Exclusive: 'We can watch him grow here' - heartbreakingly-beautiful stories behind Ireland's roadside memorials
Seven families tell independent.ie why they grieve for their loved ones who died on the road beyond the graveyard
Three teddy bears are lined up at the side of the road. One is holding a heart to his chest.
The message stitched on to the heart has been faded by time but the word 'love' is still visible. The memorial sign says the person passed away in 2008 but the flowers beside it are fresh. For seven years someone has tended to this shrine with love.
A number of similar memorials haunt the roadsides. An ubiquitous part of the Irish landscape. Reminding passers-by that someone lost their life on that exact spot. Someone who had been going about their day as normal. Someone who never imagined that they wouldn't return home. These public displays of grief and loss serve as an eerie reminder that life can be snatched away in an instant.
The people who tend to these shrines are the bereaved families and friends who are left behind. The ones who never got the chance to prepare real goodbyes to their loved ones. So now they say it at the roadside, again and again. They say it with flowers, teddies, football scarves, sacred hearts, t-shirts, ribbons or quiet words. Here was a life, abruptly cut short.
Ahead of the August Bank Holiday weekend, an extremely high risk time on the roads, seven people explain why they grieve for their loved ones beyond the graveyard.
Patricia Geoghan: Lost her son Andrew (20) on the N51 between Delvin and Athboy, Westmeath in October 2010
It means a lot to me. My daughter and son don't want me to be doing this but I have to, in honour of my son. I have to. At home they say 'mam loves her garden' so I keep a garden here. I visit often. I keep candles lit. I put up Christmas lights. I'm here at Easter. I change the flowers for each season of the year. There's a lady who passes and she calls it Andrew's Altar.
I find it peaceful and tranquil. I feel I'm close to him here. It's the same with his grave in the churchyard. I keep candles lit. I'm up at his grave quite regularly. I used to go every night. I don't now. It's every second evening now.
My advice for people is drive safely. Watch your speed. Be cautious because you never know what you're going to meet. My son never knew that day that he wasn't going to come home.
Gillian Treacy lost her son Ciaran (4) at Ballymorris, Portarlington, Laois in April 2014
Ciaran was a very simple, no frills kind of child. We planted a tree because it's simple. It represents life. I think as a parent you try to keep the memory of your loved one going. This means the world to us.
We can watch the tree growing. It represents the life that was lost. We can still see Ciaran growing in the tree. We have two of the same trees at our house. We don't even have to come out here all the time. We can look out into the garden and see him there too.
The day he died started off as a perfect day. The boys went to my parents' house in Stradbally. They were out in the lake, doing all the things that boys love to do. My dad had even arranged a treasure hunt for them. They were bursting with laughter when I came to collect them. We were just three minutes from home when the crash happened. The last conversation we had in the car was the children counting their Easter Eggs and Ciaran asking for pancakes when he got home.
Linda Evans Long: Lost her brother Patrick (20) on the Newbridge to Milltown Road, Kildare in September 2013
This has been my first time here. I was kind of afraid of visiting the spot. I didn't know how to approach it. When I stood there for the first time I felt really upset. All I could see was the accident playing out: him being on the road, it getting dark, the car in the ditch, I could see him being pulled out of the car, people trying to save him. It's horrendous but I thought, 'I have to do this, I can let myself get upset afterwards'.
We hope that his shrine raises awareness. It's a warning to others to slow down. Maybe people will remember him passing by. Maybe they'll think of the families left behind. It's the place where he took his last breath. A place for us to go on special occasions where we can leave flowers. Somewhere different to the graveyard.
We have a wooden cross marking the spot but we hope to replace it with a proper plaque. The grave and this cross, that's all we have. We don't have him here with us. We miss him so much. He was the youngest and our only brother. It doesn't get easier. You're in shock for so long. It hits you when, after a while, you start to realise that he's not going to come through the door.
Patricia Gibbons: Lost her husband James (28) on the N62 main Roscrea to Templemore Road, Tipperary in January 2008
Every month or every few weeks we come down here to water the flowers. We decorate it too. There are a couple of teddies here. One was a Valentine's Day gift. We were only eight months married when he died. The shrine is an hour's drive away from our home but it's important that we visit. We visit the grave every day because it's just up the road from the house.
For myself and the two boys, it's special. We have this physical tribute to him here. David never got to meet his dad. I was 12 weeks pregnant with him when James died. He's getting to the age where he's asking questions now about how his daddy died. I can answer his questions here. The two boys are celebrating their birthdays this weekend. It'll be hard not having James here.
My advice for people is to slow down, put the phone away. No phone call or text is worth it. Life can be taken away in an instant. People forget about it so quickly when they're on the road. It's not until that knock comes to your door that you understand.
Theresa Cleary: Lost her son Michael Mongon (39) on the main Galway - Dublin Road at Derrydonnell, Oranmore, Galway in October 2005
Myself and my husband come up here a lot with Michael's wife. It's a nice way to honour our son. We leave flowers there and try to keep it looking tidy. It's just our way to remember him. We hope it serves as a warning to others driving by. Leave the vehicle behind if you're drinking. Call a friend or order a taxi.
It's the ones who are left behind that suffer. Michael was only 39 when he died. He had nine children. We miss him so much and it never goes away. The pain to me is like an ocean. I'll be fine one minute and then it just washes over me like the tide.
Margaret Kavanagh: Lost her daughter Janice (10) on Ceannt Fort, Kilmainham, Dublin in December 1995
This is the spot where we lost Janice. It's just outside the estate where we live. I try to avoid it. I'll walk the other way. I used to visit her grave every week. But if I visited it on a Saturday or a Sunday, I wasn't getting over it until about Wednesday. It's too hard even after 25 years. It was easier in the beginning but then reality sets in.
There's nothing more unimaginable than finding your daughter dead on the road. Killed by a drink driver. Nothing could be done to save her. My life changed forever in six minutes. I have two other children and two grandchildren but not a day goes by that I don't think about Janice. People don't realise how lucky they are to hug their child at night.
It's too late for Janice but it's not too late for others. My advice is never drink or drive. Young people get a bad rap but it's all age groups. The driver who killed my 10-year-old daughter was in his 60s. He'd been drinking all day. She was going to the shops with her friends that evening. She was six feet away from the path when she was killed. Janice waited for the green man. She did everything right but the driver didn't.
Annie McDonagh: Lost her sister Elizabeth (21), brother-in-law James Donovan (22) and sister-in-law Eileen Donoghue (20) on the Galway - Dublin Road, Oranmore in July 1995
My sister and sister-in-law were both pregnant when they died in the crash. My sister Elizabeth was four-months pregnant and the sister-in-law was eight months gone. So we lost five people that day. It happened 22 years ago but I think about them all the time.
We visit the shrine as often as we can, not every day, but if we're passing by we stop. We put flowers here too and photographs. It's another way to pay our respects. All the family play a part in taking care of it. It's a nice thing to do.
My advice to people is to slow down. Just slow down. Be careful. Mind yourself on the road. Accidents happen all to easily.
Following the deaths of seven road users in the past week, An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) renewed their appeal for road safety ahead of the August bank holiday weekend.
To date this year, 95 people have been killed in 88 fatal crashes on Irish roads.