independent

Sunday 21 September 2014

We can never lose sight of human tragedy that took place that morning

Mary Fogarty

Published 26/06/2013 | 05:44

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Plaque nailed to the hoarding at the doorway of the disused factory by the residents of St Laurences Tce

It was Bray's darkest day – Wednesday September 26, 2007. It has been six years coming, and something of a resolution has been reached.

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However, one must not lose sight of the human tragedy which struck two local families that morning.

At the Bray People office we learned that a fire had broken out in a building close to our premises.

A senior reporter at the time, Claudine Ledwidge-O'Reilly, walked to Adelaide Villas to investigate, expecting to witness nothing out of the ordinary.

Moments later she phoned me. 'I think something awful has happened, I think a fireman is dead,' she said, stunned.

From that moment on our work for the next number of weeks would focus almost exclusively on the deaths of Brian Murray and Mark O'Shaughnessy.

We saw men in tears. One distraught fireman kicked a helmet across the laneway in fury and frustration. It soon emerged that two brave men had lost their lives.

A terrible hush descended on the town as the depth of horror unfolded. There was an acrid smell in the air, the unmistakable stench of the aftermath of a bad fire. I was a junior reporter then, only three months working in the role.

I felt a weight of responsibility so early in my career to treat the fallen heroes and their loved ones with respect, while reporting the facts as clearly as possible.

There were two families to consider, bearing their grief in the public eye, with the national media descending on the town.

I had the task of calling in to the O'Shaughnessy home and asking them to tell me about Mark.

While other journalists had tried and failed, Mark's brother Eamonn agreed to spend a few moments with me given that ours was the local newspaper.

The heartbreak in the man's eyes was something which I will never forget. While Eamonn was only able to talk for a few minutes before breaking down, he spoke of a fine young man who was most loved by his family and friends.

The Murrays spoke to Claudine about Brian, a fun-loving cheerful family man, and a devoted father.

Their colleagues were dealt a dreadful blow that day, as they faced not just the loss of their comrades but the grim reality of the dangers they encounter in the line of duty.

Brian and Mark were like bookends to the one story, Brian a dad and grandfather who doted on his children, young Mark looking ahead to a bright future alongside Hazel.

Her dreams were shattered by mid morning, when Brian's children were so brutally forced to lead their lives without their loving dad to look up to.

We now know more about the sequence of events of that morning. While Wicklow County Council has not been deemed directly responsible for the deaths, there were health and safety infractions.

We know that it was welding on the site which started the fire, that there was illegal dumping and break-ins at the site which contributed to the intensity of the fire.

We know that the men working at Adelaide Villas that morning were not fully trained in the operation of CAFS, a type of pump system which could not produce the same 'pulsing' effect as water.

But on that tragic day, September 27, 2007, all we knew was that two innocent and brave men had died so suddenly, that two men went out to work and never came home.

This newspaper has followed the tragedy through two funerals, various investigations, arrests of council officials and numerous postponements as well as an inquest and the trial. Our journalists have photographed and written about memorial services as they mark each year that passes.

The town has experienced further tragedies within those six years, and many of the firefighters present for the deaths of their colleagues have worked at those awful scenes, continuing to battle fires despite untold risk to their own lives. Other firefighters were so traumatised by the deaths that they never returned.

Brian's children and grandchildren grow older, with Brian Junior now himself a member of Bray Fire Service.

They, along with Hazel O'Connor and the O'Shaughnessy family, continue to seek reform within the fire service, mourn Brian and Mark, and serve as constant reminders in Bray of the sacrifice they made.

Wicklow People

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