Friday 16 November 2018

'They are always on my mind' - Heartbroken survivor of blaze that claimed four lives speaks for the first time

Biddy O'Brien lost her two young children, her pregnant friend and her daughter in the fire

Victims of Clondalkin fire. (From left clockwise) Holly (3), AnneMarie (27), Biddy (aged in her 30s), Jordan (4) and Paris (2) O'Brien
Victims of Clondalkin fire. (From left clockwise) Holly (3), AnneMarie (27), Biddy (aged in her 30s), Jordan (4) and Paris (2) O'Brien
Biddy O'Brien
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

The sole survivor of a devastating fire that killed her two young children and claimed the lives of her pregnant friend and her daughter has said her life will never be the same again.

Biddy O’Brien fought for her own life for weeks in the St James’s Hospital burns unit after the fire on March 8 that destroyed the small flat in which her cousin, Annmarie O’Brien, was living. 

Biddy (30) had been visiting pregnant Annmarie, who was expecting a boy to add to her two-year-old daughter, Paris. Biddy had taken along her young children, Jordan (4) and three-year-old Holly.

At some point that night a fire broke out in the corner of the flat, and the smoke is believed to have killed two of the children and Annmarie while rendering Biddy unconscious.

The alarm was raised by others in the complex on Kilcronan Avenue, Clondalkin.

Biddy and Jordan were rescued alive but critically ill. Tragically, Jordan died within hours.

Paris O'Brien (2) who was killed in the tragic fire in a Dublin apartment complex in March
Paris O'Brien (2) who was killed in the tragic fire in a Dublin apartment complex in March

Biddy remained in an induced coma for weeks, having suffered serious burns to her body as well as smoke and heat damage to her lungs.

When she was awakened, her family faced the grim task of telling her that her children had died, along with Annmarie, Paris and the unborn child.

Speaking for the first time since the fire, Biddy said the Christmas season would be “a nightmare” this year without Jordan and Holly.

From her home in Aughamore Lane in Shankill, she said she would be relying on her extended family to get her through.

“Christmas is a nightmare. It’s so different to before, when Jordan and Holly were here,” she told the Herald.

“They both loved Christmas, but this year they are gone. My life has changed for ever. I have never been right since and I will never be.

Jordan O'Brien
Jordan O'Brien

“I’m still getting treatment, physically and mentally, for the injuries and the pain.”

Looking back on the year that devastated her life, Biddy said that even the calendar’s change from 2017 to 2018 would bring her no comfort.

“You would think I would be glad to see the end of 2017, but it doesn’t matter what year it is, or what day it is – Jordan and Holly will still be gone and nothing will ever be the same again,” she said.

“They are always on my mind, always in my head.”

Biddy still does not know what happened on the night of the fire.

“I can’t say what happened because I don’t know what happened,” she said.

“Maybe I will learn something at the inquests, when they happen.

Biddy O'Brien
Biddy O'Brien

Biddy suffered extensive burns to her body, arms and face and suffers constantly as a result.

The fire was the second major blaze tragedy to claim the lives of members of the Travelling community in two years.

In 2015 a blaze that ripped through units at a site in Carrickmines claimed the lives of 10 people.

Holly O'Brien
Holly O'Brien

In a separate tragedy in 2011, Annmarie lost her brother, Andy, in a fire.

At the funerals for Annmarie, Paris, Jordan and Holly and Annmarie’s unborn boy who was named AJ, Shankill parish priest Fr John O’Connor said this was “not the first cross the Lord had asked the family to carry”.

“You have been called, on a number of occasions, to share in the sufferings of Christ,” he said. “We all know that.

“Pope Francis tells us God chooses his best soldiers for the toughest battles, and I believe these words are really applicable to you.

“Without any doubt you are God’s toughest soldiers, and you can be sure you are not alone in the battle of life.

“Christ himself is always with you, and now you have five more angels in heaven to accompany you.

AnneMarie O'Brien (27) who was seven months pregnant
AnneMarie O'Brien (27) who was seven months pregnant

“As Travellers, you are also part of a very strong and noble tradition and your culture will stand by you and give you strength and courage in these difficult times.”

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