Father who lost relatives in Carrickmines fire fears further loss
John Lynch frets over safety of children and grandchildren at three-bedroom Bray home
John Lynch in his home in Bray, Co Wicklow, with a framed photograph of his brother Jimmy who died in the Carrickmines fire where 10 perished. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
John Lynch lost 10 members of his family in a fire at a temporary halting site in Carrickmines last month and fears for the safety of his children and grandchildren.
Fifteen live at a three-bedroom council house in Bray, Co Wicklow, either in the house or its yard.
Eight – two of his adult children, their partners, and their four children aged between five weeks and five years, live in two small caravans in his back yard. He, his wife Kathleen, and their five other children, aged 11 to 17, sleep in the house.
The caravans have neither running water nor electricity. So, the families in each take electricity from sockets in the kitchen. Each has an extension lead which trails out across the yard to their van. On Sunday, after heavy rain, the wires were submerged in pools of water.
In one – shared by John’s daughter Sarah, her partner Paddy and their baby John (three months) – the lead has four sockets into which are plugged a phone charger, a television, fridge and lights. One of the Perspex windows is cracked, while the caravan door does not close properly, allowing rain in.
“At night it gets so cold,” says Paddy. “In the morning you can see your breath and sometimes the baby’s hands and face are ice cold, even with all the blankets.”
The other van is shared by John-Joseph Lynch (21), his partner Kiera (23) and their children Amy (5), Christopher (3) and Lexy (five weeks). The van is cold and leaky. The extension lead provides power to lights, a fridge, television, small DVD player and a heater. The couple share the one bed in the van, while Amy and Christopher share a small sofa bed, with Lexy in a Moses basket.
Both families have been on Wicklow County Council’s housing waiting list for up to five years but have been given no indication as to when they may be housed. Kiera, who is from the settled community, tells how she has looked for somewhere to rent, “but when landlords heard I was with a Traveller they won’t let to us”.
She adds: “I want somewhere decent for my children. I am not used to living like this. We were staying in the living room of the house but it just got too crowded. This [van] is more private, but . . . freezing at night.”
They have to use the toilet in the house. The house itself is in considerable disrepair. Most of the floors have no covering, while the stairs, rotten in places, is dangerous. Two teenage boys share a single bed in one room. Three girls over 10 share bunk beds. The family pays Wicklow County Council €58 a week in rent.
John (47) is the oldest sibling in the Lynch family. In the fire at Carrickmines last month, he lost his sister Sylvia (27), her husband Thomas Connors (25), their children Jimmy (5), Christy (2) and Mary (five months), his brother Willy (25) and his finance Tara Gilbert (27), their daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4) and his brother Jimmy (39). Tara was four months pregnant.
John spoke at both funerals – in Bray, at that of Willy and Tara and their children, and of Jimmy. At that of Sylvia and Thomas and their children he described how all the children had played in the small garden outside, the day before the fire, and of how they had all had a “lovely day” together.
At the Bray funeral, Sarah, who shares one of the caravans, gave gave a mesmerising performance of Amazing Grace, in which the congregation joined her, applauding as she finished.
Tara and Willy, their daughters and Jimmy all lived in the house next door.
“Jodie and Kelsey were in here morning, noon and night,” says John. “They were here every morning before they went to school. Tara was very strong, a beautiful girl.”
Jimmy, who lived with them, was in a car accident in 2004 in which he suffered a brain injury. He had to relearn how to walk and was still taking daily medication, with which Tara helped him.
“He was very sensitive. If I had something to tell, I’d tell him; and if he did he’d tell me. He had a really good heart. He was the best in the world,” says John.
The impact of the deaths on the family is causing him huge worry.
“The girls, they play Tara and Willy’s favourite music at night, cry themselves to sleep. I don’t think what happened has really hit me,” he continues. “The only thing keeping me going is my family. If it wasn’t for them I’d be gone too I think.
“I want them to be safe. My children and grandchildren, beautiful children, are sleeping out there in fire traps. I want my family safe.”