Video: Man recalls losing his father in Whiddy Island disaster on same day his grandmother died of cancer

A man whose father died in one of Ireland's worst ever industrial accidents has said the disaster left his family with "a void" for years afterwards.

A ceremony is taking place in West Cork today to mark 40 years since the Whiddy Island disaster where 50 people died after a French oil tanker exploded after docking at the Whiddy Island oil terminal in Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, in January 1979.

All crew members on board the French ship died in the fire, along with seven Irish personnel working at the jetty.

The disaster led to a tribunal and the closure of the plant.

A special edition of An Saol ó Dheas broadcast on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta today commemorated the disaster. The interviewees included Eoin Warner, a wildlife television documentary maker, who lost his father in the tragedy.

Eoin, from Bantry, was only two and a half when his father died.

He told Helen Ní Shé: “I was very young at the time, I was only two and a half when he died so I have very few memories of him – just one that’s all – and it’s such a pity because I can remember a lot after that. It used to really upset me growing up, because my two brothers were older, they were five and just nine, so they remember him well.”

Eoin Warner.
Eoin Warner.

“I used to be jealous because they could visualise him, I couldn’t do that. But looking back now as I get older, I realise that they paid dearly for those memories because they understood what they had lost. I didn’t understand because I didn’t know him, really. But, having said that, growing up there was always a void, something missing, no doubt about that.”

In the interview on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, Eoin spoke about how difficult it must have been for his mother, who was left to raise three small boys alone, and who, in a cruel twist, also lost her own mother on the same day.

“Suddenly, her world was turned upside down, but she had to keep going, she had no choice the poor woman, with three young children. And worse again, her own mother, she had breast cancer, and she died on the same day."

Eoin said that he often thinks about the plight of the stricken men, whose calls to notify the control room of the unfolding disaster were left unanswered for 20 minutes.

He said: “I often think about the men out there trying to send the radio message and getting no response at all for 20 minutes, and those hellish fires all around them and they could do nothing.

The pumps weren’t even on, and they couldn’t fight the fires, they couldn’t put them out.

"I can’t imagine a worse death, between drowning and burning, it was horrific for them.”

The programme also included interviews with Máiréad Ní Mhathúna from Béal Átha an Ghaorthaigh who remembers the red sky 20 miles away on that fateful night and two teachers from the area at the time, Seán Ó Ceallaigh and Máire Ní Mhaoileoin.

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