Friday 22 June 2018

'Once I heard the name of the casualty, I realised it was my cousin' - Fire officer on attending scene of Ophelia tragedy

Paddy Pyke - sub officer at Clonmel Fire Station
Paddy Pyke - sub officer at Clonmel Fire Station
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A fire officer has told of the moment he arrived at the scene of a tragedy during Hurricane Ophelia, only to realise the casualty was his cousin.

Sub-officer at Clonmel Fire Station Paddy Pyke was working in the area with a colleague when they received an alert to attend the Ardfinnan-Cahir road in Tipperary.

Speaking on last night's Late Late Show, Mr Pyke said he realised when he arrived at the scene that his cousin Michael Pyke was involved in the incident.

The 31-year-old man had stopped his car to clear a tree from the road, when a second tree's limb fell and struck him.

Michael, the youngest in a family of 11, suffered fatal head injuries.

"On the day in question I would have attended the scene with Carol," Paddy Pyke told Ryan Tubridy.

Michael Pyke
Michael Pyke

"It wouldn't have been normal for me to attend that area, the only reason I was there was because the decision was taken that nobody should travel alone that day.

"Carol was fielding calls the entire time en route to the incident and taking notes, so I was driving.

Friends and family, including girlfriend Nollaig Hennessy (centre, holding frame) at the funeral of victim Michael Pyke in Co Tipperary yesterday. Photo: Provision
Friends and family, including girlfriend Nollaig Hennessy (centre, holding frame) at the funeral of victim Michael Pyke in Co Tipperary yesterday. Photo: Provision

"But on arrival at the scene, once I heard the name of the casualty, I realised it was a first cousin of mine."

Paddy Pyke described his cousin Michael as being "mammy's white-haired boy".

Funeral of Michael Pyke in Ardfinnan, Co. Tipperary Pic Michael MacSweeney/Provision
Funeral of Michael Pyke in Ardfinnan, Co. Tipperary Pic Michael MacSweeney/Provision

"Michael was the youngest from a large but very close family.

"He had seven sisters and three brothers.

Tributes have been paid to three victims who lost their lives in Storm Ophelia related incidents: Fintan Goss, Michael Pyke and Clare O’Neill
Tributes have been paid to three victims who lost their lives in Storm Ophelia related incidents: Fintan Goss, Michael Pyke and Clare O’Neill

"He grew up to be a large man, six foot two, he was a large man but he was a gentle giant.

"He didn't have to know your name before he'd help you, he didn't care who you were.

"Unfortunately, on the day itself, Michael was trying to help when he was struck by the limb of a tree that fell. "

Speaking at his funeral, Michael's sister Linda said she was sure "the best seat in heaven" was now reserved for her younger brother.

"Michael, what can I say? We are heartbroken," she said.

"You were the best son, brother, uncle, friend and boyfriend [to Nollaig]."

Linda added that the entire family was comforted by the fact that Michael, the youngest in the family, "was back in the arms of our mother [Moira]".

"Michael, you will always be in our hearts - and you will never, ever be forgotten," she added.

Linda said Nollaig Hennessy, her brother's partner, was devastated by the loss of the 31-year-old.

Ms Hennessy referred to the "gentle giant" as her "adventure buddy".

"We are now on different paths, but I know you are never far away. Love you always," she said.

Ms Hennessy took a framed copy of a photograph taken during one of her hill walks with Mr Pyke to the altar.

Clogheen Parish Priest Fr Bobby Power said that, from chatting to the Pyke family, he realised that Michael was "the white-haired boy who could do no wrong".

"[Michael was] a quiet man and a gentle soul who always thought of others," he said.

Prayers made reference to the two other families who lost loved ones during the height of Storm Ophelia: Clare O'Neill, from Aglish in Waterford, and Fintan Goss, from Ravensdale, Co Louth.

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