Saturday 22 October 2016

'It was absolute carnage...I can’t put it into words' - Irish in Nice describe horrific Bastille Day attack

* Shell shocked Irish tourists recount horror of Bastille Day attack
* 84 dead after truck ploughed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day
* Irishman in 'critical condition'
* Dead include at least 10 children
* Further 18 people in a critical condition
* French president Francois Hollande: 'France is in tears'

Robin Schiller, Grainne Loughran, Tomás Heneghan, Geraldine Gittens and Melanie Finn

Published 15/07/2016 | 16:03

An Irish father of two has described how he desperately attempted to save those injured in the attack in Nice on Thursday night.

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Thomas McKenna (38), from Miltown Malbay in Co Clare, was about to head home after an evening with his family on the Promenade des Anglais before the chaos began.

“It was myself, my broth­er and his wife. We stayed to look at the fireworks and have a drink or two. Literally on the last drink the whole thing kicked off 20 yards away from us, this white truck was leaving dead bodies behind it,” Mr McKenna told the Herald.

“There were bodies lying everywhere, it was absolute devastation. A couple of us ran out onto the road, these people were just lying there dying, just kids.

“It was absolute was horrific...I can’t put it into words,” he said.

The Clare native then tried to help those who were seriously injured, but were rushed off the street by the local police.

“I was just numb, but I tried to get out there and do something but the problem was we were so unsure at that stage, there was talk of seven more terrorists and a hostage situation, there was a whole host of issues.

“We tried to help people but the gendarmerie put us back into inside the cafe, it was two hours of chaos after that and fear, pure fear. I’m just glad to be back home,” Mr McKenna said.

Another Irishman described how he witnessed the truck leave a trail of devastation in its wake and heard “50 gun shots in a few seconds”.

James Browne, from Raheny, Co Dublin, spent three weeks in the coastal region before the callous atrocity.

“The fireworks finished at 10.21pm so we moved slightly to the left where a rock band were playing.

“I turned around and within 20 yards a truck flew by... there were thousands of people on the street and there was just a trail of bodies after it went by – babies, old people, every­one, they were just lifeless on the ground,” Mr Browne said.

“We just started to run after that, and then we started to hear gunshots. It was crystal clear that they were gunshots because the fireworks had finished. It lasted no more than about a minute.

“We ran in the opposite direction and got back to the apartment, everything was just silent, it was horrific.

“It was just mayhem; people were jumping over railings and onto roofs of restaurants."

'Initially we thought it was fireworks... and then your stomach drops'

Stephen Milton and his boyfriend Ben Terry were enjoying their evening at the Bastille day festivities when “all hell broke loose” in Nice on Thursday night.

The Irishman described the fear of the crowds as he said; "Initially we thought it was fireworks... and then your stomach drops".

Some 84 people, including at least ten children, are dead after the suspected terror attack on Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France.

The gunman responsible for the mass killing, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was a 31 year-old Franco-Tunisian born in Tunisia, a police source close to the investigation said.

The man was not on the watch list of French intelligence services, but was known to police in connection with common law crimes such as theft and violence, the source said.

A lorry hit crowds who had gathered to celebrate the French national day in the Mediterranean city on Thursday night.

An Irish citizen is understood to be in a critical condition in hospital following the attacks in Nice, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said on Friday morning. 

A further 18 people are in a critical condition and French president Francois Hollande said the country's state of emergency would be extended for a another three months.

Irish people in Nice at the time have opened up about the atrocity as photographs of the first victims of the atrocity have begun to emerge.

'My stomach dropped'

“We were on the promenade watching the fireworks, loving the atmosphere of the Nice summer evening,” Stephen Milton told

“We were at the turn where the truck did the damage. Within half a minute there was a trickle of people running, then there were more and more.”

At first they didn’t recognise the sound of the gunshots. “Initially we thought it was the fireworks. And then your stomach drops. It’s one of the most terrifying things you can hear.”

“We heard the gunshots and then we were gone. We ran, we sprinted.” thumbnail_20160714_222056.jpg

Stephen and Ben were standing at the epicentre of the attacks, near the Hard Rock Café. “If we didn’t move off the promenade when we did we easily could have been wiped out by it,” said Stephen.

Stephen and Ben sought shelter in a nearby restaurant. “Everyone on the street was panicking. We ran into an alleyway and into a restaurant storeroom, we holed up there for an hour. It was under lockdown. One person pulled down the shutters, but every time they pulled them up to let people in we felt very vulnerable.”

“There were about fifteen in the storeroom, mostly French. There were lots of teenagers. They were trying to call their loved ones. It was a mixed bag. Some of them were breaking down; some just couldn’t believe it was happening.”

It wasn’t until they’d left the restaurant that they got coverage on their phones and realised the extent of the attacks.

“We were told not to walk towards the water, to walk away from the water by the people in the restaurant,” said Stephen. “Everyone was nonchalant on the street. But then our phones started working and we saw the initial reports that twelve were dead and that there was a gunman, and we were horrified.”

Stephen said that the atmosphere is 'weird' in Nice on Friday. “The promenade is cut off; we can see the truck still there and the cordons. I don’t know if there’s still bodies out there.”

Both living in Dublin, Stephen and Ben are staying in an apartment just 2km away from the scene of the attacks.

They had originally intended to stay in Nice for the weekend.

“We weren’t even aware we were flying in for Bastille day,” said Stephen. “We don’t even know our options. We haven’t slept, we’re speaking to our families trying to reassure them. We might fly out this evening.”

“We were just terrified, horrified that this was happening,” he added.

'Nobody knew what was going on'

An Irish man living in Nice has told how he heard gunshots being fired on the streets while he was locked into a pub for safety for up to 40 minutes last night.

Ian Daly, a chef from Roscommon who lives and works in Nice, said he first knew something was wrong near Promenade des Anglais when he saw huge crowds of people running towards him at a tram station.

Mr Daly arrived in Nice by tram from Cannes when he was met with the chaos.

“I got off the tram and there were hundreds and hundreds of people running towards the tram to get on for safety.”

As Ian made his way to Ma Nolan’s Irish pub in the city, the heaving crowd continued to run for cover. Once Mr Daly arrived at the pub, the police ordered that everyone be locked inside.

“Once our owner Christophe was in contact with the police – we were locked into the pub for about 30 or 40 minutes.”

“Nobody knew what was going on, we heard gun shots but we didn’t know where they were from, were they attacks, were they police? People were just running through the streets.”

“Because of the celebrations yesterday there were a lot of children in the pub that were on lockdown and they were very upset.”

Mr Daly and his colleagues began to frantically text their other colleagues who they knew had been celebrating Bastille Day by watching the fire works on the beach by Promenade des Anglais.

 “There was another concern for us last night because a lot of them were on the beach watching the fireworks for Bastille Day.”

“Thankfully, they were all ok.”

Ian and the other occupants of the pub didn’t leave until around 1am this morning. As he walked back to work again this morning, he witnessed a very sombre city.

“It’s sad. You can feel sadness. There is a lot of security. It’s hard to describe, you can feel the sadness in the air.”

“Since the Paris attacks last year security in Nice has been really high. After the Euros in Nice too it’s been very good. The emergency services acted so quickly last night, it was amazing. It was impressive how quickly they reacted; they were on the streets within minutes. There’s going to be more security brought in now for the next few weeks and months."

Irish people in Nice have described the aftermath of Thursday night’s attack on a Nice promenade as being similar to a scene from the Walking Dead television show.

'It was just horrendous…A horrible sense of fear and terror'

Speaking to RTE’s Liveline show on Friday afternoon, a man named Paul, who lives in the area, said there was still a sense of loss and confusion this morning.

He explained: “Some people are putting flowers down. Some people are lighting candles.

“They’re just trying to understand why someone would do that. They don’t understand why anyone would do something like that. There’s no sense to it.”

He added: “Certainly the message that I would be getting is that they wont lie down under this.”

Another caller, Valerie said she was staying in a hotel along the promenade with her partner, while her son was in an academy in the area.

Valerie described the immediate scenes on Thursday night as “mayhem”.

She told the show she was sent to her room in the hotel and told to stay there.

“It was just horrendous…A horrible sense of fear and terror.”

She said the area around where the attack took place is closed off and covered with army personel, however she said people were trying to leave and some were “dragging their bags to the airport”.

Valerie was due to leave France with her partner on Friday, while her 14-year-old son was due to stay on in Nice, however she cancelled the flights as she couldn’t get an extra ticket for her son.

She said: “We’re hoping to bring him home [Saturday] night.

“My partner is very practical about it.”

She added: “My gut is telling me I want [my son] home with us.”

Dermot Mulhall, who told the show he has been living in Nice for the past three years, described the atmosphere around the area on Friday as “eerie”.

He explained: “There’s a strange feeling around the place.

“There is a heavy, eerie feeling this morning.”

However he said that the area became busier as the day went on.

“The French people are extremely resilient…I think support and sympathy are all they want right now.”

Dermot told the show he was at home when the attacks took place and that if his dog hadn’t been scared of the noises from the fireworks, he might have gone to the promenade.

“I was sitting on my terrace and the next minute…the noise changed and the atmosphere changed too.

“A minute or two later my phone rang and it was a friend of mine.

“By the time I went in and turned on the TV it was already starting to unfold in front of us.”


RTE’s Ear to the Ground presenter Darragh McCullough also spoke to the show, saying he was just up the coast from Nice.

McCullough described the aftermath of the attack as “kind of surreal”.

“Here I am and it’s like life goes on. Maybe that’s what the French and tourists feel they have to do.

“Everybody’s kind of carrying on as normal.

“I think the French and the tourists here are determined to get on with it and defy this act of terror.”

He told the show he had been with his wife and her friends in France and he had suggested they go to the promenade in Nice to celebrate.

However one of the women was too tired and the group decided to stay in for the night.

He said: “One of our party is flying home this evening and she certainly isn’t going to take public transport.

“That’s the shocking reality…we don’t know which way to twist or turn.

“It was just on a pure chance we didn’t end up in it.”

'We heard screaming'

Dermot Mulhall, who is originally from Kilkenny but living in Nice for the last three years, said he was a couple of blocks away from Promenade des Anglais when the tragic events occurred.

Mr Mulhall said a large group of his friends were all attending the celebrations and fireworks last night, but he decided to stay away. 

He could hear the crowd’s screams when he got a phone call from a friend telling him not to come near the area.

“We heard screaming. That was the first thing we heard, which would be unusual here for that time of night. It’s unusual to see mass running and screaming.”


“There was a group of friends down there watching it and the plan was to go there and sit down on the beach.”

“Straight away the phone rang and it was one of my friends who had been on the upper end of the promenade.”

“She rang to know ‘was I on it?’, something was after happening, and wanted to know ‘was I Ok?’ She said ‘stay away from it, we don’t know what’s happening’. She headed home straight away.”

For the next few hours, Mr Mulhall and his friends were reaching out to all their friends to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for.

“The next couple of hours was basically making sure everyone was OK. We made contact with almost everyone by 3am.”

 “It came through a few minutes later a police officer had informed a friend of an attack.”

Last night, from about 11.30pm, Nice’s streets were deathly quiet, which would never happen on Bastille Day – which Mr Mulhall described as “France’s St Patrick’s Day”.

“It’s Paddy’s Day to them. There would have been a huge amount of people on the beach with picnics and bottles of wine.”

“The Mayor of the region asked us all to stay in. It was immediately alerted. The streets went very quiet afterwards. People took the message, everyone stayed in, Bastille Day would never be that quiet.”

“I was walking at 7.30am today and it does make you look over your shoulder as you’re walking along. Around 11.30pm last night the streets were emptied.”

'We had no clue... it was just mayhem'

Irish PR agency owner Valerie Roe has revealed her devastation after she was caught up in the Nice attacks last night.

She was returning to her hotel, the Radisson Blu on the Promenade des Anglais last night when she and husband Denis Flannelly witnessed a scene of utter chaos.

keith duffy fo_25.jpg

“We were driving back to our hotel last night and we just caught the end of the fireworks as we were coming in. We just saw loads of people running towards the car, screaming. We had no clue what was going on. It was just mayhem,” she told the Herald.

“Denis got out of the car and spoke to the hotel concierge and he told us to go straight up to the room and stay there. Nobody had a clue what was happening. You could just see all the ambulances driving around and hear sirens going off.

“We went up to the balcony and could see everything going on so we stayed up watching it all on the news. There was some scaremongering then about hostages in hotels and everyone was saying just stay in your room. I was just paralysed in the bed.

“This morning, the staff in the hotel were ringing everyone in their rooms to see they got back safely.”

She said that this morning, the mood in Nice was one of shock and disbelief as news of the tragedy sank in.

“There’s army everywhere, army boats going up and down the seafront.  The streets and beaches are totally empty. There’s a horrible calm here today. I just feel sick. I’m devastated for their families and those kids that died. I just can’t imagine what’s happened, it’s beyond belief,” she said.

'He was cutting through people... it was horrific'

Robert Greene, from Coolock in Dublin, saw one man's body torn in pieces on the Promenade des Anglais as a woman cried over him, while the shattered remnants of a child's bike were strewn across the road.

The 33-year-old had just got off a bus with a group of friends as the Bastille Day celebrations and firework display drew to a close.

Mr Greene said of the truck driver's progress: "He came behind us and beside us as he was cutting through people.

"He was as close as 10ft away.

"I saw this truck and he cut through three or four people, he was already missing the bumper. It was horrific."

Some of Mr Greene's friends ran down a flight of steps to the beach below the promenade as the driver weaved along the road with the lights of the truck off, running over people indiscriminately.

Still in deep shock after witnessing the deaths, he described the carnage the truck left in its wake.

"A woman dropped to her knees, someone in her family had been killed, just lying there. There was not even a thing anyone could do, there was no CPR, bits of him were lying around," he said.

"It was horrific."

POLICE Nice Ba.jpg  

The barman added: "There was a young child's plastic tricycle, smashed up and left in bits.

"I stayed on top of the stairs looking around. It was surreal. People screaming, children crying, young children running around the place alone, a woman on roller blades screaming for her child. She found him."

Mr Greene arrived in Nice in the middle of May to work in Ma Nolan's Irish bar and to soak up the atmosphere at Euro 2016.

He was returning to the city with friends after a pool party at a hotel on the outskirts of Nice and said he thought the attack began close to where his group had got off the bus.

"There was no noise. He came in between us and the beach. I remember turning around and then hearing noise but there wasn't a huge amount of noise. We must have been close to the start," he said.

"Some people pushed their youngsters out of the way, we ran to the beach."

Two of their group went missing in the immediate confusion, one of whom was on crutches, but they were reunited a short while later.

Mr Greene added: "It doesn't seem real. When it was happening I remember thinking: why is he not stopping? He was starting to come closer. Then he started to veer in and veer out.

"I was not really looking at the driver at the time. I was more fixated on the truck and the people, the bumper was gone. That's when I thought, he's not just going to stop, this isn't an accident, he was ploughing into people.

"His lights were out. There was no noise."

The group took refuge in the Neptune restaurant on the beach where mattresses were thrown up against the walls and windows.

Staff and patrons watched reports of the attack on news channels for an hour and a half before firefighters came and gave them an escort across the Promenade.

Mr Greene said the group returned to their apartment in the city centre and followed the updates through the night before coming to work.

"I was told to come out and work here for the Euros ... (they) said it would be great craic," he said.

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