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‘Rest in Paradise’ – mother of Berkeley balcony tragedy victim remembers friends six years on


The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke

The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke

The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke

The six victims of the Berkeley balcony tragedy are being remembered today on the sixth anniversary of the tragedy that occured when the five Irish students and an Irish American were celebrating a 21st birthday.

Eimear Walsh (21) from Foxrock, Lorcán Miller (21) from Shankill, Niccolai Schuster (21) from Terenure, Eoghan Culligan (21) from Rathfarnham, Olivia Burke (21) from Foxrock, and her cousin Ashley Donohoe (22) from San Francisco, all died when a fourth-floor balcony of a rented apartment collapsed in the early hours of June 16, 2015 while the Irish students were in the US on J1 visas.

They were celebrating the birthday of Dubliner Aoife Beary, who was seriously injured in the fall. Seven others received serious injuries also.

The wooden support beams under the balcony had rotted and gave way, sending the students plummeting to the ground.

A subsequent investigation found that the balcony had been built by a firm that in the previous three years had paid out $26.5m (€23.7m) in construction defect settlements that were never reported to the California Contractors State Licensing Board.

This practice was not illegal at the time and the settlements typically involved no admission of wrongdoing by the contractors and many also included confidentiality clauses.

New legislation requiring construction contractors, subcontractors and insurers to report most settlements reached in construction defect cases to the state’s licensing board authorities came into effect on January 1 2019 in the wake of the tragedy.

Today Jackie Cronin Donohoe, the mother of Ashley Donohoe, posted photographs of her on her Facebook pages, along with messages of support for the other families.

In one picture the words ‘Berkeley Six - Rest in Paradise’ are seen in colourful graffiti art on a wall, with candles burning underneath the message.

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In another photograph, of the young students in happy times, the words ‘The best things to hold onto in life are each other’ and ‘live, laugh, love’ are also written.

During a 2016 public hearing into the balcony collapse, Aoife Beary told how her birthday will forever mark the anniversary of the death of her friends.

"I miss my friends so much - I have known them since we started school together at four years of age," she said.

"We had grown up together, and now my birthday will always be their anniversary."

Aoife then described some of the injuries she suffered - including a traumatic brain injury, open heart surgery and broken arms, hands and jaw.

In 2018 a plaque was unveiled in Berkeley to commemorate those who had lost their lives.

"Berkeley, named after an Irish philosopher, will forever remember the six young adults from America and Ireland, guests in this city, who tragically died near this spot in a balcony collapse at 2020 Kittredge Street early in the morning of June 16, 2015,” it reads, along with the names of the six friends.

"Here, the families of those who passed and the community of Berkeley have joined hands to establish a permanent memorial,” it adds.

The plaque is topped with a James Joyce quote. ‘They lived and laughed and loved and left’.

After the tragedy, UCD dedicated its Rose Garden in Belfield House as a memorial garden to the students.

Three of the victims attended the university. Eimear Walsh and Lorcán Miller were studying medicine, and Niccolai Schuster was studying history and politics there.

A second bench is in memory of all students who have died while attending the University, and a third recounts the same line from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake that appears on the plaque in Berkeley. ‘They lived and laughed and loved and left’.

A fourth bench has since been placed in the garden in memory of homeless man Michael Byrne, known as Old Man Belfield, who died last January.

Eoghan Culligan was a student at Dublin Institute of Technology, now TU Dublin.

“In remembrance of Eoghan, TU Dublin introduced the Eoghan Culligan Memorial Award in 2015, which is presented each year to the student who gained first place on the BSc in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Eoghan’s programme of study,” a TU spokeswoman said.

“Pre-Covid, Eoghan’s parents attended our awards evening to present this award to the gold medal winner, and we hope that they will join us when we are in a position to host physical events again. The University is honoured to remember Eoghan in this way each year,” she added.

A spokeswoman for Dun Laoghaire’s IADT (Institute of Art, Design, and Technology), where Olivia Burke was a student, said a scholarship fund has been set up in her honour in conjunction with her family, and is awarded to a student at conferring every year.

“The Scholarship is a lasting memory to Olivia and she will always be remembered in IADT. Her family presents it to the selected student each year to help further their studies,” she said.

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