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Sunday 17 November 2019

Hero dad who died in blaze alongside his son saved others from fire

Paul Deering

The funeral of a man who perished in a fire alongside his son heard he was a hero who saved others on the night of the blaze.

Christopher 'Sunny' Harte and his son Sean, were laid to rest side by side following a joint funeral Mass at Sligo Cathedral.

Sunny Harte
Sunny Harte

The men died from smoke inhalation after a fire ripped through an apartment below theirs at Market Street in the early hours of last Saturday morning.

The funeral Mass for both men heard how Christopher had raised the alarm when he was woken from his sleep by the blaze around 5am and alerted four others living in other apartments in the building, telling them to get out immediately.

He then dragged his son out of their apartment but they fell together just inside the door of the second floor apartment.

"That’s where they were found, locked arm in arm," said Father Stephen Walsh, chief celebrant at the Mass.

A relative described Sunny as a hero for his actions on the night in saving others.

Fr Stephen said: "These were two young men, still in the prime of their life who enjoyed good health and were snatched away in a single night.

Sean Harte
Sean Harte

"They were in the best of form the previous day.

"We don’t know yet what happened but Sunny was woke in the middle of the night and smoke had filled the apartment and he shouted out to the others to get out. He saved their lives.

"It seems Sean had already succumbed but he went back in to drag him out," said Fr Walsh.

While Sean was his son, said Fr Walsh, he was also Sunny’s best friend and life was never dull when they around with their wit and good humour and they would be missed by everyone.

Fr Walsh referred to the fact Sean was set to move out of the apartment that same day, his belongings "packed and ready for off" to a new place at Garavogue.

Poignantly, however his home was to be eternal, said Fr Walsh.

There were poignant scenes as ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was played when the coffins of the Celtic loving duo were carried from on Wednesday morning.

Earlier, the offeratory gifts were brought to the altar, reflected the men’s love of Celtic and the Irish soccer team.

A Celtic jersey was amongst the items along with an Ireland scarf symbolising their "love of the Boys in Green."

A bag from men’s fashion store Ej’s was also amongst the gifts which represented the men’s keen fashion sense.

A family picture was also brought to the altar representing the men’s great love of family and a candle symbolising their love for one another "which would continue in their eternal home."

Fr Walsh spoke of how the devastating fire had left the town numbed and shocked.

There were no words of comfort he said which could be offered to the Harte family but by being in their prayers and by their presence everyone was "standing with you in sympathy and sharing in your sadness."

The tricolour draped coffins had travelled less than a mile from the Harte family home at St Brigid’s for the 11.30am Mass at the Cathedral and as they were carried inside, ‘Amazing Grace’ was the hymn which was sung.

The chief mourners of Sunny were his children, Michael, Paul and Shelley and wife Sue.

He is also survived by his brothers, Sal, Vincent, Sean, Joseph, Paul and Basil and sisters, Molly, Poppy, Eva, Patricia, Martina and Lavina.

Fr Walsh was joined on the altar by Fr Tom Towey of Ballisodare, Canon Tom Hever attached to St Mary’s and Fr Pat Lombard and Fr Dominick Gillooly of St Anne’s.

Amongst the mourners in the overflowing church were Mayor of Sligo Municipal District Cllr Marie Casserly and fellow councillors.

During Communion Christy Moore’s ‘The Voyage’ was sung as was the Mary Black score, ‘Sonny.’

On behalf of the family, niece of Sunny Harte, Charlotte Butler told the congregation how he and his son Sean loved life and lived it to the full.

She joked how Sunny had his age as 53 on his Facebook account rather than 63.

"And they loved their style and their social calendar was always full," she said, adding that the men had a wide circle of friends.

She said the men’s ‘second home’ was The Snug on Stephen Street and there weren’t too many pubs where someone had a tab for their pints and tea but these two had.

Sean, said Charlotte, was the life and soul of parties and if the entertainment didn’t turn up he improvised.

He had lived the life of a student for the past 15 years though he had never set foot inside a lecture hall, she laughed.

Sean’s first love was Celtic while he also liked his tattoos.

"Sean lived by the motto that you only live once," said Charlotte.

She said Sunny provided the humour always and was a "loveable rogue."

"He was a gentleman and he would always treat his guests well.

"They were two hearts of gold, always willing to help others.

"He (Sunny) is a hero in our eyes. He saved four others and then tried to save his son," she said.

And, despite their tough exterior, they were two softies at heart who loved their family said Charlotte.

She added that the men were more like brothers than father and son and were best friends.

Charlotte’s comments were greeted with warm applause when she concluded.

A poem was also recited about the men by another relative, Nicola Fox.

Father Walsh added that the Harte family were deeply appreciative of the efforts made by the Gardaí, fire service and hospital staff in everything they did last Saturday morning.

The coffins were re-draped with the tricolour before moving off from the Cathedral with a lone piper leading the procession to Sligo Cemetery where both men were laid to rest side by side.

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