Berkeley: ‘Always smiling, enthusiastic, and full of energy’

They came in groups, pairs, wearing county colours, leaving cards, candles, flowers, pictures, a half pint of beer, even a wheel hub.

Berkeley: ‘Always smiling, enthusiastic, and full of energy’

The young Irish, in this west coast university town for a summer of hard work and play, were in a deeply subdued mood.

“It could have been any of us,” said one, one of a group recently graduated from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

READ MORE: New York Times apologises for Berkeley article .

For them, Tuesday was to be a day of big celebration as they all received the results of their finals. Successful, no need to go home to repeats, they said with smiles.

But on this summer’s evening, instead of planning to party, they were sitting on a street bench in downtown Berkeley wondering how it happened that six of their own had died, and seven injured, just yards away.

They had many more questions than answers. How are the injured, how did the balcony collapse, where were they from?

But to the locals, this was a tragedy that struck all Irish. “Condolences,” said one passerby to the Galway group after he heard snatches of their accents.

Through the evening, people came to pay respects, stopping for a moment of quiet time before the growing mound of flowers placed at the top of the still cordoned off block.

Sophie, who did not want to give her second name, knew two of the victims, Olivia Burke and Eimear Walsh.

She could not speak, just shook her head, then burrowed it into the shoulder of her friend.

Angie Louie, who employed the pair at her Hana Zen sushi bar on Pier 39 in San Francisco, spoke for her.

“Always smiling, enthusiastic and full of energy,” she remembered Olivia and Eimear.

Earlier, the Consul General of Ireland for San Francisco laid a wreath in front of the building, as did Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates on behalf of the people of the Bay Area.

As they laid the wreaths, Claire Raftery, a University of Berkeley space scientist and Irish national, played ‘Amazing Grace’ on the pipes.

The notes left at the scene revealed the impact these young people had on those around them in just a short few weeks.

One, addressed to best friends Nick Schuster and Eoghan Culligan, read: “For the short time we knew you, you were both such genuine, fun loving, kind hearted and funny people.

“This never should have happened, you were both taken away far too soon.”

A neighbour wrote: “Seeing you all laughing and chatting together as a group frequently made me smile.

“Our hallways will be much quieter without your friendly energy.”

Others also described the energy, the smiles and the cheer the group brought to Liberty Gardens.

It’s a short street, Kitteridge Avenue, just off one of Berkeley’s main streets. It’s only a short walk from the compact downtown.

On Tuesday night, the people of Berkeley and nearby Oakland, packed the bars to watch their local basketball team, Golden State Warriors, clinch its first NBA title in 40 years.

The area exploded in celebration, car horns honking and crowds spilling on to the street. It was the a sort of party the Irish here would have gladly joined, on any other day. That victory led the late night news on all the local channels.

But then the sharp turn to other news, the tragedy at Library Gardens.

It took all the anchors’ professionalism to switch from celebration to sombre.

For the Irish here, no switch was needed, there was no whooping it up in the bars.

How could there be, when a little bit of Ireland’s future died on this nondescript street so far away from home.

READ MORE: New York Times apologises for Berkeley article .

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.