'Devoted' couple who flew to London to care for sick brother die in fire tragedy
THE family of a kind-hearted Irish couple who died in a London fire alongside a sick relative have thanked the public for the overwhelming sympathy and support they have received.
Tributes have been paid to Joe and Anne Whelan from Cobh, Co Cork who flew to Romford in Essex, a satellite of London, to care for Joe's sick brother, Jim.
All three are in their early 70s but Jim Whelan, who had lived in the UK for years, had been suffering from ill health over recent months.
He lived at Laburnum Avenue at Hornchurch in Romford, an outer suburb of London.
Tragically, a fire broke out at the mid-terraced premises in the early hours of Monday morning and all three were trapped inside.
Now, Joe and Anne's son, Hugh, who immediately flew to London on hearing of the tragedy, has thanked Irish and UK people for their incredible support.
"Thank you one and all for your kind words and support. I will, in time, thank everyone individually," he posted on social media.
"As of yet there are no arrangements but I will update as soon as we bring them home."
"Again, thank you for the kind words - they have been, and are, a great source of comfort to us," he added.
Hugh flew to London immediately on hearing of the tragedy with his Cork-based brother, Joe Jnr.
It is understood they managed to get to the London hospital bedside of their father before he passed away from the effects of smoke inhalation on Tuesday.
Mrs Whelan was pronounced dead at the scene despite desperate efforts by London paramedics to revive her.
Mr Whelan's brother, Jim, lost his battle for life early on Wednesday having been on a life support machine.
The two brothers were originally from Dublin.
Jim Whelan had spent his entire adult life in the UK.
Joe Whelan had served for a time with the Naval Service in the 1950s before setting up home in Cobh.
His wife, Anne, nee Gannon, is from Cobh.
The couple lived on the Tay Road outside the Cork harbour town and were described by neighbours as "totally devoted to each other."
There was no answer to callers at the family home.
Prayers were offered at all Cobh Masses yesterday for the Whelan family.
"I saw the two of them out walking together just the other week. You'd never see one without the other," one neighbour said.
"They were absolutely devoted to each other. Both were very private but the Whelans are a lovely family and very supportive of the Cobh community and their neighbours."
"Everyone here is heartbroken for the family."
Another neighbour, who asked to be unnamed, said the retired couple had decided to fly to London to care for Joe's older brother.
He had been very ill over recent months but had been cared for by his devoted UK family.
"Joe and Anne just wanted to give them a bit of a break by helping look after Jim for a few days," she said.
Local newspaper, The Romford Recorder, said the blaze erupted in the early hours of Monday morning.
Neighbours desperately tried to assist the trio but were beaten back by smoke, heat and flames.
Multiple units of London Fire Brigade attended the blaze and officers equipped with breathing apparatus managed to get the trio out of the property.
An Essex police investigation is underway but the fire is being treated as a tragic accident.
Hornchurch neighbours indicated that Jim Whelan, who lived at the property for a number of years, had been in poor health for some time.
A total of four fire brigade units attended the scene from Hornchurch, Dagenham and Romford with 22 officers battling the blaze.
Substantial damage was caused to the mid terraced property before the blaze was brought under control.
Part of the ground floor was left gutted.
London City Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described it as a terrible tragedy.
"My thoughts and those of everyone at the brigade are with the friends and family of the three people who died following the tragic fire in Hornchurch," he said.
"Fire fighters worked extremely hard and did all they could in the circumstances."
One Hornchurch neighbour, Jeffrey Prendergast, said fire brigade officials did everything they possibly could to save the elderly trio.
"It is tragic. There was smoke billowing out the windows," he said.