The First Anniversary Mass and Blessings for the families of the Carrickmines Fire Tragedy took place today in Dublin. Thomas and Sylvia Connors, their children Jim, Christy, and baby Mary, Jimmy Lynch, Willie Lynch and Tara Gilbert and their daughters Jodie, Kelsey and their unborn child all lost their lives in tragic circumstances one year ago this week. Those who died and those who mourn them were remembered at Masses in Ballyally and Bray,today Monday 10 October 2016.
At the 10.00am Mass in the Church of the Ascension of the Lord, Balally, Sandyford in Dublin, Monsignor Dermot Lane said, “An underlying theme of this service is the importance of keeping alive the painful memory of those who died one year ago. This painful memory endures on a daily basis in the minds and hearts of the grieving families.
“It is a challenge for the rest of us to keep alive that memory in the hope that something like this will never happen again.
“It is important to keep alive this disturbing memory within society, within local authorities, and among politicians to ensure that a tragedy of this magnitude may never take place again.”
Monsignor Lane went on to say, “In keeping this painful memory alive we are all forced to ask difficult questions: Has anything changed in society in our relationships with the Travelling community in the last 12 months? Have adequate safeguards been installed on halting sites to ensure that nothing like this occurs again. Have appropriate support structures been put in place in traveller accommodation so that this kind of tragedy does not happen again? These are uncomfortable questions for all of us to ask as we remember the Carrickmines tragedy today.”
Monsignor Lane conclude by saying, “As a society and as a Christian community we have a duty to remember the tragedies of the past so that they may not be repeated in the future. It is so easy for us in the settled community to forget what happened, while the painful reality remains permanently present in the hearts of the grieving families. We pray and hope within this liturgy that there will be some healing of the enduring pain and loss suffered by the Connors, Gilbert, and Lynch families.”
In his homily at Mass this afternoon in the Church of the Holy redeemer in Bray, Father Derek Farrell, who has been parish priest of the Parish of the Travelling People for the past 10 years, said, “Today marks the exact first anniversary of the day when everything happened’on the site of the Connors Family home on the Glenamuck Road, Carrickmines. In conversations leading up to this day, I have heard family members speak not of ‘the day of the tragedy’, but of the day‘when everything happened’. It is a phrase that covers so much more of the reality you have lived over the past year.
“When everything happened… – it tells something of the multiple and multi-layered losses you have suffered in losing your much-loved family members who died a year ago today, it tells something of the deep shock and trauma of the horrific event and its aftermath, and in a particular and ongoing way for you Jim & Jo and family, it tells something of the additional loss of your homes, the anxieties and worries around your temporary emergency accommodation, and so much more.”
Father Farrell went on to say, “The Gospel (we have listened to) tells us that two of the followers of Jesus were travelling along the road. They were sad, in deep grief, thinking back on and talking together about when everything happened – the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross, the darkness coming over the whole land, the earthquake tearing the veil of the Temple. Although at first they do not recognise him, both of the disciples experience the warmth and comforting presence of the Lord beside them in their journey of grief.
“It is only when they then gather around the table together that they recognise the risen Jesus in the breaking of bread. The same Risen Lord is with us as we break the bread of the life in this Mass. The same Risen Lord in whose Resurrection our loved ones are called to share.
“And through faith in the Communion of Saints, we believe that we are united with those who have gone ahead of us, and that as we pray for them in this Mass, the most powerful prayer we have, they are conscious of our prayer, and in turn are praying for us.
“The two disciples of Jesus were reminded of Jesus, and of Jesus’ words and actions at the last supper before his death, when he said ‘Do this in memory of me’.
“That is what we do at this Mass, and at every Mass. In this Anniversary Mass though, we also bring the memory of each of the loved ones we have lost. And so, we take a few moments to share just a few of those happy memories, to place alongside the million and one personal memories you will always have of your departed loved ones.”
Father Farrell went on to share some of the life stories of those who perished in the fire. He said, “Thomas and Sylvia, as a couple, were seen as ‘a match made in Heaven’. Deeply loving and devoted to each other, they never left each other’s side. They were, it’s said, ‘the best father and mother that any children could ask for’.
“Thomas loved his family, his family was his life. Sylvia, in the words of her mother-in-law Jojo, was ‘the best girl you could ask for’. She loved being a mother herself, and was a very good mother. Her husband and her children were her life.
“Jim (5yrs) was a lovely boy, a very happy boy. Christy (3yrs) was full of life, by times quiet, a big boy for his age, Daddy and Mammy’s little boy and, up until Baby Mary’s arrival, ‘the babbie’. Jim and Christy were very close brothers, very close to their aunts and uncles, and very clever for their age. Baby Mary was aged just 5 months. When Baby Mary came she was much treasured by the whole family. As a family, the parents of Thomas put it very simply,‘They were a lovely family, lovely children. We loved them.’
“As a couple Tara and Willie were themselves very loving and close. John, Willie’s brother put it so simply and beautifully when he said: ‘God made them, God matched them.’ They were a really happy, loving family.
“Willie cherished what he called his ‘three girls’ Tara, Kelsey, & Jodie. When it came to care of her family and taking care of others, Tara took charge. Beautiful inside and out, always smiling, easy-going, never grumpy, a fantastic Mum, her children always came first. Tara adored her father Harry, and was very, very close to Amanda – as her much-loved twin sister.
“Tara and Willie’s unborn child was joyfully anticipated and fully embraced in the love with which they and the family awaited their child. Jimmy, brother of Willie and Sylvia, very popular and loved by family and friends, – he had ‘a heart of gold’.”
Father Farrell said that, “Along with our memories, we also need something we can see and touch, in memory of our loved ones. And so we have our various memorials, such as church plaques both here and in Bray, the Glenamuck Road site plaque and hopefully the larger memorial being planned, the family headstones and memorial plaques, and the beautiful new grotto beside the Lynch’s home in Fassaroe, built through the inspiration and perspiration of Ben Lynch and all those who helped.
“The Marian grotto has the beautiful intention of prayerfully remembering not just the family members the Lynches, Gilberts, and Connors have lost, but also family and friends that others in the wider Fassaroe and Bray community have lost. It was built with love and completed with the beautiful generosity and help of others, so reminiscent of the spontaneous kindness and generousity of a year ago.
“Then, there were the widespread instinctive outpourings of support for the families, so many acts of compassion and goodness, so much goodwill shown. The flowers, messages, books of condolences, prayer vigils, Masses, the shrines, the prayers, the songs.
“Now, there is the gathering in remembrance and prayer, the blessing of the headstones, the dedication of the memorial plaques. We cannot let the good aspects that came out of the tragedy vanish. As communities of faith, as fellow citizens, as fellow human beings we need to create not just lasting memorials in stone, but also a lasting memorial in our hearts and minds.”
Concluding his homily, Father Farrell spoke about a possible watershed moment. He said, “If ‘when everything happened’ proved to be a watershed moment, so as to bring some meaning to the tragic and seemingly senseless loss, for the tragedy’s survivor children especially to come to know their family’s deaths had made a difference as a turning point for our country, and particularly for the Travellers of our country.
“Yes, for a few precious moments at this awful time last year the eyes of the nation were opened and we could glimpse beyond inherited preconceptions, barriers of fear, and prejudice, through the spontaneous reaching out to the unknown, the other, the ‘outsider’, in the gestures of recognition, common humanity and compassion, genuine heartfelt expressions of sympathy and support.
“There is evidence in the past year of various statutory agencies and services, government departments, and local authorities widely consulting and closely working with the various National and local Traveller organisations and communities, and indeed The Parish of the Travelling People. This is shown for example in the work of the National Fire Audit, the Carrickmines Steering Committee, and the ongoing work of the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy steering groups. This close cooperation, consultation, collaboration is going in the right direction but more is needed. A generous and committed response is needed from all quarters and at all levels – personal, community, Church, and State. The building of mutual relationship, respect and understanding, recognition and valuing of identity is possible and with goodwill and determination, within our grasp.
“Perhaps it is providential, that as this first Anniversary occurs the RTÉ programme, ‘The Travellers’ is being screened, with its simultaneously beautiful and sad, shockingly disturbing narrative that itself demands attention, reflection and a response, a different approach, that new departure. It also coincides with the timing of my moving on from my term as Parish Priest in the Parish of the Travelling People after 10 years. My final call as outgoing Parish Priest on this painful occasion of the first Anniversary is, that as part of our ongoing response to ‘everything that happened’, we’d all try make it that watershed it needs to be.
“May our coming together on this First Anniversary fortify and strengthen you.
“May you continue to find comfort in the community of family, comfort in the community of faith, in the community of Travellers, the community of neighbours, the community of fellow Irish men and women, and of people of goodwill everywhere. Amen.”