Monday 26 September 2016

'There was panic and mayhem' - Irish eyewitnesses relive sheer horror

Alan O'Keeffe

Published 18/07/2016 | 02:30

A child mourns as people gather next to flowers and candles placed on the road for victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice. Photo: Getty
A child mourns as people gather next to flowers and candles placed on the road for victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice. Photo: Getty
Soldiers patrol on the Promenade des Anglais as a tourist passes by. Photo: AP
Marian and Tim Wright from Kinsale in Co Cork. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Peter Eccles with his wife Kathleen, son Ciaran and daughter Grainne. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
A child mourns as people gather next to flowers and candles placed in the road for victims of the deadly Bastille Day in Nice. Photo: Getty

The appearance of normality has begun returning to the French city of Nice - but the pain and grief caused by mass murder remained raw for a great many people.

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Restaurants and beaches were filling up once more as airlines continued to bring thousands of holidaymakers to the Mediterranean resort.

But flowers and candles decorated two makeshift shrines on the promenade where the hate-filled killer drove a truck through a large crowd of men, women and children on Bastille Day.

A woman who runs an ice-cream parlour shrugged sadly as she talked about the slaughter.

"It happened in Brussels, in London, in Paris, and now Nice. It is very sad, a tragedy," she said, as she wiped a table and tried to carry on with a business-as-usual spirit.

Local churches had bigger congregations than normal and the people in the pews in one church near the seafront sang a stirringly defiant rendition of 'La Marseillaise'. Flower-sellers in the city were planning to bring bouquets to the Promenade des Anglais in memory of scores of innocent people murdered or maimed.

A significant number of Irish tourists were in the city when the massacre happened and many had spent the days since then trying to come to terms with the nightmare.

Read More: In their own chilling words - eyewitnesses recount the horror of Bastille Day massacre

An Irish couple caught up in the panic spoke of the "terror" they endured.

Marian and Tim Wright said they ran for their lives as terrified people desperately tried to get away from the promenade.

The couple, who have three children and three grandchildren, were out walking "when all hell broke loose", said Marian (62).

"A wave of people came running towards us, shouting 'run, run, run'," said Tim (63).

Tim tried to protect Marian and held her as the couple turned and fled.

They had travelled to the south of France from Kinsale, where Tim works in the building sector and Marian is a special needs assistant.

"There was sheer panic and mayhem. Six policemen carrying big guns ran past us," said Marian.

Tim said he heard gunshots and began to worry they could be running towards another gunman.

"We managed to get into the Meridian Hotel where there was a crowd of people crying. It was frightening," said Marian.

"Eventually, they let us leave the hotel through a sidedoor into a backstreet. They told us to run and we ran like the clappers."

VIDEO: 'I remember seeing bodies flying everywhere' - Galway barman describes Nice massacre

A former Irish soccer star told the Irish Independent of how he threw his son and wife out of the path of the killer truck as it headed straight for them.

Peter Eccles (53) said that it was "absolutely shocking" to see the truck zig-zagging to kill as many people as possible.

"When I threw my son Ciaran out of the way and the truck passed within a few feet of me, I could see the children it had killed. It was a nightmare.

"I couldn't find Ciaran for 10 seconds afterwards - it was the longest 10 seconds of my life," said Peter.

Peter and Kathleen (51) had arrived for a week's holiday in France with their daughter Grainne (17) and son Ciaran (12).

Peter was a star centre-half for Shamrock Rovers in the 1980s and won four league titles. He won a cap for Ireland playing against Uruguay and now works for the Irish Coastguard. The family lives in Castleknock.

"We were having a really nice evening. Everyone was in good form on the promenade. Grainne was walking ahead of us as we got up to go after the fireworks.

"Suddenly...the truck came towards us, zig-zagging. The bastard who was driving was aiming the truck to kill as many people as possible.

"There were bodies flying upwards in the air and sideways. It must have been doing 50 or 60 miles an hour.

"As it came speeding towards us, we split up. It was upon us before we knew. I threw my wife and son out of the way. We all ran in different directions.

"And the bastard was deliberately driving over people. I could see the truck rise up as it drove over bodies," he said.

He said the scene immediately afterwards was deeply upsetting.

"There were children lying dead and people lying all over the place. There was a sort of big silence. Even the people who were injured were silent. The place had a strange, eerie feeling," he said.

He managed to reunite his family and they took refuge in a restaurant.

"We all ran up the road as fast as we could. It's the fastest I ran in a very long time," he said.

Barman Philip Ezergailis (23), who grew up in Moycullen, Co Galway, was with a group of Irish friends on the prom when the truck began mowing people down.

"I remember seeing bodies flying everywhere," said Philip.

He said he and his friends took refuge on the beach. When he emerged back onto the promenade, he was deeply shocked.

"I looked down on the ground in front of me and I saw what I thought were four dead bodies. But then I realised it was just one person," he said.

Behind the veneer of normality in Nice, there are wounds which may be impossible to fully heal.

Irish Independent

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