Tuesday 16 July 2019

Barrie Hanley: The doorbell rang at 10pm and our lives changed forever

Remains of the light aircraft which came down near Eastbourne, England. Photo: PA
Remains of the light aircraft which came down near Eastbourne, England. Photo: PA
Niall Hanley
Kevin Marron
John Feeney
Tony Hennigan

Barrie Hanley

November 13, 1984 started out as just another day. It was a Tuesday spent at school where the pace of fifth year was picking up as we got stuck into the Leaving Cert curriculum.

That meant a fair bit of homework. I was just finishing it at around 10pm. My mother June was downstairs watching 'Dallas' and my 13-year-old sister Helen was getting ready for bed. My father Niall, the editor of the 'Evening Herald', was on a trip to Paris with some journalistic colleagues and friends from the hospitality world to bring the new Beaujolais wine back to Dublin.

Then something unusual happened for that time of night. The bell rang and it was a neighbour at the door. Her daughter had heard a radio news report that a Paris-bound plane had been in an accident and she ran across the road to check if my mother had heard anything from Dad.

That ring on our doorbell was the sound that signalled our lives were about to be devastated.

By the time we entered the small hours of November 14, it was confirmed that Dad was one of nine victims of what became known as the Beaujolais air crash. Their light plane had run into difficulty and crashed in the Sussex downs.

It became a major story which dominated the front pages. The next hours and days became a whirlwind. Our lives were turned upside down.

Hundreds of people called to our home, all of them wishing to pay their respects to my beautiful, tragic father who had been torn from us. Just 46. So full of life and fun.

The frantic hubbub in the days before the funeral took our minds off the horror at hand. Relations came back from England and America to mourn with us. Family and friends were a great help. Endless cups of tea and glasses of beer and whiskey. Sandwiches and cakes. A typical Irish wake.

It felt like being caught up in a bad, bad dream. Then came the removal and funeral. Charlie Haughey and Garret FitzGerald were among the hundreds who shook our hands.

It was only afterwards when the world returned to normal for everyone else that the true horror engulfed us.

It was sudden and shocking. It was inexplicable and incredible. It was simply unimaginable that I would never hear his car pulling up outside as I studied in my room. That I would never hear him open the front door as he swept in after another day in the Herald, a bundle of newspapers under his arm for me to read.

It amazes me how many people still remember that fateful day.

It's 30 years today. But it feels like yesterday. I'm sure all the other families feel the same. It's probably safe to say, they still love those guys just as much now as they ever did.

Irish Independent

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