Heroic Irish women make a stand for those they lost

Elber Twomey (left)

Huge personal loss and tragedy befell Irish women Elber Twomey, Roseann Brennan, and Una Butler — and each has turned unimaginable horror and heartache into heroic virtue as they launch individual campaigns for safer roads and suicide prevention.

It is little more than a year since Elber Twomey’s family was wiped out by a suicidal motorist. She is going to speak next month at Templemore College about training gardaí to deal with suicidal drivers.

Roseann Brennan’s campaign centres on speed bumps in housing estates after her son was knocked down and killed last May, while Una Butler is raising awareness of suicide after her husband took his own life and the lives of her two little girls in 2010.

“Something has to come out of his death,” says Roseann, a childcare worker, speaking of her six-year-old son Jake who died in her arms barely six weeks ago. She, along with other family members, watched in horror as Jake was thrown into the air by a car just yards from her house at Lintown Grove, Kilkenny, on June 12.

He was Chris and Roseann’s eldest child and big brother to Kaelem, three, and two-month-old Savannah. She was holding the infant as she watched her son cross the road and suddenly saw him being tossed into the air.

She had been campaigning for years to get speed ramps installed in her estate, without success. She also sought to have the 50kph speed restrictions in housing estates reduced to 30 kph. Now she has intensified her efforts to make that happen as she does not want another child to die in similar circumstances.

“If those measures had have been in place my Jakey might have only had a broken leg or a broken arm,” she told the Irish Examiner. Taoiseach Enda Kenny met Roseann on Thursday and promised to help. “My hope is the loss of little Jake will not have been in vain for the saving of lives of our children,” he said after the meeting.

In the meantime, Roseann is urging all concerned citizens to sign her online petition at facebook.com/jakeslegacy.

Her campaign is infused not just with compassion for others but a mother’s abiding love for her child.

“I wouldn’t want to get over Jake and I would never not want to cry over him,” she says.

“I need to learn to be a mammy to Jake in a different way.”

That is also what Elber Twomey, 38, is doing. She lost her husband, Con, 39, her son Oisin, 16 months, and her unborn baby daughter, Elber Marie, when Polish taxi driver Marek Wojciechowski deliberately drove into their car in Devon as they returned home from a holiday two years ago.

Her courage and compassion for others was noted by the coroner at the inquest into her husband’s death. “People have been greatly moved by the unspeakable tragedy that has befallen you, the loss of your beautiful family,” said Myra Cullinane, paying tribute to how Elber.

“I wish to place on record our admiration for the great dignity and courage you have shown. Your selfless work in the area of suicide risk awareness,” said the coroner.

That work includes galvanising support among garda authorities and politicians for her campaign.

Elber has been invited to the Garda Training College in Templemore next month to speak to senior officers in hope of setting up courses in suicide awareness/prevention training.

The initiative is being supported by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

“I wouldn’t wish my life on anybody else,” says Elber. “If we can save one life it would be worth it. It also would help the gardaí to cope in dealing with such stressful situations.”

Last month, she staged a special ‘remorial’ event in her native town of Meelin in Newmarket, north Cork. “I loved being ‘Baba’ Oisín’s mom and I loved being Connie’s wife,” Elber said at the event, explaining that the ‘remorial’ was about “remembering them and about ensuring that our beauties are never forgotten and will be remembered with the love that they so deserve.”

The power of love is also reflected in Una Butler’s campaign for suicide prevention. Her life changed forever in November 2010, when her husband John 42, suffocated Zoe, six, and Ella, two, before dousing himself with petrol and crashing his car in Cork.

Una, from Ballycotton, Co Cork, is campaigning to have the Mental Health Act altered to give families greater say in the treatment of loved ones suffering from mental health difficulties.

“I felt I had no support when I did raise awareness or concern over my husband’s health and it was completely ignored,” she told TV3. “I never thought we were in danger, that’s the vacuum I was living in — that’s what I can’t understand. These days I feel like going into a shop and taking something because there’d be more of an investigation into that — it disgusts me really.”


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