A heartbroken mother-of-four has spoken out about her grief after she woke from a coma to find her son and her friend had been killed in the fire that nearly claimed her own life, writes Kelly O'Brien of the Evening Echo.
Noreen McCauliffe, from Macroom, was asleep in her house in St Colman’s Park when the fire broke out.
“I woke up and there was smoke bellowing,” she said, speaking to Neil Prendeville on Cork’s RedFM.
“My friend Noel, he woke up and he came in and he said ‘Noreen, get up, there’s something wrong’. And I was screaming out the window ‘Help me, somebody help me, my house is on fire’.
“It was half past three in the morning, nobody heard me.” Noel lifted Noreen up to the window opening and the woman, who is in her late 50s, and who didn’t know that her son was also in the house, jumped out. I just jumped. I had to. I had to jump,” she said. “I can remember no more after that.”
Noreen sustained extensive injuries in the fall, including a punctured lung, a broken shoulder, and nine broken ribs. She was in a coma for a week after the incident, which took place last month.
When she woke up, she found that both her friend Noel O’Mahony, who was in his 50s, and her son, Kenneth Relihan, aged 26, had lost their lives in the fire. Since she had been in a coma in Cork University Hospital the funerals of the two men had already taken place. Noreen said this made the deaths very hard to process and hasn’t yet been able to bring herself to visit her son’s grave.
“I wasn’t at the funeral. I was in a coma. I missed everything. And that’s making it worse for me. That’s why I just can’t go to the grave because I don’t believe he’s even there,” she said.
“The doctor said wait until I’m fully healed. But will I ever be fully healed? I doubt it.”Noreen said the fire originated as a result of a chip pan being left on. She said her son had been out that night and must have come home, used the chip pan, and forgotten to turn it off.
Since the incident, Noreen, who is still recovering from her injuries, has been sleeping on her daughter’s couch.
The house that burned down was owned by Cork County Council. Noreen said she has been waiting for seven weeks for the council to source a new house for her, and sees no immediate end in sight.
She said the council identified a suitable place for her to live, near her old house, but that the process has now stalled.
This article first appeared in yesterday's Evening Echo.