'I'm still numb': Former Limerick councillor found father dead during fire that destroyed family home

'I'm still numb': Former Limerick councillor found father dead during fire that destroyed family home
Seamus Houlihan

By David Raleigh

A former Labour Party councillor has given a chilling account of discovering his father, also a former politician, lying dead in their home which was destroyed in a fire two months ago.

Speaking for the first time about the tragedy, James Houlihan, said he was relying on the goodwill of his neighbours and friends in Southill, Limerick, to help carry out refurbishment works before he can move back to his family home.

Mr Houlihan did not have house insurance when the fire ripped through the property last June.

Mr Houlihan and his girlfriend discovered the house on fire when they returned from a local pub.

Photos inside the Houlihan family home in Rose Court, Keyes Park, Southill, Limerick, in which former Labour Party councillor Seamus Houlihan died last June.

It’s believed a faulty electrical appliance may have caused the fire. The heat from the blaze also melted water pipes in the kitchen which caused the downstairs of the house to be flooded.

“The second that I opened up the (front) door there was a billow of smoke straight out; the ground was flooded; and one of our dogs was dead at the end of the stairs,” Mr Houlihan said.

My girlfriend went to go in and I told her to get out. I tried to go into the kitchen because I could see a glow coming from there, but, I couldn’t get in there.

“I ran up the stairs and into my father’s room. I got to the bed and I realised he wasn’t there. I could barely see a thing (in the smoke).”

“I went into the bathroom...I think I even tripped over (Dad’s body) trying to open up the window…I was trying to ring 999,”Mr Houlihan added.

Both Seamus Houlihan and his son James were Labour Party councillors on Limerick City Council.

Seamus, who was aged in his 80s, was also well known as a champion for the rights of the elderly, and was involved in the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

Seamus Houlihan was pronounced dead at the scene despite the best efforts of James as well as firefighters from the to city’s fire service who also extinguished the fire.

Speaking at their scorched home, Mr Houlihan said the best efforts of firefighters and his own attempts to save his father’s life, he “knew he was gone”.

“It was very warm in the house because of the heat and the smoke. I couldn't get a pulse from him.”

“The (emergency services operator) was telling me to get out of the house and I said I wasn't going anywhere,” Mr Houlihan added.

He managed to save the family’s second pet dog from the fire, but the canine passed away from his injuries a day after Mr Houlihan’s funeral.

“I found (the dog) hiding under one of my blankets on my bed. He was still breathing and we got him out and off to the vet.”

The dog lasted for a few days. We even took him out for a walk the following Monday, but he took a turn.

“He had (suffered) brain damage, and he ended up being put to sleep, a day after the funeral.”

James had given up work to care for his mother Geraldine, in their home, during the last two years of her life, and she passed away in 2016.

When news emerged of Seamus’s tragic death his neighbours immediately offered to help in any way they could.

“They approached me after the funeral…I thought it was very nice. They asked me would I be offended if they helped out, but, I'm not in a position to be offended,” Mr Houlihan added.

An initial target of €20,000 has been set for the cost of refurbishing the house.

The Houlian family home.
The Houlian family home.

Donations can be made to an online fundraising page on GoFundMe.com, entitled “Southill Honours Seamus”.

Thanking his neighbours Mr Houlihan said: “I’m kind of embarrassed about it, but, it's nice, it’s a lovely gesture.”

“It's humbling what they are trying to do, to get me back into the house.”

He also thanked his brother Kieran, his girlfriend’s boss, and his own employers, Turas Nua, for helping secure temporary accommodation since the fire destroyed his family home.

With only a mere €695 raised of the €20,000 target, organisers of the fund have also appealed to tradespeople, builders merchants and businesses for help.

Mr Houlihan added: “I'm still numb. In time (dad’s death) will hit me. There is just too much to do at the moment for it to really hit me.”

“We are clearing everything out. There is a lot of smoke damage so there was very little we were able to save.”

Standing in the middle of the charred remains of his parents' furniture, twisted picture frames, and bags of wrecked clothes, he said:

My brain is just fried with everything. I'm just trying to get the place together.

Donations can be made online here


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