'They weren't as isolated as was being made out' - Humble brothers discovered dead in home to be buried today
Friends pay tribute to elderly deaf brothers William and Daniel McCarthy, who were found dead in their home, writes Maeve Sheehan
Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30
When the bodies of deaf brothers, William and Daniel McCarthy, were discovered at the home they shared in Bluebell, Dublin last week, their deaths became a symbol of urban isolation. They had died within days or weeks of each other, unknown to their community, behind closed doors.
Neighbours described the brothers as private people who kept to themselves. Some admitted they didn't even know their names. They were, said one report, like shadows in their community.
But a tribute delivered at Mass at the Emmaus Chapel yesterday, by the brothers' friends the Nealon and Monaghan families, recalled the men. Gentle men, humble characters who "chose their paths", and "lived a life in their own way".
Every year almost without fail, the McCarthy brothers would drive down from Dublin to West Kerry for their summer holidays. They usually stayed at the old homestead on the family farm where they were raised. They came from Glens, five miles west of Dingle.
William's old Ford Anglia was a familiar sight around the parish - he loved vintage cars. Seamus Cosai Fitzgerald, a Fine Gael councillor from Glens, said he knew the brothers were home when he spotted the old Anglia car.
"Even if there was a thousand cars parked in Dingle town, you would pick this one out, it was so well looked after, polished and shined and everything. It was a very distinguished looking old Anglia. That's how you would know they were around," he said.
Their parents, Paddy and Bridie, had five children, three of whom had hearing difficulties, William and Daniel, and their sister, Angela. In those years there were no resources in mainstream schools. The brothers were educated at a late age in St Joseph's School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, according to a tribute from the Nealon and Monaghan family. There they learned the trades of shoe-making that would prepare them for a life ahead.
After school, they worked as shoemakers and cobblers for a while, and then at a factory making car batteries. When the factory closed, the brothers found it hard to get mainstream employment, even with the help of the National Rehabilitation Board and National Association for the Deaf.
William (76), also known as Liam, was "very resourceful". According to the tribute from the Nealon and Monaghan families, he was "an excellent all-rounder handyman, whether it be carpentry, plumbing, painting and many DIY tasks. Liam enjoyed working with his hands and preferred to keep himself occupied at all times".
He was "a perfectionist but in a good way, a great eye for detail and believed in "doing a good job to make it last a long time".
In their wider community, the McCarthy brothers were regarded as having done well for themselves. They managed to buy their own home on one of the first private housing estates to be built in Bluebell, across the canal from Inchicore, in south Dublin.
Liam seems to have been more outgoing. Friends who paid tribute said he loved playing football in his youth and visiting vintage car shows when the opportunity arose. He will be "remembered for his gentleness, laid back style, never had a bad word to say about anyone, loved his Guinness" and watching TG4.
Daniel also "loved watching TV, had a "great interest in history" and "loved to go into great details in a conversation in a quest to find out more", according to the tribute to the brothers. But he "chose a different route" to Liam.
He "preferred to stay at home" and was happy there watching football on television and "kept very much to himself". He liked to take "a leisurely cycle to pass his time and take in the world around him with great interest and curiosity. In this way, he chose to have limited contact with the wider deaf community".
"Both were always delighted to be returning to their native hometown each year in Dingle along with their sister Angela and would spend up to a month there at a time in the summer and Christmas time," the tribute said.
This year was no different.
Seamus Cosai Fitzgerald, the Fine Gael councillor, saw them out and about last month. He saw one of them helping his brother, Eamon, to pick stones off a piece of land that was being reclaimed.
That was three weeks ago, he said.
Gardai are now piecing together what happened in the short intervening period between the brothers' return from Kerry and the tragic discovery of their bodies at their home in Dublin last week. Post mortems have concluded that they died of natural causes. The findings will be included in a report for the Dublin City Coroner who is expected to hold an inquest into their deaths.
It is believed that Liam may have died first, leaving Daniel unable to care for himself.
According to one source, one of their friends in the deaf community called to the house in Bluebell recently to check on them after they returned from Kerry. He had not seen them for a while. Daniel is believed to have told the friend that his brother was upstairs, asleep in his bed.
Daniel, described as a vulnerable man, may not have known what to do, or how to raise the alarm. It is suspected that he died of neglect, perhaps a week or more after his brother passed away. There were reports that Daniel had written a note, saying that his brother was sick and he didn't know what to do.
A friend in the deaf community returned repeatedly to check on the McCarthy brothers last weekend. A neighbour raised the alarm with Gardai, who borrowed a ladder and shone a torch in their window, and made the tragic discovery.
Their deaths were undoubtedly tragic and deeply sad. But the characterisation of the brothers since then has rankled with some in the deaf community, of which they were very much part.
They include John Bosco Conama, an assistant professor at Trinity College and a former chairman of the Irish Deaf Society: "Over the last two or three days, the people who would have known them well, and the stories that they are telling me, really reinforces for me that the media has got it wrong."
Although he didn't personally know the McCarthy brothers, he often saw William at signed Masses in the deaf community. They were great at DIY and did odd jobs in the community, according to Eddie Redmond, the chief executive of the Irish Deaf Society. He said one of his colleagues told him how William had painted his house just last year. "So he was well able to interact, especially within the deaf community. They weren't as isolated as was being made out," he said.
To some, the McCarthy brothers' isolation was in part because few people outside of their own deaf community knew their language; few outside the 5,000 deaf community understand signing.
According to the tribute at the Mass yesterday, the brothers communicated using sign language, each in his unique way. Liam used "very old and rare signs that came from an older generation" and Daniel used a different type of Sign Supported English, which is different to Irish Sign Language.
In a statement last week, the Irish Deaf Society said the deaths of the McCarthy brothers highlighted not just social isolation for senior citizens, but the social isolation within the deaf community, because of the difficulties in accessing services in Irish Sign Language.
Organisations in the deaf community have been campaigning for 30 years for official recognition of the language, so deaf people can access services from counsellors to lawyers to state organisations with greater ease.
Public service organisations are not obliged to provide official interpreters.
Everyday eventualities such as presenting at emergency departments can be fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding.
"For example, I know that one man who'd broken his finger ended up nearly having a heart operation," said John Bosco Conama. "There was another man, who was discharged from hospital. He was a little bit disorientated. They couldn't communicate properly. They wanted him to get a taxi home. He couldn't understand them. He walked home and he was knocked down and killed the same evening."
In Finland, state organisations provide interpreters for deaf citizens and they also receive vouchers for 180 hours of an interpreter a year, to use in their social and cultural life, such as going to the cinema, the theatre or just out.
"If ISL was recognised, it would mean that we would have the right to access services through ISL," he said.
On October 19, a Fianna Fail bill aimed at acknowledging Irish Sign Language as an official language will be debated in the Seanad.
It aims to put ISL on a statutory footing and has been working its way slowly through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Among other things, it will require every public body to promote the use of sign language within the organisation, to make it easier for deaf citizens to communicate with state institutions.
According to John Bosco Conama, the McCarthy brothers will no doubt be mentioned when the debate on the Bill gets underway on October 19.
"I do feel that we really owe them, I suppose, a huge debt of gratitude because it is so unfortunate that this situation has brought out all of these issues that we have been trying to raise awareness around... We hope that they rest in peace."
The McCarthy brothers were remembered yesterday at a Mass in the Emmaus Chapel at the Deaf Village in Cabra, Dublin. They will be buried alongside their parents and their predeceased brother in Dingle today.