By David Raleigh
Tributes have flowed in for a father of two and former Labour Party councillor who tragically lost his life in a house fire in Limerick city this morning.
The deceased, named locally as Seamus Houlihan, was found dead at around 1.30am lying on the floor of an upstairs bathroom by his son James, also a former councillor, and neighbour Ger Conway.
Mr Houlihan, who was aged in his early 80s, was elected to Limerick City Council in 1998, and was a well-known champion of rights for the elderly.
He was also well known as an active member of the Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament national organisation.
Mr Houlihan's son, James, who had been living with his father, discovered the family home on fire as he returned to the property, located at Rose Court, Keyes Park, Southill, with his partner, in the early hours of this morning.
Gardaí said he “discovered the house filled with smoke and his father unresponsive”.
A garda spokeswoman said the scene was “preserved for technical examination”, but, that, gardaí believed the fire was "accidental".
It is understood the fire was caused by an electrical fault, however gardaí said their “inquiries are ongoing”.
A clothes drier machine was removed from Mr Houlihan's house by authorities investigating the fire.
Ger Conway, a next-door neighbour, who tried to help James Houlihan bring his father to safety, said: “I could hear James shouting ‘dad, dad, dad’. So I jumped out of bed.
“The smoke was tremendous.”
“James ran up the stairs and I ran up behind him and Seamus was on the ground, inside in the bathroom. He wasn't breathing.”
“I said to James to open all the windows to let the smoke out. It was (hard to see) because I had my shirt (pulled) up to me. The smoke was terrible.”
Mr Conway, 61, said despite their best efforts they couldn’t revive Mr Houlihan.
“I was pulling Seamus, I was shaking him, and calling his name, but there was no movement out of him, nothing at all.”
“The fire brigade came so quick then and they ran in with the oxygen masks.”
Mr Conway helped save one of Mr Houlihan’s two beloved pet dogs. One of the dogs was pronounced dead at the scene.
“We brought one into the sitting room but he was dead, but we got the other fella back to life, and they took him to the vet.”
Mr Conway said that when he entered the house there was about “half a foot of water” inside the property.
Asked about this gardaí said their investigation was “ongoing”.
Paying tribute to the deceased, Mr Conway said: “It was a terrible thing to happen. Seamus was a lovely, quiet man, and so was his (late) wife. They are a lovely quiet family.””
Mr Houlihan’s wife Geraldine passed away peacefully at the family home two years ago.
Former Minister for Education, and Labour’s only TD for Limerick, Jan O’Sullivan, also paid tribute to Mr Houlihan.
“It's a huge shock. My sympathy goes out to Seamus’s two sons James and Kieran,” Deputy O’Sullivan said.
“Seamus was a very good public representative and a very nice man. After he stopped being a councillor he was involved in the senior citizens parliament, lobbying politicians about senior citizens rights.”
“He was a real mark on the Southill community and he’ll be sadly missed by everyone.”
Neighbours in the close knit area said they were “in shock”.
Helen Moloney, a close friend, fought back tears as she spoke of hearing the tragic news.
She said: “Seamie and Geraldine were my daughter’s godparents. We're here 52 years and they were here before us, and were always friends.”
“He was a very quiet man. He was a peace commissioner at one time. He worked in the royal cinema years ago. He used to show the films there.”
Another neighbour, Marie Hannon, said: “I'm in shock, shock, total shock. You wouldn't meet a nicer person.”
Mr Houlihan, predeceased by his wife Geraldine, is survived by his sons James and Kieran.