“She said ‘I love you Daddy’ and went to bed.”
Within a few weeks she was dead.
“I remember it clearly,” Tony says, looking to his wife Fran for re-assurance as to how he might phrase it, “she was — how would you say Fran, how would a woman say it — she was gone from a young teenager into a young woman. She looked beautiful. There was an independence in her steps.”
Tony and Fran Whelan sit in the kitchen of their freshly painted yellow bungalow, nestled near the Comeragh mountains, just outside the village of Kilmeaden about seven miles from Waterford city. You approach the house up a narrow road which would struggle to accommodate two cars passing. In spring, primroses line the avenue. It’s idyllic and remote, a million miles from Kurdish separatists; light years from the world of a Kurdish man in his 20s, a man identified to the Whelans only by the initials MSF.
Yet on July 16, 2005, the worlds of Tara Whelan and MSF collided.
She was to fly home from the Aegean resort of Kusadasi at midnight. She told friends she was going to buy presents. That was the last they saw of her.
She boarded a bus in Kusadasi. Shortly beforehand, MSF had disembarked the same bus, leaving behind a deadly package.
As Tara took her seat and pondered the last hours of what had been a dream holiday, MSF went into a phone box and dialled the number of a mobile phone. This was strapped to explosives in a bag under a seat near Tara. When the phone rang it triggered an electrical switch.
And the world of the Whelans in Kilmeaden came tumbling down.
“I was there in the field and I saw the garda car coming in and Jim Burke got out of the car and I knew there was something, his face told a story.
“And I said ‘What is it Jim? What is it?’ And he said ‘It’s Tara. It’s Tara.’ I just knew then. I had a horrible feeling. And after that, I don’t know because I just couldn’t think straight.
“After that, it was just hour after hour, and day after day.”
Tara and four others, a Briton and three Turks, were killed instantly. All the dead were born in the 1980s. Thirteen others were seriously injured.
Kurdish separatists had coldly calculated on killing foreign tourists to strike at the industry critical to the Turkish economy.
The bombing caused international outrage, coming just a week after the 7/7 London bombings. MSF, a member of the outlawed PKK, had travelled to Kusadasi from Turkey’s mountainous, Kurdish-populated south-east.
Terrorists there have been fighting for autonomy for more than two decades. This was to be one of his first missions.
“He was scanning the area for months. It was a terrible, selfish, cowardly thing,” Tony said. “You wonder what brought her to that point? You think of all the hundreds of things that could have led to her being somewhere else at that moment.
“The buses run every few minutes there, so if there was a delay of even a few seconds, she wouldn’t have got on. You could torture yourself with the details.”
In the haze of those first few days after the bombing, Tony and Fran Whelan gathered family around them: Tara’s brothers Frank, 27, and Anton, 26, and her sisters, Marianne, 25, and Lisa, 20. The Whelans remember the kindness of neighbours and the sympathy of strangers.
“We got letters from all over the country, from Australia, all over the world,” Tony says.
“Families around Ireland who lost children themselves in road accidents,” Fran adds.
“It’s terrible to lose a child in an accident but for it to be deliberate like this, it’s the worst thing,” Tony says, one hand squeezing the other, vainly trying to prevent tears. His eyes well up, and he looks to Fran and then to the floor.
It’s clear that after only a year the wounds are still tender and sore.
They are unsure whether they will go to Turkey for MSF’s trial which will take place before the summer is out. “We want to mark the anniversary first, and then we’ll think about other things,” Tony says.
Behind him, on the kitchen wall, near the Sacred Heart in the corner, there’s a montage of about 30 photographs, the touchstones of Tara’s life — from baby to toddler to teenager.
“You wonder why had it to be Tara, but then why had it to be anyone else? We wouldn’t be looking for anything special out of life, just that the children would be happy and healthy. Life’s a struggle enough without these tragedies coming to your door,” Tony says.
Standing outside the house with the lights of Waterford City visible through the twilight haze to the west, there’s a stillness in the air and Tony stops in his tracks.
“She used to stand here and watch the flares coming up from Waterford City over there at Christmas. I suppose when you think of all the children around the world who grow up with nothing, at least you comfort yourself that she was happy here, that she grew up in a nice place.”
Her happiness shone through in the memories of the two girls who had accompanied her on their post-Leaving Certificate holiday, twins Lyndsey and Tracey Galgey. They spoke of this effervescent, funny, outgoing, bubbly girl who had entertained them and others with sing-songs and her impersonations of Whitney Houston and J-Lo.
“She was always into singing and music. The house is empty without her.
“She’d bounce in there. ‘Hi,’ she’d shout. She was great for hugs and kisses.
“Always,” Fran says, before being distracted by her only grandchild, two-year-old Lena. Lena, who is Marianne’s daughter, bears a striking resemblance to Tara.
“There’s an amazing resemblance. She’s like her in personality too. Very like her,” Fran says.
Tony’s eyes have glazed over again and he’s struggling not to cry.
In October the family decided to go to Turkey, to see for themselves the exact site where Tara died.
“We wanted to walk in her footsteps you know. To go where she went. I didn’t want to go at first, but I’m glad now, at least I have a picture of it in my mind,” Tony said.
They met the Kusadasi chief of police who promised justice. The Whelans didn’t know then that the police were already monitoring the chief suspect, watching as he travelled to northern Iraq for training at PKK camps.
“They were hoping to catch those further up the line, the leaders,” Tony says.
They finally arrested MSF in April, believing he was preparing another attack.
“It was cold comfort, but we are glad that he was taken in and he’s not going to do it again,” Fran says.
A memory from when Tara was six, springs to Tony’s mind. “I can remember the day she went out there,’ he says, pointing to the expansive green at the front of the house, “and she walked up behind the pony. And I just figured out what was going to happen before it happened, but I couldn’t get there in time. She got a kick from the pony.”
Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do.