Family sorrow as 'wonderful, loving father Brian' dies in house blaze while wife is out at shop
The daughter of a man who perished in a fire at his home while his wife nipped out to the shops has paid tribute to a "loving, wonderful father".
Brian McCabe (55), who died in the blaze at his Downpatrick, Co Down home on Friday, was a lover of poetry and music, according to Mary McCabe (26), an award-winning soprano.
Mr McCabe was retired and had been a psychiatric nurse during his career.
He is survived by his wife Josephine, daughter Mary and son Jonathan (31).
Yesterday, Mary McCabe said her mother was understandably taking the tragedy badly.
It emerged that Mr McCabe's wife, Josie, had just gone to a local pharmacy to collect medicine when the fire broke out at around 5.45pm.
Singer Mary told the Belfast Telegraph, "he was a loving, wonderful father who loved poetry and music" and that her mother "was not too good".
Last December, Mr McCabe had been charged with setting fire to a toilet cubicle at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on October 26, and with using disorderly behaviour at the hospital on the same date.
His lawyer had told Newtownards Magistrates Court that Mr McCabe had a "long psychiatric history".
Mr McCabe's daughter Mary had been in Belfast when tragedy struck and was notified of the incident by her parents' neighbours, Cicy and Anthony Kochithara. The couple's 15-year-old daughter Sharon had called the emergency services and yesterday she spoke of her distress after discovering the blaze in the property adjoining their semi-detached homes.
Sharon, a pupil at Assumption Grammar, said she and her two older sisters had been in the dining room of their house when they smelled smoke.
"We were just in the back and smelled the smoke and so we looked out and saw the smoke coming from the house.
"We ran to the front door of the house but it was locked. So I went and dialled 999 for the fire and ambulance and then all the neighbours came out to try to get in the house," she said.
Cicy and Anthony were on their way home from work when the blaze tore through Mr McCabe's house.
The couple have lived in the area for more than 10 years and said the McCabes had lived beside them for about three years.
Cicy described Mr McCabe as a "very quiet" man who they didn't see much of, but that she regularly saw his wife Josie. "I saw him outside sometimes when he was having a cigarette, out the back, and would see him more then in the summer time."
"He was a very good neighbour and kept the garden very neat. There was never any noise and they never bothered us with anything," Anthony said, adding, "We were very proud to have them as our neighbours."
Mrs Kochithara also made a poignant observation about the regard in which Mr McCabe's daughter - a talented soprano - held him. "He was a composer and played the guitar and his daughter Mary is a beautiful singer at the church and when people asked her how she was so good she said she got her talent from him," she said.
"There were lots of instruments in the house and they've all been lost.
"They've lost everything."
They said the tragedy struck shortly after Mrs McCabe left the house to go to a nearby chemist shop.
"Josie was out, she just went out to buy medicine at the pharmacy when it happened," said Mrs Kochithara.
The neighbour said the distraught and grieving widow was now staying with other family members.
"I've telephoned them to offer if I can do anything for them at all," she added.
Mrs Kochithara revealed that the smoke from the fire was so intense it had spread beyond the McCabes' property.
She had to seek treatment from Accident and Emergency after the effects of smoke caused her to lose her voice.
"The firemen checked for Co2 levels and they said it was very high so we weren't allowed into the house for over two and a half hours until it went down but then they checked and we were allowed in later," said a hoarse Mrs Kochithara.
"My voice is much better now but it is like this because of it.
"It's very sad and shocking."