Carrickmines Fire: United in their heartsick silence, thousands try to help family bear loss

As the coffins of five of the 10 victims of the Carrickmines fire tragedy travelled down the aisle at their funeral Mass, the hands of mourners reached out again, feeling for tangible evidence that the unimaginable was real, writes Caroline O’Doherty
Carrickmines Fire: United in their heartsick silence, thousands try to help family bear loss

Silver for the adults, white for the little children, the handles to the sides gleamed, the crucifixes on the lids shone. They had been chosen and handled with loving, heartbroken, care; each conveyed in a separate hearse, their tragic convoy followed by a fleet of 10 funeral cars.

Beside Tara Gilbert’s casket was a floral arrangement spelling out her name in pink blossoms. For nine-year-old Jodie and four-year-old Kelsey there were angels and halos, and drawings of baby clothes for the unborn sibling they had been so excited to hear their mammy was expecting.

Their dad, Willy Lynch, had a floral tribute shaped into the hunting rifle he used in the fields and woods where he loved to spend time. Jimmy Lynch’s flowers spelt his name in blue petals, a name that meant brother, uncle, son, friend.

There was nothing to suggest the horror that took their lives 10 days earlier in the fire at Carrickmines in which the Connors family — Willy’s sister Sylvia, her husband and children — also perished.

Ten days on, the fate of the families still felt unreal and there was an air of disbelief in the intense quiet of the chief mourners, among them the traumatised survivors of the terrible blaze.

The cortege of five hearses arrives at the Church of The Most Holy Redeemer in Bray

The cortege of five hearses arrives at the Church of The Most Holy Redeemer in Bray

Their extended family, friends and neighbours seemed to share the incredulity, reaching out as the caskets passed along the aisle of the church to touch them, as if to needing to convince themselves that they were really there and that what had brought them here had really happened.

Again the caskets came within reach of many of the mourners, as they moved to the altar to receive communion and again they instinctively stretched out a hand to touch and hold.

There were eight priests to share the Mass duties, a thousand mourners to share the grief, representatives from Government and the Áras, a message from Pope Francis, another from Archbishop Eamon Martin, and still it was hard for those present to believe other than that they were trapped in a bad dream.

Mourners comfort each other. The funeral Mass was attended by representatives from the Government and President Michael D Higgins, while Archbishop Eamon Martin and Pope Francis sent messages

Mourners comfort each other. The funeral Mass was attended by representatives from the Government and President Michael D Higgins, while Archbishop Eamon Martin and Pope Francis sent messages

Fr Derek Farrell, parish priest to the Parish of the Travelling People, described their loss as “beyond words”, but he chose his with a compassion that spoke straight to their hearts.

For a fleeting moment a tiny laugh rippled through the pews when he spoke of Tara as “the boss” of the family and recalled how she and her twin sister, Amanda, shared everything, including clothes, earrings, and hair extensions — just not always with permission.

Of Tara and Willy, he said: “God made them, God matched them,” a quote originally from Willy’s bereft brother, John.

Tara’s first cousin, Stewart Gilbert, took the pulpit and described seeing Jodie pass by his own family house each morning on her way to school.

“She never missed a day. She walked with confidence and never dropped her chin,” said Stewart. Of little Kelsey, who was due to start school next year, he said: “She was coming into her own, beginning to find her stride.”

Mourners at the joint funeral of Tara Gilbert and her children Jodie and Kelsey, and Tara’s partner Willy Lynch and his brother Jimmy

Mourners at the joint funeral of Tara Gilbert and her children Jodie and Kelsey, and Tara’s partner Willy Lynch and his brother Jimmy

The children of the extended Lynch family had come together to put their thoughts in a poem over the previous 10 bewildering days and five of them read verses in turn, remembering also their auntie Sylvia and the rest of the Connors family.

They spoke of joyful Jodie and angelic Kelsey, pictured Willy teaching angels to dance, with Tara by his side, “now eternal their romance”.

They remembered Jimmy too. “Jimmy’s now with Elvis, who he’s loved since he was seven. One thing that we hope, Lord, is for bike repair in heaven.”

The cortege departs for the cemetery following the funeral Mass at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer

The cortege departs for the cemetery following the funeral Mass at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer

United in heartsick silence, the mourners somehow found their voices when Sarah Lynch, a niece of Willy and Jimmy, stood to sing ‘Amazing Grace’, accompanied by the congregation.

However, they were stilled again as John Lynch, widowed father of Willy, Jimmy and Sylvia, made his way painfully to the altar and, in a voice scratched raw with grief, thanked all who had come, all those who had helped and who had cared.

Once again, the magnitude of the tragedy was overwhelming and once again proof was needed that it was true.

Mourners bless themselves as the funeral cortege passes.

Mourners bless themselves as the funeral cortege passes.

As the coffins travelled down the aisle after Mass, hands reached out again, feeling for tangible evidence that the unimaginable was real.

The coffins that had arrived so pristine left the church engraved with love, fingerprints forming delicate patterns in their perfect polish, caressed by caring hands as if tenderly kissed goodnight.

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