“They lived and laughed and loved and left”.
This is a line from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. It was read out today at a ceremony in University College Dublin (UCD) today to hundreds of people who packed the church for a Memorial Service for the six Irish students who tragically died in Berkely USA.
President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabrina, attended the memorial together with hundreds of students, friends, family members, staff and members of the public.
On behalf of DPNlive staff, writers, contributors and friends, we would like to offer our sympathies.
For the sake of our international readers who may not be aware of this, this is the story: On Monday last, a group of Irish students on a J1 visa to the US were celebrating the 21st birthday of one of their group. They were on a balcony of their apartment and it collapsed killing six of them.
The six are Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Niccolai Schuster, 21; Lorcán Miller, 21; and 21-year-old Eimear Walsh – all Irish citizens studying at the University of California on J1 visas – and Ashley Donohoe, 22, from Rohnert Park, California. Olive Burke and Ashley Donohoe were first cousins.
Others are still in hospital. Hannah Walters from Castleknock who is 21 and critical. Aoife Beary from Foxrock – it was Aoife’s 21st party – critical. Clodagh Cogley, 21 from Milltown. Jack Halpin, 21, from Rathmines. Conor Flynn, 22, from Mount Merrion. Sean Fahey, 21, St Mary’s College. Niall Murray, 21, from Galway.
There isn’t a person in Ireland who is not aware of this and it united the nation in grief. Some of the students had started work in America and their fellow students in Berkeley went to buy flowers and other items for their dead and injured friends. Store owners in Berkeley refused to accept money from them in an effort to show their sympathy and offer condolences. A Facebook page has raised €108k so far for their families expenses.
Aer Lingus, our National Airline, has really shone in this time of grief. They have gone the extra mile in looking after the families in grief. Jonathan Wallace, with no connection to the airline or any families, posted a message on Facebook complimenting the airline on their compassion. Aer Lingus responded with a thank you. Then the floodgates opened. 76,000 people ‘liked’ it and 6,000 people shared it. From then, people commented on how Aer Lingus had in the past done the same thing. They showed pure compassion in times of trouble and it restores my faith in human nature. You can read the Facebook post in full here.
From a business point of view, you could not buy this PR in a lifetime. Aer Lingus have achieved the impossible. Yes, they will get positive publicity out of this and they deserve every bit of it. Cynics out there will say that they did it to get the publicity. So what if they have. The families are benefitting in their hour of need and it is more than other airlines have done.
The New York Times, on Tuesday, wrote a distasteful article about the tragedy talking about instances “involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.” They then go on to slag off the J1 visa programme and the Irish. In my opinion, the article is a disgrace and I hope it is not the way most Americans think. Our ex President, Mary McAleese, has written to the paper complaining. Shame on you New York Times.
It seems the balcony collapsed because the timber supports gave way due to water damage. What I can’t understand is why timber was used in it in the first place. In Ireland and the UK, we would have used RSJs, Rolled Steel Joints, - steel beams to you and me.
Flags are at half mast throughout the Country. The Dail – our Parliament – had a one minutes silence, as did many of the county council meetings throughout the country. Jimmy Deenahan, the Diaspora Minister, is travelling to the US to “show solidarity”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Prime Minister), said the country had been shocked by the loss of life and described victims as “such beautiful young people, full of joy and excitement and hope”. He said there is a team of officials at Dublin Airport to assist families travelling to US, they will be met on arrival by a local consular team.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been in touch with all families who have been affected and each has a designated liaison officer.
It is one thing that has united all politicians, perhaps the only thing, in offering their help and sympathies.
Consul to Ireland in Berkeley, Philip Grant, said that it is going to be a long few days, but that the support in Berkeley has been “extraordinary”.
He said supports had been set up in Berkeley for those students, friends and families who have been effected by the tragedy.
Officials in Berkeley are carrying out investigations to ascertain the cause of the accident, but there is no result yet.
In the meantime, tears are flowing, hearts are empty and six people are coming home in coffins a quarter way through their lives.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam. May they Rest in Peace.
Written by Bob Tallent and opinions are his