Irish witnesses to Nice attack speak of ‘absolute terror’
Dubliner Stephen Milton says: ‘I heard gun shots, I’d never heard gun shots before’
Caught up in the terror last night with his Australian boyfriend, Milton said he did not realise a terrorist atrocity was underway when he first saw people running.
Minutes before, the couple had walked past the Hard Rock/Meridien hotel where the terrorist claimed most of his victims by weaving his truck through dense crowds celebrating Bastille Day.
“We turned the corner, I heard gun shots. I’d never heard gun shots before,” he said, adding that he and his partner then ran to a hotel where they sheltered in a store room.
“Most of the people were French, I have only pidgin French so I didn’t know exactly what they were saying. We had no idea what was going on. There were mixed feelings, some people thought it was an accident.
“Others thought it was terrorism. We tried to console some young girls who were beside us and were very upset. There were teens trying to get in touch with their parents.
Two young girls with them in the store-room were in “absolute terror”, he went on: “But there was also disbelief, a nonchalance, this isn’t what you think it is, it’s an accident, this is what they were telling us.”
“Some of the staff came into the store room to tell us what was happening, but they still weren’t sure. Some of them were displaying what you could call French nonchalance.
“We didn’t know what to believe. We didn’t know if should we stay, some people left, some people refused to go. Quite a few French teenagers were distraught, they were sobbing their eyes out trying to call their parents,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
On Friday morning, Mr Milton returned to the Promenade des Anglais to support his partner, who is an Australian journalist who has been drafted in to offer coverage of the terrorist attack for Australian outlets.
“It is surreal here this morning. People are standing looking on in disbelief. Some people are just waking up to the news. I saw joggers. I attribute that to the French feeling of resilience.”
“ Earlier on saw two joggers, not far from where I’m standing, which I attribute to the French feeling of resilience, that we’re not going to allow this to destruct our lives, which you’ve got to admire,” Mr Milton went on.
Irish man Dermot Mulhall, who has been living in Nice for the past three years told Newstalk Breakfast that he lives not too far away from the promenade.
“The fireworks had just ended, there was an awful lot of noise and then my phone just started ringing, it was one of my colleagues who was ringing from the promenade. I hadn’t gone to the fireworks. Thankfully I didn’t, I would have most likely walked down to the beach, I’ve a young dog who is afraid of bangs.
“Almost immediately people started ringing. A huge amount of the community that I live in were down there, I feared for the safety of friends and colleagues. Some kind of control kicks in at that stage, I just started ringing to make sure everyone was ok, especially when you know the night that’s in it.
“Yesterday was a beautiful day, the weather had changed a little bit before the fireworks. Knew it was going to be a wet night. We knew there was a large group there all afternoon.”
The Kilkenny man said there is a large extended Irish community in the area. “By 3am, with a couple of us ringing around, we knew everyone was safe.
“There is complete shock in the area. I just come back from a meeting in the old town of Nice. In the heart of the old town there is a flower market six days a week all year round, it is completely closed down today. People are going about their business albeit with an eerie feeling in the air, a very sad feeling. Pubs and restaurants are opening.
“A lot of people are off work, taking a long weekend because of holiday yesterday. You can definitely see that security has been stepped up. Quite a lot of plain clothes police officers about, lot of police guarding public buildings. I just walked past the court house and the opera house, lot of police there. It has been heightened.
“I don’t think you can call any where perfectly safe. Yes France’s colonial past means there is another extra level of security, what happened in Paris and the Charlie Hebdo incident, does make you think even more so today this part of France is so diverse.
“You walk down the street and you hear so many different languages and accents - Australian, American, English, Italian. There is a high amount of ex pats from other areas living along the Riviera.”
If you had asked me that question at the start of the summer if this could happen here, I would’ve said no, didn’t think something like that could happen here, but it could happen in London or anywhere.”
The former Galway minor hurler Philip Ezergailis, a student working in a Nice pub for the summer, said he and a group of ten friends had been walking down the promenade when they heard a noise behind them.
“We turned around and saw a lorry driving along the promenade, I wondered why isn’t it stopping?,” he told RTE’s Ryan Tubridy show.
“Then it just started hitting everyone and we realised this is actually happening so we ran down to the beach, tried to make sense of what had happened.
“For a second or two we didn’t know what was happening, but then when we saw it swerving and hitting people, realised something happening. We knew someone was doing it on purpose, didn’t know who or what, but someone was driving it to kill people.”
He said the Nice promenade was “like Salthill prom, we just happened to be on one side of it when the lorry went down the other side”.
There was a sense of confusion after the attack: “it was very busy, you couldn’t really hear anything, people were wondering what all the commotion was about. There were different crowds of people going different ways, we didn’t know if we should stay with the crowd or try to get space.
“We went off on our own to get back to the pub, we knew we could contact everyone here, figure out who was still alive and if anyone got hurt.
He added that Nice was in complete shock, “no one really knew what happened. The army was out forcing people to get inside. There was still an atmosphere in the pub, nobody knew. Then Sky News came on, the owner made an announcement, saying that we’d stay in.
“There is a weird atmosphere this morning, an eerie silence, it is hard to describe it, if you walked in now, you’d definitely know something had happened. We don’t know what next step will be.”