Friday 23 February 2018

Caring and loving, he was a real go-to sort of guy

Pictures and memories of Matthew in the Fitzpatrick family home in Galway
Pictures and memories of Matthew in the Fitzpatrick family home in Galway
Matthew Fitzpatrick as a young boy at Ballinasloe fair

Graham Clifford

In the moments after the stories of Matthew are told in the Fitzpatrick family home, the faces of his parents and siblings become vacant again as the trauma of their combined loss resurfaces. Warm recollections coupled with the haunting reality that he's no longer amongst them.

They've gathered to remember their cherished son and brother who was found dead in his Mannheim apartment in December 2010 - holding onto the hope that German authorities will reopen the case into his death to answer the hoard of questions which still plague them.

"It's impossible to overstate how important Matthew was to us," says his older brother Stephen, adding, "he was the life and soul of every party, considerate, caring, intelligent and the go to guy for all of us."

The second youngest in a family of nine, four boys and five girls, Matthew was 34 when he died and pictures of him are everywhere in the small bungalow in Portumna.

Matthew's guitars and the stubs of concert tickets he used are carefully stored as are all his possessions.

"We're a very musical family, that comes from our father Donal's side and Matthew took up the guitar at a young age," says his sister Elaine who was just a year older than Matthew.

"He had two electric guitars and one acoustic one. When he sang and played it was mainly songs from the Dubliners but he also loved the Frames and REM," she adds.

His sister Mary shows me a video clip of Matthew singing 'the Rocky road to Dublin' at the afters-party of a wedding he attended in Cork just weeks before his death.

"He was the best man at his best friend's wedding. Matthew was so popular, he had friends everywhere and his death hit them very hard also," says Mary.

Throughout the evening Matthew's siblings tell me of the little boy who delighted his parents with his playful antics, love for astronomy and in later years Irish history and photography. Of how he took to rugby and hurling and gathered friends wherever he travelled across the world.

Matthew's younger sister Amanda has special needs and he developed a bond with her which his family describe as 'unique'.

"Mandy has a severe disability and is completely dependent. But If you ask her now 'where's Matt?' she looks up and puts her hands out and smiles. She has a picture of Matthew beside her bed and looks at it all the time. He was so loving to her but that was his caring nature all over," she adds.

After completing his leaving certificate in the local Portumna Community School Matthew studied physics and mathematics at Galway's RTC before continuing his studies in electronic engineering at the Institute of technology in Limerick.

"He was very clever guy, not just in the sciences but almost in any topic you could think of, always interested," says Stephen.

And diplomacy was another of his many gifts explains his brother.

"It was frustrating. You could hardly argue with him. If two of us were disagreeing on something Matthew would come in and offer an opinion that would suit everybody," says his brother Patrick who lives in the UK and who travelled to Germany immediately when news of Matthew's passing reached his family - nearly a day and a half after he died on December 11, 2010.

Matthew was due home just two days later and preparations for that year's Christmas celebrations were in full swing.

"We thought perhaps for a change we'd have an option of roast beef for Christmas dinner so I emailed everyone to ask what they'd like to eat on the day," explains Elaine.

"Christmas is huge in our house because we have such a large family. Matthew replied saying he wanted turkey," she recalls.

Just hours before his death Elaine had posted a baby-picture of him on facebook. He replied jokingly: "I'm going to get you for that!"

In the family's secret Santa he'd drawn his niece Sarah and had been on the look-out for a gift for her.

"He'd even bought tickets for a Christmas concert in Portumna castle that year," explains his sister Laura.

Parents, Eileen and Donal, remain silent but his father hands me a Christmas card sent to them by Matthew on the Christmas of 2009.

He asks me to read a passage from it which says: 'One of the things that I've come to know now is that I never once doubted that you'd be there for me if I ever needed you… and when I did need you, you were always there. Having your unconditional love in my life has made me feel secure and loved and that is the perfect gift any parent could ever give.'

The family say they are certain Matthew did not take his own life in his apartment. "Not for one second have we ever contemplated that" says Stephen.

For now, they simply wait.

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