Saturday 20 July 2019

'I had Tom in my arms, he was trying to breathe' - boy (14) rescued nephew

Mourning: Kathleen Connors McDonagh (right) is helped at the inquest at Dublin Coroner’s Court. PHOTO: Gerry Mooney
Mourning: Kathleen Connors McDonagh (right) is helped at the inquest at Dublin Coroner’s Court. PHOTO: Gerry Mooney
John Lynch at the inquest. PHOTOS: GERRY MOONEY
Katie Connors at the inquest. PHOTOS: GERRY MOONEY
John Keith Connors at the inquest. PHOTOS: GERRY MOONEY
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

A 14-year-old boy bravely climbed into a burning portable cabin to rescue his four-year-old nephew from an horrific fire that claimed 10 lives.

Little Tom Connors was the only survivor of the Carrickmines halting site tragedy.

His teenage uncle John Keith Connors told how he pulled Tom out of the smoke-filled cabin barely alive. "I had Tom in my arms. He was trying to breathe. He was making choking noises," he said.

John Keith had climbed into the cabin through a smashed bedroom window but was unable to see due to the thick black smoke. Three times he had to go back to the window to gulp a breath before returning inside.

"There was that much smoke I couldn't open my eyes. I felt around the bed but there wasn't anybody on the bed," he said. "When I started feeling on the ground, I felt my brother and I tried to lift him and I couldn't lift him. I lost any breath I had."

He also felt the body of his sister-in-law Sylvia (30). He tried to lift her too, but was unable to.

John Keith told Dublin Coroner's Court that his father handed him a fire extinguisher to tackle the blaze, but when he pressed the button he couldn't get it to work.

"My father was saying 'come out'. I knew I couldn't go back in again," he said.

Thomas (28) and Sylvia Connors perished in the blaze, along with three of their five children, Jim (5), Christy (3) and five-month-old Mary. Their other surviving son Michael, then aged six, was staying in his grandparents' cabin that night.

Also killed were Willie Lynch (25), a brother of Sylvia, along with his pregnant partner Tara Gilbert (27), and their daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4). Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Willie and Sylvia, also died. They were all visiting the halting site on the Glenamuck Road when the fire broke out in the early hours of October 10, 2015. Gardaí believe the fire was started by a chip pan in the kitchen.

The inquest heard desperate attempts were made by family members to rescue their loved ones. Jim Connors Junior, a brother of Thomas and John Keith, pulled baby Mary from the burning cabin.

He was unable to give his evidence in person as it would have been too distressing. However, his statement to gardaí was read out for the jury.

He told gardaí how on the evening of October 9, 2015, he and some of the other adults were drinking in Thomas and Sylvia's cabin. He said Thomas was "smoking weed with his nerves". "It was 2am when I was leaving and we were all drunk," he said.

He was woken some time later by his wife Katie screaming that Thomas's cabin was on fire.

Jim Jnr kicked down the front door of the blazing cabin but was beaten back by the intense heat. "I could feel myself burning and I had to go back out," he said.

He smashed the bedroom window and managed to pull out baby Mary.

"I reached into the bed that I knew was there. I couldn't see anything with the smoke... I grabbed a child by the clothes and just reached backwards."

The baby was passed to Kathleen Connors McDonagh who ran to her own chalet where she placed her on a bed with her own son, John (4).

However moments later, as she raced back towards Thomas's blazing cabin, she saw her own home was now ablaze as the fire had spread.

The inquest continues.

Irish Independent

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