Saturday 18 November 2017

Bonded by tragedy, united in grief, the lonely Irish pray in Australia

The tragedies of Donie O'Sullivan and Padraig Gaffney show a new life Down Under can be tough

Donie O'Sullivan
Donie O'Sullivan
Padraig Gaffney who died the day after a court case

Elaine Byrne

Donal 'Donie' O'Sullivan left the Tea Gardens Hotel in Bondi Junction, Sydney, last Saturday morning at 10.30am. The 33-year-old, from Clooney, Co Clare, had been socialising with friends since the night before.

His younger brother Johnnie saw him leaving the hotel on Bronte Road and walk in the direction of the other Irish pub in Bondi Junction, the Cock 'N' Bull.

Donie, a carpenter and pipe layer with an Irish construction company in Canberra, had been living in Australia for two years.

His disappearance on a Saturday morning from the busy eastern Sydney suburb with a large Irish community was a mystery.

Five days later, on Wednesday evening, we gathered outside the Cock 'N' Bull. More than a hundred young Irish had responded to the Facebook notices for help from the Sydney GAA clubs, Irish pubs and Facebook pages created to coordinate the search for Donie.

Each team of three or four was assigned a search grid on a map drawn up by Donie's brother, housemate and friends.

Mark and Kevin were in their construction clothes with flashlights in their back pockets. "So honest you'd nearly laugh at him," was Kevin's description of his friend. We drove in Mark's pick-up truck and put up posters on the telephone polls and canvassed people on the streets. "Our friend is missing, he was wearing a pink T-shirt, we last saw him on ... " By Wednesday evening, many of those we stopped had already seen the posters and already been asked if they had seen Donie.

We arrived back at the Cock 'N' Bull just after 8pm.

A small crowd from the search party stood outside.

They were cold but waiting on scraps of news.

"Don't know what to do now," Mark said. Someone started to go through the different scenarios. The coastline had been searched during daylight. Mark interrupted: "Hope, that's all we have." Kevin said what had been said so many times: "This was the last place he was seen."

I walked to my bus stop, about 100 metres away where two ambulances were blocking the traffic on the busy street.

When I got home, the missing Donie Facebook pages said he had been found in the emergency stairwell in Easts Tower, opposite the bus stop.

Saade Saliba, the cleaning manager, had decided to do a random quality check of the stairwell on Wednesday night, rather than wait until Friday, the normal day for checking. Saade in Arabic translates as 'lucky' or 'fortunate'.

He found Donie barely conscious, lying in a pool of blood, severely dehydrated and suffering serious head and spinal injuries.

Donie had fallen 15 stairs and lay semi-naked just metres from an unlocked door that led to offices. He had left his phone at home.

It is believed that Donie was trying to make his way to the Easts Leagues Club but went into the wrong entrance.

The euphoria of finding Donie on Wednesday was subdued by Thursday.

Donie has had two rounds of brain surgery and remains in intensive care in a critical but stable condition.

A Mass was held for Donie at St Patrick's Church in Bondi on Thursday night.

When he had finished reading the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, Fr Gerard Moran, told the Irish congregation that he was "very moved and proud of the young Irish in Sydney that they would turn out like that, and gather and look for their brother".

"Even young men stumble and fall," the Irish Chaplin of Sydney said in his homily. The Tricolour hung above the entrance to the church. The 100-strong congregation said the Our Father in Irish and sang the hymn, Bind Us Together.

People stood outside after Mass, numb. This sense of isolation and the knowledge that family are on the other side of the world. The Irish in Sydney have turned to one another.

Sunday Independent

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