A backdrop of children's balloons and five coffins side-by-side underscored the sense of unreality at the prayer service on Sunday for those who died in an apartment fire in Clondalkin, Dublin last week.
About 500 people attended the service at Colliers funeral home in Bray, Co Wicklow for Annmarie O'Brien (27), her daughter Paris (2), unborn baby AJ, and for Holly (3) and Jordan McGinn (4). They died in a fire at an apartment in a women's refuge early last Wednesday morning.
Annmarie’s cousin and mother of Holly and Jordan, Brigid “Biddy” O’Brien, remains in a critical condition in St James’s hospital, having suffered serious burns. She had been visiting her cousin in Clondalkin with her children that night.
Prayers were led by Fr John O'Connor of St Anne's Church, Shankill, who had married Biddy some years ago, and by Fr Paul O'Driscoll of the Parish of the Traveller People. The mourners were led by Biddy's parents and Annmarie's aunt and uncle, Bridie and John O'Brien, by Biddy's husband Jamie and Annmarie's partner Seán.
Among the mourners were John Lynch, whose sister Sylvia Connors (30), brothers Willy (25) and Jimmy Lynch (39), brother-in-law Thomas Connors (27), as well as nieces Jodie (9), Kelsey (4), Mary (5 months), and nephews Jim (5) and Christy (2) died in a fire in a Traveller site in Carrickmines, Dublin in October 2015, and Harry Gilbert whose daughter Tara (27), who was pregnant, and grandchildren Jodie and Kelsey died in the same tragedy. Tara had been engaged to Willy Lynch.
This tragedy had "brought it all back again", said Mr Gilbert. His daughter Tara had been "close friends" with both Annmarie and Biddy, the families having grown up in the Fassaroe area of Bray. While Annmarie moved to Clondalkin, Biddy and her husband lived with their children in Aughmore Lane housing scheme in Shankill.
Three of coffins were open, with just Holly’s and AJ’s closed. Fr O’Driscoll, speaking after the service, said words were “so inadequate”.
“The families are just supporting each other. It’s just being there, hugging each other and holding each other. It’s like you can’t believe it is real. [The families] are kind of, one minute they are fine as the tide goes out and then it comes back in and they are back to square one. It is a rollercoaster.”
Jim O'Brien, a relative of the family and manager of the Bray Traveller Community Development Group, said the families were "just trying to prepare themselves" for the funeral on Monday.
“It’s going to be a hard-hitting day, especially when you see the small coffins going down. It’s very, very tough. We just want the families to know that we’re actually there and we’re supporting them as best we can. Shankill, being the small community that it is, there is a lot of support from both sides of the community - Traveller and settled.”
The funeral Mass will take place in St Anne’s Church, Shankill, on Monday at 10am.