‘The six have become the children of Ireland... they are symbols of our country’

More than two dozen family members of those who died and were injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse gathered at the site of the tragedy.

‘The six have become the children of Ireland... they are symbols of our country’

They stood in a semicircle around the makeshift shrine, just yards from where the balcony collapsed and flipped over, killing four immediately and two soon after in hospital.

Parents, brothers, sisters, and girlfriends had travelled to California from Ireland, to take back the bodies of their loved ones and to comfort the seven being treated in hospital.

They walked the short distance from Berkeley Police Station to the shrine on Thursday evening, to view the growing mound of flowers, the candles, the messages, and the Irish flags.

The silence, almost total despite being just down the street from one of the city’s thoroughfares, was broken by sporadic sobs.

A board remembering Eoghan Culligan, with his picture at the centre, was placed at the back of the shrine. A bottle of Guinness was carefully placed in front of the board.

There were messages from his sisters; he was “the light of our lives,” wrote Mum and Papa.

Another read: “Bubba, I love you more than words can say. You have made me into the person I am today. You were put on this earth to make me happy. I will love you to the end of time. Sleep tight my angel.” It was signed, Sarah.

Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, who arrived on the west coast just hours earlier, laid a wreath at the site.

Eoghan’s father Gerry, and Eimear Walsh’s father Jim stood as Mr Deenihan spoke of, and to, the families of those who died.

“They have been through a very traumatic time for the past three days and the sympathy of Ireland is with you. I have never seen such an outpouring of such genuine sympathy and grief in the whole country for the families,” the minister said.

READ MORE: Families of balcony collapse victims lay flowers at Berkeley memorial .

“The six who are dead have become the children of Ireland. They have now become symbols of our country and the people have responded in so many different ways.

“And I would like on behalf of the Irish Government, the Taoiseach and indeed all the political parties, just to express my sincere sympathy to all the families and also to all the families of those people who are injured, who are in hospital and just wish them a speedy recovery.”

He paid tribute to the Irish Consul in San Francisco, Philip Grant.

“The contribution that Philip Grant here and his staff has made has been quite extraordinary and has been recognised by all of the families.”

Referring to the Irish community in the Bay Area, the minister said it showed how Irish people supported each other in time of need.

“It demonstrates again the affinity Irish people have with each other and the fact that the Irish community is very strong the world over.”

He added that he wanted to recognise the contribution made by J1 students.

“It’s a great programme. More than 150,000 Irish people have benefited from this programme for a number of years. Many of the leaders of industry in our country, politicians included, have gone through this programme.

“The young people who are out here represent the present generation of Irish youth but also the future leaders of this country and we want to see this programme continued,” said Mr Deenihan.

It also emerged that the Irish Pastoral Center in San Francisco has put a call out for people to give up seats on flights heading back to Ireland this weekend, so that friends of those who died can return home ahead of the funerals.

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