Carrickmines fire: ‘Memories of the night are like a horror film’

The Connors family on the enduring pain of the blaze that killed 10 of their loved ones

Jim and Josie Connors lost their son, his wife and three grandchildren to a fire at a Carrickmines halting site in 2015, which also claimed the lives of five others and an unborn baby. Kitty Holland meets them in their new home. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

A Traveller family, who two years ago lost 10 loved ones in one of the worst fire disasters in the State’s history, hope that their new home will “be lucky” for the children.

Jim and Josie Connors are now rearing their two grandchildren – Mick (8) and Tom (6) – who survived the fire that engulfed their parents’ mobile home on Glenamuck Road, Carrickmines, in Dublin, almost two years ago.

The couple were sleeping in an adjacent mobile home on the site when the fire broke out in the early hours of Saturday, October 15th, 2015. Mick, then six, slept at the foot of their bed.

Tom was pulled from the flames which killed his parents Thomas Connors (28) and Sylvia (nee Lynch, 30), and their other three children, Jim (5), Christy (3) and six-month-old Mary .

Also killed were Sylvia’s brother, Willy Lynch (25), his partner Tara Gilbert (27) who was pregnant, her daughter Jodie Gilbert (9) and their daughter Kelsey (4); and Jimmy Lynch (39) who was Willy’s and Sylvia’s brother.

“We have those memories every day,” says Josie. “Memories of that night are like a horror film . . . You can’t explain the way you feel. People say, ‘Time heals.’ Time don’t heal nothing. The more it goes on the worse it gets. You’re thinking and you’re saying , ‘What would they be doing now?’ ‘What would they be doing with the children?’ ‘What would the children be doing?’”

Former dump

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the families were placed in mobile homes at a former dump site in nearby Ballyogan. They had neither a bath (they had showers) nor comfortable beds.

New home for Jim and Josie Connors and their grandchildren, off Glenamuck Road in Carrickmines. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
New home for Jim and Josie Connors and their grandchildren, off Glenamuck Road in Carrickmines. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Their new home, which is one of four on a site directly behind where they had lived on Glenamuck Road, has three bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen-cum-living room and a utility room. The families pay rent to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council like other social housing tenants.

Josie says the house is “an improvement” on where they had been “but it will never mend your heart”.

However, she says Mick and Tom are “over the moon” with their new home.

“They went into the bath and wouldn’t come out for four hours,” she says.

“And we never slept in a bed since we went into the caravan . . . We slept in the bunk and the kids slept on the floor beside us. There was no comfort in it.”

“It’s tough,” Josie continues, bowing her head and wiping her eyes.

Jim too falls silent. “We don’t talk about this,” he says after a few minutes. “To no one.”

The grandparents have found that the boys are doing better as time goes by and are beginning to talk, and ask, about their parents.

“The odd time Tom says a few words. When he’s watching television he remembers an awful lot. He used to be always watching a lot of movies with the family. When he sees movies he remembers . . . He keeps asking me if you go to heaven will you come back again. He keeps asking me, ‘If you die in a fire will you come back?’”

‘Up in heaven’

Jim says to him: “‘No, they won’t come back. We’ll go to them. When we’re up in heaven we’ll all see them.’ He don’t say nothing then.”

They have been welcomed by neighbours. “A lady came up here a few days ago and she said: ‘I wish you the height of luck. I’m glad you got back in and I hope you will be very happy.’ She said the place was lovely.”

The council too “do the best they can”, says Jim. “Anything we ask they come out and do it.”

A large water tank in case of fire is on site while fire-alarms are wired directly to the emergency services.

“If we’d had them before we mightn’t even be in this situation,” says Jim. “If we’d had running water on the site it mightn’t have been as bad. They gave us plenty of room here. I hope no one has to go through what we had to go through to get this. If we’d got this 10 years ago we might have had all our family. It could have been a different story.”

They would not want now to live anywhere but close to where their young family died.

“Even though it’s hurtful, the hurt will never go away and the memories can’t go away, but the feeling might just ease off after a while, and we might feel a little bit better for being here,” says Josie.

“We won’t be around forever, but [the children] will be for a long time, with the help of God. They’ll have this place to live now. It’s safe. It’s all we want for them. Mick is after being a great scholar. Magnificent now compared to what he was . . . We’ll keep them in school and whatever comes out of that we don’t know.”