Unlikely cross-Border friendships forged in 2014 tragedy hold strong

Faith and politics ‘had no meaning’ during search for man who jumped into Erne

 

In late 2014 a shadow passed over the small community of Emyvale in Co Monaghan when 23-year-old Kieran McAree died after jumping into the river Erne.

What began as a small, inexperienced search party made up of friends and family quickly turned into a cross-Border 64-day operation to find the young man’s body and ease his family’s distress.

As Peadar McMahon, one of the co-ordinators of the search, remembered it: “Faith, geography and politics were things that had no meaning throughout the search.”

Hundreds of volunteers from Monaghan and Fermanagh chose to overlook decades of fear and mistrust by giving up their free time to help with the search. Mr McAree’s body was eventually found in February 2015 and his funeral was attended by hundreds from both sides of the Border, including members of the PSNI.

More than two years on from his death, a group of Mr McAree’s friends have embarked on a series of fundraising challenges to raise awareness of mental health and collect funds for local charity Sosad, which supports people at risk of suicide. The fundraising events will give the local communities who were involved in the search the chance to reconnect with each other while remembering the life of Mr McAree, says organiser Sean McCaffrey.

The group of 16 volunteers aim to climb the three highest peaks in the UK – Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Peak in England and Snowdon in Wales – within 24 hours later this month to raise funds for the charity. The group will also hold a breakfast morning on May 13th in memory of Mr McAree and to return the favour to the “the good people of Fermanagh” who provided food and drinks throughout the search operation.

Mr McCaffrey, a school friend of Mr McAree, says he was struck by the bonds created between the local people of Enniskillen and north Monaghan who chose to move beyond a shared history of violence and animosity and work together in a time of tragedy. He particularly remembers the role of the local PSNI officers from Enniskillen during the 64-day search.

“Some people would have lost family members in the Troubles and had reason not to like them [the PSNI], but as far as the search went, they almost became part of the McAree family.”

Political differences

PSNI Chief Inspector Clive Beatty still feels encouraged by the participation of political representatives on both sides of the Border who he says chose to put aside their differences in favour of helping with the search.

“Political solutions take time and don’t always deliver but when something happens on your doorstep and touches your heart strings, communities forget about their differences and gel together to bring good.

“It was very encouraging that political representatives, despite their differences, wanted to work on the one front and resolve this as quickly as possible. Any animosity was quickly forgotten.”

Peadar McMahon, who helped co-ordinate the search operation in the river Erne, remembers how friends and family from Monaghan had to rely on guidance from the PSNI in co-ordinating the search.

“We are from a Border area, the southern part of that Border. Our notion of the PSNI was that they didn’t like us and they gave us a hard time when we were travelling over the Border. We were totally new to Lough Erne and we had never been involved in a search and rescue operation like this before. It was their friendship and their respect for us and for family – they put everything at our disposal.”

More than two years on, Mr McMahon says the cross-Border friendships forged during those difficult winter months have stood the test of time.

“Ten years ago it would not have been envisaged that so many people around north Monaghan would be so friendly with people in Northern Ireland who had opposite views and opposite religion. Yet, those types of things don’t matter when friendship is built through people working together.”

Seán Traenor, who led the search for his missing nephew, adds that new friends from Enniskillen have been a great support to the family since Mr McAree’s death.

“Every time you see them you think back to what they did for us. We count them as one of the family now. These would be people with different religious and political beliefs from ourselves , but at the end of the day, we’re all the same.”

For more information on the fundraising campaign for the Sosad mental health charity, visit http://iti.ms/2pxL008