Tragic Padraig Gaffney: 'In just one night, everything can be taken away from you'
Padraig Gaffney and his five older siblings emigrated from the small townland of Rathcline on the shore of Lough Ree, Co Longford, to Australia about 10 years ago.
The Longford man had just finished secondary school when he left for Queensland, the North Eastern territory of Australia. With a carpentry apprenticeship under this belt, he worked with his brother for the construction company McNab. Padraig did well, winning a staff award in 2012 for "outstanding performance", co-ordinating the safety of 1,200 people on a multimillion dollar project.
On the pretext of asking his girlfriend to marry him, they travelled to Melbourne on the weekend of his 28th birthday in April last year.
Padraig was so intoxicated that he had no memory of urinating in the corridor of the apartment building or being naked as he knocked on the doors of other guests' rooms. Nor did he remember turning on the fire hydrant valve that flooded every floor below the eighth floor, causing more than $AUS500,000 (€340,000) in damage.
The Melbourne Age reported that when asked why he had flooded the hotel, Padraig replied, "Why would anyone have a reason for that? I'd just like to say I'm very, very sorry. I can't remember a goddamn thing."
Padraig pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court last Tuesday to one charge of criminal damage and was fined $AUS10,000 (€6,800). "I've spent 10 years in Australia trying to better myself and in the space of one night everything can be taken away from you," he said.
The tone of his remarks after the court case reflected the sense of shame he held. No longer in a relationship with his girlfriend, he revealed, "This entire thing has ruined my life completely".
Judge Michael Rozenes, who presided over the case, said despite the catastrophic consequences of his actions, there was no malicious intent in Padraig's conduct, which he would never have contemplated had he been sober.
In a tragic postscript, Padraig died the day after the court case. The circumstances of his death in Queensland are unknown. His parents are travelling to Australia to be with their children.
Padraig acknowledged the day before he died that alcohol had been a major factor in his uncharacteristic behaviour. "People who go out for the night and drink too much can ruin themselves completely," he said.
With over 26,000 followers, the "Irish People Living in Australia" Facebook page has become the go-to noticeboard for recent young Irish emigrants. In an unusual step, the 14 moderators of the site issued an "editorial" in response to Padraig's death and the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Donie O'Sullivan in Sydney.
The post, with 3,500 likes, notes that: "Too often news stories are appearing of violence involving Irish, missing persons and viral videos of events on nights out."
The post has generated considerable commentary and its honesty about the culture of excessive drinking among some sections of the Irish in Australia is refreshing.
"For the majority, it appears to be the focal point of all social events, at home and abroad." The post goes on to ask its followers to "be respectful to the country that we're in, its inhabitants, be proud to be Irish and portray yourself to the opposite of the stereotype."
Noel White has served as the Irish Ambassador to Australia for almost three years. "There are too many tragedies. We need to look out for ourselves and one another," he said.