Anna Maria Alexander and her daughter Rena were both laid to rest in a single grave. They were the only two victims of the disaster buried in this country.
The commemoration was organised by Finbarr Archer, the Lord Mayor’s driver, who 30 years ago worked as an undertaker’s assistant and documented many of the deceased’s names.
He thanked those who turned up at St Michael’s cemetery in Blackrock, among them members of the emergency services who assisted during the major recovery operation in 1985.
They included retired Corporal Patsy Dineen, who had turned up with some UN veterans to pay respects. “I was working with the army engineers and stationed in Collins Barracks at the time.”I had to drive a tipper truck down to Haulbowline naval base where the wreckage of the plane was brought in. I worked over four days to take it to a scrapyard in Carrigaline,” he said.
Some of the wreckage, he indicated, showed the horror of the disaster. “Others saw a lot worse, but we had a job to do,” said the veteran of nine Lebanon tours.
Noel Rawley and Edward Buckley, Cork City Fire Brigade’s second and third officers respectively were also there. They remain the only two serving officers, from those sad days, still in the fire brigade.
“We shouldered coffins and assisted around the hospital. We were basically multitasking,” Noel said.
Edward also remembered they later attended a memorial service for the dead at City Hall.
Fr JP O’Mahony, who officiated at the ceremony, blessed the Alexander’s grave. The headstone also remembers Anna Maria’s husband and son who were on the ill-fated flight, but whose bodies were never recovered.
Fr O’Mahony said while people had gathered to pay their respects to Air India victims, it was also appropriate they remember the students who died in the Berkeley tragedy last week.
Deputy Lord Mayor Mick Nugent attended the gathering along with Lady Mayoress Angela O’Leary, whose husband Chris is abroad. Gardaí were represented by Niall O’Connell and Liam Walsh, both sergeants in Anglesea Street Garda Station.
Children from Gaelscoil Mahon provided music and sung hymns.
‘No one has come forward to right the wrong’
The sundial in Ahakista which commemorates the Air India Disaster casts its shadow as the families of the victims gathered in a circle around the monument. For once, they were ones casting a shadow.
How time passes. It’s a full three decades since Air India flight 182 broke up in the air off the coast of West Cork, its innocent passengers and crew the victims of an unspeakable act of terrorism.
At 8.10am yesterday, the Irish naval vessel LÉ Samuel Beckett issued a siren blast that began a minute’s silence in memory of the 329 people on board, with the lapping waves and the screech of seagulls the only sounds to be heard.
Some, such as Prema Ramnurthy from Bangalore, on her first visit here, dabbed at tears, while others placed a supportive arm around those closest to them.
Then, a second siren broke the silence and signalled the start of chanting from those at the sundial. It was a morning when the passing of time and the persistence of memory collided. That, and a burning sense of injustice.
The flags of India, Canada and the Tricolour were in evidence on the roadside, the memorial garden polished and resplendent under the pink morning sky.
Before the ceremony began, some attendees lit small candles and placed them in front of the memorial, while others left flowers.
Some wreaths had already been placed there, including one from Kristelle and Jamie in memory of Elaine Rodricks, an air hostess on board the flight that day on June 23, 1985. The wording on it read: “In loving memory of Elaine Rodricks, the mother I wish I knew.”
It was left by Kristelle, Elaine’s daughter, aged just one when her mother was killed.
More than 200 people were present, many from the local area, including a large number who have become prominent points of support for the families, who all-too-often have felt alone as the years have passed.
After the moment’s silence, accompanied by an appropriate stillness, came the speeches.
Fr Gerard Galvin read John O’Donoghue’s For Grief, observing how “the silence of absence deepens” over time, and “life becomes strange”.
Canon Paul Willoughby noted how “love is not jealous, nor boastful”, while Dr Shashi Sharma, another who lost someone, quoted from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita: “The soul neither kills nor is killed.”
Then the Ahakista Choir, formed of children from the local national school, performed a Hindu devotional song, the ‘The Clouds Veil’ and, finally, an instrumental version of ‘Morning Has Broken’, the sound of the last piece broken by the appearance over the mountains of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter that shortly afterwards would perform a flyover in an airborne tribute to the victims of the bombing.
There was much praise from all quarters for the people of Co Cork, including from County Mayor Alan Coleman.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan remarked how “this sacred place belongs to us all”, and he also paid tribute to the first responders who arrived at the scene that day.
The Indian Minister of External Affairs, VK Singh, also remarked on the “strong bond” that linked communities in Ireland, Canada and India, adding: “Terrorism is something which cannot be allowed to win.”
Canada’s Justice Minister Peter McKay told the families: “Through the pain, your grace and dignity and capacity to carry on inspires us all. In order to love someone you must first have had them, so the magnitude of one’s loss is a measure of life’s gifts.”
And then came the speech of Dr Padmini Turlapati. Her tone was often as calm as the sea behind her, but her words could have scorched the ground.
The sense of injustice she felt for herself and the others affected by this act of terrorism was palpable, leavened only by being here to share this time with others.
She said she came here full of bitterness and imprisoned by a sense of helplessness, but that on arrival a “Celtic wisdom” took over.
“We can still maintain a stillness which is our soul,” she said. “This is a safe place, full of understanding. The very earth we are on now is linked to the heaven above.”
She recalled memories of her only children, boys Sanjay and Deepak, among those killed on board, and spoke of the moments she was with them. “I breathed in and breathed out; I was fully alive,” she said.
Then came the anger and the hurt, articulated so beautifully it was hard not to feel swept along.
“I can withstand the day the world collapsed,” she began, recounting the refusals to hold a public inquiry and setbacks and difficulties of the past 30 years.
However, she said there were some things she could not withstand, namely that those who carried out this heinous act have never been brought to justice.
“The man who made the bombs will be free soon, having served 15 years,” she said, referring to Inderjit Singh Reyat, the only person to have been convicted in connection with the bombing.
The others, she said, had got off “scot-free”.
“No one has come forward to right the wrong. Justice, in this respect, has not been served yet.
“Here was everything that I have ever lost,” she continued, adding that maybe an Irish miracle would happen some day and her lost boys, like the other victims, would suddenly appear and walk ashore from the water.
No, she said, she cannot indulge this fantasy.
“I will wait a bit more, and a little bit more, until I get back in the car and fly home to Canada.”
Her voice frayed and the crowd applauded. She melted back into the throng. For a few minutes, at least, she had lit up the shadows that still follow them everywhere.
‘The memories have not faded... they are still fresh’
The families of people who lost their lives in the Air India disaster have paid fulsome tribute to those in Ireland who have helped them — often in sharp contrast to the response in India and Canada.
While the Indian minister for external affairs pledged €6,000 towards the continued maintenance of the memorial garden in Ahakista in a warmly received speech, some of those who lost family members in the bombing 30 years ago said India still needed to do more.
Lakshminarayana Turlapati said there was no similar memorial in India that would allow family members living there a similar chance to meditate on their loss.
“People living in India do not have a place like this, not even a monument, not a memorial, where they can go and have peace and meditate and think about their loved ones,” he said, adding that this was due to a certain “callousness” in a large country with a huge population.
Dr Padmini Turlapati, who gave a powerful speech at yesterday’s commemoration, also criticised the Air India airline and the past mistakes of previous Canadian governments.
Kristelle Rodricks, who was just a baby when her mother, air hostess Elaine Rodricks, was killed on the flight, said: “I am so glad she said it. People have been too nice and polite, politeness has been to the forefront rather than what needed to be said.
“You will never understand the feeling of injustice until you go through it. I don’t wish it upon anybody. Closure is a very difficult word. I don’t think it’s the right word, but a sense of justice would be at least something that would help our souls and until we get that I can’t see us feeling any better about it because our loved ones are never going to come out of that water and they can’t fight for what needs to be fought for.”
Canadian justice minister Peter MacKay said that while the government there had issued an apology to the families of the victims, it had been the case that the families had not been embraced by the criminal justice system “the way they would be today”.
“What I think is the height of injustice for the families still is that those responsible, the perpetrators, have never truly been brought to justice.
“It’s very difficult when other witnesses who perhaps had that information have either chosen to remain silent, or some, I think, became victims themselves, and I think what is frustrating, as well, is some evidence was lost.”
Prema Ramnurthy, on her first visit, lost an aunt and cousin on board Flight 182. “The memories have not faded — they are still fresh,” she said.
LE Aisling first responders remember the day of the Air India crash
The 30th anniversary commemoration of the Air India tragedy was a solemn occasion, but on the fringes there were some smiles - chiefly among the first responders who attended the crash scene that day in June 1985.
For many of those on board the LE Aisling that day, it is years since they saw one another. Despite the sombre nature of the event in Ahakista, there was levity as well as respect on show from those who arrived at the crash site, faced with a recovery rather than a rescue mission.
The team was operating out of Haulbowline at the time, and some, such as Pat Dunne, Willie maloney and Ken Lougheed, were present yesterday. Another, Tom Griffin, recalled that on June 23, 1985, the LE Aisling had already carried out an operation that day, escorting a vessel back to Castletownbere.
Brian Hyde, known as Elton (as in John), said on hearing the call to travel out to sea: "We thought we were picking people up. We expected people in lifejackets, maybe a few fatalities."
Instead, the first thing they saw was wreckage, "floating tyres, that kind of thing". Tom recalls the smell of airline fuel.
"It was a numb sort of a day," he said, although he and his colleagues rememebred that they just got on with the job. A number of those who spoke on Tuesday at the commemoration paid tribute to the role of the first responders, and particularly their role in recovering as many bodies as they did. Not all were found.
Tom remembers the boat travelling back after it was all over, and lying in his bed, asking his cabin mate if he was still awake. He was, and the words they exchanged were "what the f**k happened today?" It was almost beyond belief.
This year was the first time many members of the naval team that da\y had received an invitation to attend the annual memorial event and it was obvious that, despite the serious nature of the day, they were happy with the chance to catch up with old friends. The joking and the slagging was the same as ever - one silver lining on a day clouded with darker memories.