Paul Williams: 'Roy Collins' mother's love held her family together as they endured a living nightmare in the face of pure evil'
Carmel Collins was a quiet, dignified, beautiful person; the quintessential strong Irish mother whose unconditional love held her family together as they endured a living nightmare in the face of pure evil.
Cancer was to be the ultimate cost of that unimaginable journey through hell, but Carmel's irrepressible spirit drove her courageous battle with the disease for over three years until sadly yesterday morning when she slipped away peacefully with her husband Steve and her beloved children by her side.
She never got over the callous murder of her first born son, Roy, who was gunned down in the family business on Holy Thursday, 2009.
The fact that Carmel passed away on Easter Sunday adds a symbolic poignancy to this deeply sad story for Steve and their children - on that day ten years ago they were preparing for Roy's funeral.
On Wednesday Carmel will be buried next to Roy in the grave that she pined to be close to after the family were forced, because of the continuing death threats, to move to the US under a witness relocation programme seven years ago.
It broke her heart not to be able to make the daily journey to lay flowers at Roy's headstone and when she could not stand it any longer, brought her family back to Limerick after watching her boy's murderers tried, convicted and jailed for life.
No one can appreciate the immeasurable stress and grief that Steve and Carmel Collins experienced together as a result of an unprecedented, sustained assault on their completely innocent family which involved the shooting of one boy and the murder of another, arson attacks, murder contracts, intimidation, closed businesses, near penury, post-traumatic stress, police protection and finally, forced emigration.
It all began the moment when Wayne Dundon stormed into their innocent lives intent on causing devastation which is forever frozen in grainy cctv images captured at 9.25pm on December 19, 2004.
Dundon threatened to kill Carmel's nephew Ryan, whom the couple had adopted as their son, when he refused to allow the killer's 14 year old sister into Steve's pub, Brannigans, because it was against the law.
The leader of Murder Inc., came back a short time later and shot the 18 year old a number of times in the legs as he stood behind the counter.
But despite threats and intimidation the Collins' did their civic duty, with Carmel's full backing and encouragement, which saw Steve and Ryan testify against Dundon who was jailed for making threats to kill.
And then Dundon unleashed a merciless campaign of mindless vengeance directing his gang's operations from the comfort of his prison cell.
Steve's Collins' courageous, outspoken stand against organised crime, which included bringing thousands of people onto the streets of Limerick to protest against the gangs, earned him the love and admiration of the entire nation.
Throughout it all Steve would not have been able for the pressure if it had not been for Carmel, his strong, silent rock who kept him going through the darkest of days of which there were many.
She chose to take a backseat, standing silently by her husband's side, but ensuring that her family stood firm and try to ensure that other's didn't suffer the same fate.
Not many people know it but it was actually Carmel's idea that Steve should rally the good people of her native city and make a stand. That courageous stand is a major factor as to why Limerick is now a peaceful city.
Carmel and Steve were an unbreakable and inseparable unit; a genuine love story which began when a young, recently-qualified electrician from Ballyfermot was sent on a job to Limerick.
Less than 24 hours after arriving in this alien place outside Dublin, Steve first laid eyes on Carmel Lee and they were both smitten.
Less than a year later they married.
The couple had four children, Roy the eldest, Paul, Steve junior and daughter Leeann who remained their baby. Steve had a thriving electrical contracting business but then moved into the pub trade.
The family adopted Carmel’s then 13 year old nephew Ryan Lee, her brother Vincent's son, who was tragically orphaned after the death of his parents.
Carmel and Steve instilled in their family the standards of integrity, decency and courage that they have demonstrated since they were foisted into a hell not of their making.
Steve and the family are completely devastated by Carmel's loss which they quite rightly believe to be a direct consequence of the past 15 years of horrendous trauma and grief.
It will take a long time for this latest wound to heal but they have some solace that this remarkable wife, mother and human being is at rest with the little boy she lost at Easter.