How our road tragedies never leave those who are left behind
Our RSA expert recalls the deaths of many - and tells how they will be remembered on Sunday
On November 19, 2001 Fiona O'Neill (21) and her 23-year-old boyfriend Dominic Wogan were preparing to travel to Australia. They had just left Drogheda and were on their way to visit their parents to collect their bags and bid them farewell, before they left for their year-long trip.
They were yards from home and waiting to make a right turn across the old Dublin to Belfast road at Tullyesker Hill, when they were hit by a truck. Tragically, they never made it home. They died instantly.
I remember the crash. It dominated the headlines at the time. Two young people about to embark on a new and exciting chapter in their lives, so tragically cut short. I can still vividly remember the footage on TV. It was utter carnage.
My family lives in Cork, but we are originally from Drogheda and I know the crash site well. An uncle of mine lives about a kilometre away.
While their deaths drifted out of the headlines and public's consciousness, for their families the trauma of having to carry on without their loved ones was only just beginning. The pain never goes away. In fact, the loss is magnified at times throughout the year. At birthdays, Christmas, at the anniversary of their death. Because of my close links to the town, the crash always stayed with me.
Fast forward about eight years. I receive a call from a man with an accent that I recognise all too well as being from my home town. Michael O'Neill was his name. The father of Fiona O'Neill. He was organising a Mass in the Augustinian Church in Drogheda to mark the recently established UN World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Would I help maybe by coming to say a few words? It was an honour.
World Day of Remembrance takes place on the third Sunday in November every year and has a particular poignancy for Michael. It takes place on almost the same date as the anniversary of Fiona and Dominic's deaths.
Speaking to Michael before the service, I discovered that he was a neighbour and school friend of my dad. I've become firm friends with Michael and we have worked together every year since then to mark World Day of Remembrance. Last year he helped us launch the national effort to raise awareness of the event and recorded a special radio message broadcast on national and local stations. We all owe a huge debt to people like Michael who bravely bare their hearts and share their experiences in public. All because they do not want other families to go through what they experienced.
World Day of Remembrance gives us all an opportunity to remember those who have died on our roads and the families, friends and communities who have been devastated by their loss.
Since 1959, a total of 23,751 people have died on our roads. This is roughly the same as the population of Tralee, Co Kerry. For every life lost on our roads, hundreds more are devastated. This Sunday, 15th November, is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. It gives everyone an opportunity to remember those who have been killed or seriously injured on our roads, as well as the people left behind. It's also a time to remember those in the emergency services who have to deal with the consequences and the aftermath of collisions.
The RSA along with An Garda Síochána, local authorities, Emergency Services and road safety support organisations have organised commemorative events around the country. A full list of the events is available on www.rsa.ie.
Fiona and Dominic's deaths were just two of the 411 in 2001. I'll be remembering them this Sunday. I'll also be thinking about another person who was killed in 2001. Barry O'Flynn (27) who was knocked down while out walking. He was my brother's best friend.
I still have a cutting from the Sunday Independent's 'It Happens Every Day' series from 2001 on my wall. The newspaper decided that year to print a list of the names of those killed in an attempt to alert people to the terrible death toll on Irish roads. Fiona, Dominic and Barry are on that list, a constant reminder to me that those killed on the roads are not faceless statistics.