The paramedics were at the scene working on them through broken glass. Clodagh White was on oxygen in the driver’s seat. Angle grinders cut through the doors and her daughter Méabh was airlifted to hospital. Her mother watched her go, not knowing if she would see her again. She fought the urge to pass out.
Moments earlier on a summer’s day in rural Roscommon, Clodagh and two of her children got into their seven-seater car to bring her eldest daughter to a birthday party.
At a junction half a kilometre down the road they were involved in a crash.
“I could see the Land Rover badge coming through the passenger window,” recalls Clodagh, who watched the hunk of metal slam into her 12-year-old daughter in the seat beside her.
Their car was hurled across the road and through a wall, coming to a stop in a farmyard. Her two-year-old son Rían was screaming.
“[But] there was a child to my left completely unresponsive,” Clodagh explains. “She was grey and pallor, there was blood coming from her orifices, mouth, ears, nose. Visually she looked like she was dead.”
All three were taken to hospital. Méabh was critical and transferred to Temple Street in Dublin. The doctors who examined Rían “could not comprehend” he had been in the same accident. His rear-facing child seat, inspected and adjusted by the Check It Fits service just days beforehand, saved his life. It stayed intact, encased in a mangled car shell.
Méabh survived, incredibly defying a bleak prognosis arrived at due to the extent of her injuries — cracked skull, brain bleeds, broken neck vertebrae and pelvis. She will sit her Leaving Certificate this year.
Rían, now nine, suffered a concussion but no other physical injuries. Yet he has been dealing with “massive” psychological trauma since. He cannot be left alone in a car.
Seven years after the crash, Clodagh says the trauma has had by far the biggest effect on all three. A teacher by profession, she had to give up work. Her pelvis was smashed and rebuilt. She endures chronic pain.
“People look at me and they think I’m fine and that’s grand … but how I feel is a very different reality,” she says. “I’ve had extensive counselling. The PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is acute.” Even now, at night time, she checks her children are breathing.
“We were just a family who left our house one day to go to a birthday party.”