Eerie silence engulfs estate full of sorrows

As locals left flowers at the scene where efforts were made to revive James Casey Butler on Saturday, there was an eerie silence around the Tír Cluain housing estate yesterday afternoon.

Eerie silence engulfs estate full of sorrows

Despite the wintry chill, it was the kind of day you might expect children to see making the most of their school holidays and kicking a ball, hurling, or wrestling on the expansive green that runs along the front of the estate, separating the homes from the River Owenacurra in which the tragedy unfolded.

Instead, protective parents still raw with shock, were understandably keeping their children indoors.

For Andrea O’Sullivan, a mother-of-two, the shock was mixed with anger at the inadequate safety around the river. James had accessed the river bank via a gap at the start of the wire fence, where it meets a wooden barrier at one end of the estate.

“During the summer particularly, that green would be a hive of activity, all the children on the estate would be playing out there. It really could have been anyone’s child,” said a distraught Andrea.

Her neighbour John Shanahan was at home on Saturday evening when his son Oisín ran in to say a boy had fallen into the river. His wife Shirley’s brother-in-law, Roy Daly, was visiting at the time and was one of those who helped pull James from the river.

“How could planning be given for an estate like this without seeing adequate safety was put in place? There isn’t enough protection for kids at the end of the day,” said John.

He said the cost of steel fencing or a high wall to replace the mesh-wire fence that stands barely 6ft-high would be small, relative to the money generated from sales of homes on the estate.

Last night, a spokesman for the receivers appointed to John J Fleming Construction Company said the firm was “looking in to all aspects of this tragic matter and engaging with the relevant authorities”.

Andrea said it is maddening to have a river in a housing estate that is so easily accessible or that can be cut by any one with a pliers who might be accessing the river for fishing. Or, she said, children can easily climb the fence and jump over to the riverside.

“If a sliotar or a ball goes over the fence, what’s the first thing they’re going to do, only jump over and get it? You could be blue in the face from telling them about the danger, but we should be able to leave the kids out to play without having to worry.”

She said residents in social housing on the estate have called Cork County Council a number of times in the past about openings in the fence and they have been repaired quite quickly.

But families remain uncertain about who is responsible for the fence. Cork County Council said last night it was a private development and did not own the land.

“Someone needs to say it’s their responsibility and they will make it safe for our children to play,” said Andrea.

James’s mother Edel used to babysit for John and Shirley before they moved to the Tír Cluain estate more than three years ago.

“That child was his mum’s world,” said John.

Keen to ensure that no parent has to go through what James’s family must be enduring, the locals want action taken on safety for their children.

“I’d nearly go out and start building the wall myself,” said John, who is visually impaired. He said the most important message they want to get across to the authorities is to make the area safe, in the hope of preventing something like this from happening again.

“We’re trying to get our heads around this but it ain’t going to happen because there will always be that 10 minutes here in Tír Cluain where a little boy lost his life.”

Outside, flowers continued to be left alongside the fence where little James was brought from the water. A couple of hundred metres away, at the spot where he accessed the river bank, the fence remained unrepaired almost 48 hours after the tragedy.

With no children out playing, all that could be heard was the river flowing rapidly past, the cawing of crows, and the bleating of a lamb in the fields beyond.

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