Thomond Bridge tragedy: Tributes to two workers killed

Bryan Whelan ‘lived for his job’ while TJ O’Herlihy had just moved back from Sweden

Tributes have been paid to two workers who died tragically on Thomond Bridge in Limerick at the weekend, as their families prepare for their funerals.

TJ O'Herlihy (36), from Tullig, Castleisland, Co Kerry, and Bryan Whelan (29), from Bridgetown, Co Clare, were killed after a cage-type platform they were working on while carrying out repair works on the bridge collapsed, plunging the men into the River Shannon.

Mr Whelan, whose removal takes place on Monday evening, "lived for his job" according to his heartbroken family, while Mr O'Herlihy had just moved home to Ireland from Sweden and was waiting the arrival of his partner and young children who were due to join him this week.

The tragic incident occurred at 3.30pm on Saturday when a cable attached to a crane that was suspending the cage over the side of the bridge gave way, plunging the workers into the water.


Harnesses attached

Both men were wearing life jackets but were also in harnesses, which were attached to the cage when it fell into the water.

A third worker, 36-year-old Paul Murphy from Askeaton in Co Limerick, managed to free his harness and swim down river and raise the alarm.

Tragically, Mr O’Herlihy and Mr Whelan were trapped when the cage submerged and were under water for at least 10 minutes without breathing equipment before help arrived.

Mr O’Herlihy was not due to commence working for Irish Bridge - the Co Limerick bridge repair company contracted to carry out the work - until Monday, but the father of two was called in to begin work at the weekend.

The 36-year-old had recently moved home from Sweden and was due to be joined in Ireland this week by his partner Tessa and their two young children, Connor (4) and 6-month-old baby Katie.

It’s understood the Kerry native had chosen to work in Limerick rather than Dublin to be closer to home.

Local Kerry County Councillor Bobby O’Connell said Mr O’Herlihy was was a popular family man.

‘A lovely guy’

“He was a lovely guy and a great community person. I know those words are bandied around a lot but he was very, very popular - he just got on with things.

“He was a great family man, a great worker, a really good guy - a guy who gave a lot more to his community than he took out of it. He will be missed by his family and the whole area.”

Bryan Whelan had been working for Irish Bridge for a number of years and “lived for his job” according to his family.

“We are just heartbroken. He was a fantastic son, brother and uncle, a true gentleman,” said his sister-in-law Maura.

“Bryan’s level of determination matched the demanding nature of his job, which he took great pride in. He lived for his job,” she added.

Mr Whelan's removal will take place from McMahon's funeral home in Blackwater, Co Clare on Monday evening, with funeral Mass at Kilbane Church at noon on Tuesday.

Broadford Parish Priest Fr John Bane said the 36-year-old was a highly regarded hurler.

“He hurled with the local Broadford team from underage upwards and he was regarded by his local team mates as totally dependable,” said Fr Bane.

Mr O’Herlihy’s removal will take place from Tangney’s funeral home in Castleisland Co Kerry, from 5pm to 7pm on Thursday.

The funeral Mass will be held on Friday at 11am in Castleisland Parish Church, with burial afterwards in Kilbanivane cemetery.

Members of the public touched by the tragedy have organised a candle-lit vigil at the bridge this Saturday, September 5th, at 8.30pm - exactly a week after the incident.

“In times of tragedy like this and in other times Limerick people can show great solidarity. Even though the two men are not from the city, our city would like to pay our respects and mourn with their families,” explained Cllr Jerry O’Dea, Metropolitan Mayor of Limerick.

“Its a terrible tragedy. They were carrying out their work and the whole city is in shock.”

The company contracted by Limerick City and County Council to carry out the essential repair works on the bridge described the deaths of their employees as "heartbreaking".

A statement on behalf of Irish Bridge, Ballyengland, Askeaton, Co Limerick, confirmed the company will be co-operating fully with the investigation into the incident.

“Irish Bridge would like to offer its sincerest sympathies to the families of Brian and TJ following this terrible tragedy,” said the spokesman.

“It’s heartbreaking, our thoughts and prayers are with their families, relatives and friends at this very sad time.”

The company thanked all the emergency service personnel “for their professionalism” during the incident adding:

“We will, of course, co-operate fully with all authorities examining the incident. The company will not be making any further comment at this point.”