Kerry natives John O’Brien and Julianne Ni Laoire, who also went to UCC, said they were in Thailand’s Surat Thani airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok when they saw three young Irish women running around in great distress.
“We heard one of the girls shouting ‘Maeve’ so we knew they were Irish. They looked really, really upset and we were wondering what was wrong,” said Julianne.
“Then one of them happened to sit down next to us. We asked her if she was OK and she just burst out crying. She completely broke down.”
The couple didn’t know it at the time, but the three girls were in the middle of a harrowing experience with Thai immigration officials.
Sorcha Cotter, Maeve Nevin Maguire and Nicole Yap were attempting to leave Thailand and continue their summer holidays in Malaysia, but had accidentally overstayed their visa by seven days.
The students flew into Bangkok and received a 30-day visa and then went to Cambodia for a week. When they re-entered Thailand via a land border their visa was replaced with a 15-day visa which they were not informed about at the time.
When they attempted to leave the country, authorities fined them 10,500 baht, the equivalent of €300, and said if they couldn’t pay they would be brought to a police station and prosecuted.
With very little money on them and less than an hour before their flight, the trio frantically began ringing their parents at 5am Irish time.
While Nicole’s parents did not have internet banking and Maeve’s parents were in Turkey, Sorcha’s parents did manage to transfer €300 to her bank account.
Unfortunately, when the trio went to withdraw the money, the ATM in the airport would only let them withdraw a maximum daily amount of €150.
Adding this to the little cash they had on them, and another transaction using a credit card, the girls eventually realised they were roughly €12 short.
They pleaded with the officials but were told they would be prosecuted and brought to jail if they could not pay the whole fine immediately and in cash.
Panicking, the students remembered the kind Irish strangers they had met earlier and reluctantly went back to ask them for money.
Without hesitation, Julianne and John gave the girls 500 baht and told them to run quickly to make their flight.
“We had no idea they were being threatened with jail, we would have given them the money anyway,” said Julianne.
“We would have hated to have been in that situation. It could have happened to anyone.”
After flying home to Ireland, the couple saw on social media that the three girls were trying to find them to thank them for their kindness.
“We almost didn’t want to be found because we knew they would try and pay back the money but we don’t want it back!” said Julianne.
“We found out we had all gone to UCC and happened to have mutual friends in common so they managed to track us down that way. Ireland really is such a small place so whenever you run into another Irish person abroad there’s a real sense of belonging. And Irish people will always help each other out. It’s what we do.”