether to continue their journey anyway.
But then tragedy. A truck ploughed into the back of their stationary car.
Nicola, who had been sitting in the back seat, was pronounced dead at the scene.
She had been a mother for just one day.
Her mother and aunt were whisked to hospital, Ann by ambulance to South Tipperary General where she was treated for a broken arm, and Irene, who was much more seriously injured in the force of the collision, taken by helicopter to University Hospital Limerick.
She remains in a critical condition there in intensive care.
A family spokesman said: "You can't imagine this, the family are devastated. They are in shock.
"They pulled in on to the hard shoulder and took that phone call.
"The hospital told her the child was OK and that they were going to transfer her back. They were making the decision to turn back.
"The set of coincidences is just unbelievable."
News of the sorrow quickly spread, reaching the Tipperary hurling team by their celebrations on Monday night.
Wing-back Paudie Maher told local TD Jackie Cahill that when the team got the news, it was "just a bolt out of the blue for them all".
"It was a perfect day the day before. It brought them back to earth, that someone whose brother they would be familiar with met their end in that way on Monday morning," Mr Cahill added.
Wednesday saw incredibly poignant scenes at Hugh Ryan's funeral home in Thurles, when Tipperary corner back Mickey Cahill presented the Kenny family with a jersey signed by the Tipp team which was then draped over Ms Kenny's coffin.
Her funeral on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles heard her described as a vibrant, fun-loving young woman with a great zest for life, who had lived for her family and friends.
Mourners held Minnie Mouse balloons as they followed her remains up through Thurles town on the way for burial, striking a note of cheerful hope in the midst of such grief.
Nicola's death had left a vacuum of the great love she would have bestowed on her daughter, said Fr Vincent Stapleton, celebrating the funeral mass.
That task now falls to her family and friends, he said.
"You must be Nicola's arms to hold her, her mouth to praise her and lift her up, Nicola's ears to listen to her," he said.
It is understood that the baby will be raised by Nicola's parents, brother Patrick and his wife Annemarie, who have children of their own.
The child will not want for love, former Senator Des Hanafin, a long-time friend of the family, attested.
"They're that kind of family," he said.