‘Our lives are destroyed, our family torn apart, our hearts are broken’
I FOUND it hard and painful to sit down and write this victim impact statement. It is just not possible to put into words the impact that the defendant’s dangerous driving and the resulting collision has had on my life.
Most people wake from a nightmare but I wake every morning to a nightmare. A real nightmare.
The pain in the pit of my stomach is hard to believe. I was in hospital in May for tests to see if there was a medical explanation. There wasn’t. Stress, grief, heartbreak, loss — take your pick. Every morning I have to grit my teeth and go farming.
The pain is there all the time, the unbearable loss is there all the time; morning, noon, and especially at night. I sit at the kitchen table and look at the empty chairs.
I listen to the silence, a silence broken only by the clock ticking on the wall. My wife and daughter are dead aged 58 and 22. They are in their grave for eternity. I will never see them again.
Their headstone has been engraved in the past while. It really has happened. Their lives are over. It’s written in stone.
I first met Geraldine Aherne when I was 19, it took 10 months to get the courage to ask her out. Our first date was on July 20, 1980. From that day until December 22, 2015, the day she was killed, we were a team. We were some team.
We got engaged on August 16, 1984, in Galway, a city we grew to love as we holidayed so often in the west. We then set about planning and building a home. We were married on September 5, 1986, and honeymooned in Italy. It was idyllic.
We always planned to return to Rome. We threw coins in the Trevi Fountain and wished to return. We were never in a rush, there would always be time. Rome would always be there but we ran out of time.
On return we moved in to our new home and a new life together. A life we loved for over 29 magical years, three wonderful children: Declan, Fiona, and Louise. Hard work, holidays, health scares, GAA matches, sibling weddings, and parent funerals.
We laughed together and cried together. We had a happy home — a lovely home full of life, laughter, and music. The kids grew up, secondary school, university, Declan got a job in Galway, Fiona in Dublin, Louise in UCC in 2013 and moved into student accommodation. It was Geraldine and myself again. It was like the old days, just us two. We went on holidays in 2013 and 2014 to Spain, just us two. Had a wonderful time, just us, in love as deeply as we were on our honeymoon. JUST US 2.
When I lost Geraldine I lost everything. My girlfriend, my wife, my life partner, my lover, the mother of my children, and my best friend. All the things we did together, all the things we talked about, all the decisions we made together, big and small, on farm and off farm.
The holidays, the road trips to Wales, Donegal, Kerry, and Scotland. The weekends in the Marina Hotel in Waterford to celebrate her birthday on December 15. All lost. The magical Christmases of the past replaced last year by a visit to a funeral home and this year to a cemetery.
If I lost the past with Geraldine, I lost the future with Louise, because of her struggles with autism and her determination to overcome every obstacle. Nobody deserved a bright, happy, safe and rewarding future more than Louise.
Because of her craft with words, her sense of fun, her moral compass, and her sheer good nature. Everybody knew Louise, everybody loved Louise. Louise was always in a rush to see things and get things done. She was born two weeks early at 4pm on August 1, 1993.
The night she swallowed mucus, choked, and turned blue, was put into an incubator, and recovered. That event, we were later told, was responsible for Louise’s autism. Nothing came easy to Louise. Slow to walk and slow to talk as a baby, it became apparent that she would not be able to go to mainstream national school.
Instead she spent three years in Scoil Triest in Glanmire. There, with the dedication of the fantastic staff and the home tuition by Geraldine, Louise bloomed and in 2001 was able to return to mainstream education in Kilworth National School, on to secondary school in Loreto, Fermoy, and then to UCC to study English and sociology and then the big adventure to study at Sussex University in Brighton.
She had everything planned out ahead. A year in England, then in July last travelling to North Carolina with her American boyfriend to meet his parent and then back to UCC for her final year.
Her whole life lay ahead. Sadly, all her plans died with her on December 22. Geraldine and myself went to Brighton in November 2015 to visit Louise. We were afraid that she hadn’t settled in; we need not have worried, she was running the place.
Writing for The Badger newspaper and working as a presenter and editor for the Sussex University TV station. For the first time I realised that her dreams of being a journalist would become a reality.
As we waited in Gatwick Airport for our return flight to Cork I said to Geraldine that when Louise would be working as a journalist she would not be found reporting on the local GAA and soccer matches but instead be found in war zones and disaster areas.
I could see her with the students in Tiananmen Square. I could imagine her in the townships in South Africa during the apartheid days. I could hear her telling the story of the Kurds on the Iraq/Turkey border and being with the civil rights marchers on the bogside on Bloody Sunday.
That’s where Louise would be. Telling the story of the oppressed and the downtrodden, the persecuted and the hungry, the sick and the homeless. “The pen is mightier than the sword, Dad.” She told me remember that. I remember Lou, I remember.
People tell me that there is a road ahead, I don’t see it. They tell me there are better days, I can’t see them. They tell me that the sun will shine again. I don’t believe them.
I’m going to a wonderful woman for counselling. She urges me to take one day at a time, one moment at a time, one step at a time. And even that is hard to do.
For the past 11 years I’ve been in a very successful dairy farm partnership with my neighbour. That partnership is coming to an end on December 31. I have been farming on autopilot for the past 11 months and I have decided that without the everyday practical and business support of Geraldine, I could not continue in the partnership, therefore I will sell my cows in January and instead farm less intensively, with beef animals only.
WHAT happened on December 22, 2015, changed everything. That day was the worst day in the history of the world from my point of view and yet it started off an ordinary quiet day.
After all the rain it was a quiet sunny morning. Nothing exciting happened on the farm, winding down for Christmas. At breakfast Geraldine told me she would be driving Louise to Fermoy to catch the bus to Cork.
Louise needed to return a book to UCC. I drove the tractor to the out farm and fed the cattle. I spoke to Geraldine briefly at 10 to 11. The call lasted 49 seconds. Little did I know it would be the last time we spoke.
Less than a half an hour later, when the firemen pulled them from the car, I did not recognise them. They were blue and purple from the cold water. It was only when I read the number plate of the car that I knew it was Geraldine and Louise.
The firemen fought for them as they lay on the road, they tried everything. I knew Louise was dead but I had great hope for Geraldine. When Dr Vander Velde told me they were both dead I was stunned. I was plunged into a living nightmare.
The shock was indescribable. I had to tell Fiona, I had to phone Declan and Geraldine’s brother Owen. There were guards everywhere. I had to phone Louise’s boyfriend. I had to identify the bodies to a guard. Fr Leahy came from Kilworth and administered the last rites. It was surreal but unfortunately it was all too real.
Fiona and I were driven back home. People came in droves, it was overwhelming. Friends, relatives, neighbours. Declan and Ciara came from Cork. I wanted to go back to the crash scene but the guards wouldn’t let me. My wife and daughter lay in bodybags on the cold hard road. God almighty.
We had to plan the funeral with Fr Leahy and the undertaker. Little did I know when I woke up that morning I would be planning half my family’s funeral by nightfall. The house was full of people, time meant nothing. Somebody told me I should go to bed. I replied that I would wait until tonight only to be told it was 2am already.
The next morning, we went to the funeral home to choose the coffins. Dark wood with the Last Supper engraving. I told undertaker James Ronayne that I would take two. He replied nobody else had to ask him for two before.
That evening the rosary was said in the funeral home. When we went in and saw the coffins side by side my heart broke. I pushed the coffins apart and knelt between them and put my left hand on Geraldine’s clasped hand, my right hand on Louise’s, and cried for my wife and daughter.
On Christmas Eve the wake started at 7pm and lasted for five hours. People came from far and near and from different times of my life. Geraldine’s friends and work colleagues, Louise’s friends from school and university. They cried and cried. “How can Lou be dead? Lou who loved life, she can’t be dead.” It was awful. It was the most traumatic night of my life.
On Christmas Day the undertaker asked me a question I hope that he never has to ask anyone again. “Which coffin will we lower first?”
While most people were enjoying Christmas with their families, I was trying to make a decision.
I phoned him and told him we would lower Geraldine first and place Louise back in her arms.
On St Stephen’s Day the rain poured down. We said our goodbyes before the lids were placed on the coffins. I was married to Geraldine for 29 years and three-and-a-half months — or 10,705 days to be exact — and I would have traded a lot of those days for just one minute to say goodbye. Instead I kissed her lips stone cold. I thanked her for the life she shared with me and I asked her to mind Louise, as if she needed asking. There was never a mother as devoted to a child as Geraldine was to Louise.
All I could think of as they were carried out to the hearses was how is this happening?
In Kilworth the church was packed. The Mass began. Hymns, prayers, I was in a daze. All I could see were the two coffins with Louise and Geraldine’s photos on top. The procession of gifts, communion, Declan’s eulogy, and then the singers sang Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. Louise was a huge fan. The tears flowed down my face. I could see Louise singing and playing her guitar.
The words might well be the story of road collisions in Ireland. How many deaths will it take to know that too many people have died? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind.
As we moved off, two hearses, guards at every crossroad, past the crash scene. As they paused outside our home by the road the memories of other homecomings came rushing back: Our return from honeymoon, the days our newborn children came home for the first time.
Returning from victorious GAA matches and blowing the horn as we turned in the gate. How I wished for those days. Instead it was on to St Michael’s cemetery in my native Ballyduff. Fermoy and Kilworth had cried with us and cried for us, now it was Ballyduff’s turn. They were waiting for us and they wrapped their arms around us. Seeing the coffins lowered into the grave was the worst. It was over. They were gone. They were both gone forever.
Whatever sentence the defendant is given here today will pale into insignificance compared to the life sentence we are living. A sentence which says I will never see my wife and daughter again. It haunts me that Geraldine and Louise were killed in such a senseless manner. Trapped upside down in their car, screaming for help, screaming for their lives as they drowned in the water.
I pass the crash scene every day. I stop, every day. I stand there for hours on end and wonder how was it possible for this to happen. It cost me my beloved wife and daughter, it cost Declan and Fiona their mother and sister. I wonder has the defendant any idea of the extent of the devastation she has inflicted on our family.
Our lives are destroyed, our family torn apart, our hearts are broken, and at this time in my broken heart I can not find the strength to forgive.
‘I can’t escape horror of losing them both’
I CANNOT escape the horror of 22nd December 2015. The sight of my mother and younger sister lying lifeless on the road. Their lives ended less than a mile from our front door. Less than an hour beforehand I had chatted with them at the breakfast table, I had only arrived home the night before for the Christmas holidays.
As they closed the door behind them that morning, little did they, or I, know that the door to their lives was about to be closed also. A few minutes later both of them were dead. That morning, a dangerous driver took the lives of my mother and sister. My life was destroyed that day. I am trying to come to terms with this. However, it still angers me.
We have experienced hell on earth and I will always be traumatised. Louise will never get to graduate university or reach the end goal of years of hard work, struggles and dedication.
She will never get to work as a professional journalist — her lifelong ambition — or travel the world like she dreamt of. She will never get engaged or married or be a mother. She will never get to celebrate another birthday, Christmas or family occasion or get to spend time with her many dear friends.
She will never smile, laugh or breathe again. Instead she will spend the rest of eternity in her grave, aged just 22.
The dark thoughts that surrounded me in the days, weeks and months since this happened engulfed me. I was, and still continue to be, overwhelmed by the finality of their deaths and I struggle to see how I will cope.
I sobbed when I woke up in the morning and in the shower, cried walking to work, often cried silently at my desk or in the bathroom during work and cried myself to sleep at night.
Now I am numb, numb to everything. When the numbness fades I am overwhelmed by waves of grief; literally taking my breath. Often I am too tired to cry. I needed medical intervention to get me through this time.
I have had many dark days since December 22nd and have found it difficult to see brightness in the future. However, the constant support of my family, friends and employers, have enabled me to get through the last few months of this living nightmare.
Counselling has been and continues to be a crucial part of my life now. My counsellor has helped me so much during this time and has guided me on ways to cope with all that is going on in my life. It has provided me with an outlet to articulate thoughts and emotions that I struggle to comprehend and express.
My mother, Geraldine, meant so many things to me. She was my confidante; counselling me through my anxieties and worries, my cheerleader for my successes and achievements.
She was the person that encouraged me and reassured me. She was everything you could ask for in a mother. But she was also my friend. I would speak to her almost every day; and more likely a few times a day. When I would leave the office after work I would call my mom, we could chat about everything and anything, the serious and the light-hearted.
The phone-call would typically last the length of my walk home when I’d inform her that I was coming up to my front door. She would so often reply “Well I walked you home again Fi.”
Oh how I wish she could walk me home again one more time. She was my rock. I miss her and I fear that I will forget her voice and the things she used to day. I still cannot believe that she is gone. All family occasions will now feel raw, wrong, and incomplete. It hurts me that if I ever go on to be a mother in the future, I will not have my mother there to guide me through it. I feel lost without her.
I still find myself picking up the phone to tell her something only to pause and shake my head in disbelief that I can’t. The loss of my mother has left an irreplaceable gulf in our family. I am now the only girl left in my family, from three to just one. Our trio is no more.
I arrived home on the evening of December 21st for the Christmas holidays. I had been looking forward to coming home for quite a while and was especially looking forward to seeing my sister Louise who had been on the first half of her Erasmus year.
That night I went to bed happy and content, that I was back in the comfort of my family home. Mom and Lou left the house the following morning, just another normal day. Louise cheerfully told me to “have a good day Fi” and mom told me that we could go shopping in the afternoon. That was the last time I saw them alive.
Less than 30 minutes later I got the phone call that I will never be able to forget. It was my Dad. His words were “Fi, there’s been a car crash at the Blind Bridge, there’s a car in the water, it’s Mom and Louise, I think they are drowned, come quick!”
One of my neighbours arrived about one minute later and brought me the short distance to where it happened. I could see so many cars and emergency service people up ahead, it was like entering a film set. I couldn’t believe moments earlier I sat in ignorant bliss on my bed, not knowing what devastation and carnage was unfolding up the road. I jumped out of the car and ran to see my dad rushing towards me. “Louise is dead but we’re not sure about Geraldine (mom),” he told me.
The words were like knives in my stomach. I doubled over, screaming. Neighbours gathered around me. One of my neighbours prayed with me on the bonnet of her car, as dad went back up to the emergency services to find out the latest. It was what we were dreading, both mom and Louise were pronounced dead.
When I hear the words ‘mother’ or ‘sister’ being said, I flinch in pain. Everything is a reminder. Mother’s day, birthdays, anniversaries. In the weeks following the collision I have felt angry seeing people getting on with their lives. Be they people I know, acquaintances or even strangers on the street.
Everyone else’s world was still turning, while mine had come crashing down. I have felt so frustrated with the sense of normality other people experience in their life. I have had to grapple with the fact that the two most important and influential women in my life have been ripped away from me when I as aged 24 years. On top of the trauma and grief I experience, I had to make the decision of whether to continue with my chartered accountancy studies as scheduled or to postpone them.
I have found it so difficult to concentrate and focus my mind on my exams, however deep down I knew that if I postponed them, I would never go back and sit them.
Seeing people enjoying their lives and having fun was and often still is hurtful — comprehending how others can derive enjoyment while my family is going through a living hell that is never going away, has been extremely difficult for me.
In the first number of weeks and months since my mother and sister were killed, I became a shell of myself. I withdrew from friends, continued to excuse myself from social interactions, I even avoided simple things such as conversation and making eye contact with people. I could not believe that this was now my life. It was so difficult to accept.
Many friends from different times in my life have reached out to me and I am so grateful for that. I got comfort knowing that my family’s situation hadn’t become ‘old news’, in the days, weeks and months that passed since last December, but rather an ever present reality.
The weekends when I get home are now so strange. I am still shocked when Mom isn’t waiting for me at the train station with Dad. My heart is heavy when I pop into Louise’s room to find it empty. Our home will never feel the same. Instead I go to their grave on these weekends. It is still beyond surreal to see their names and a date of death on a headstone. I cannot believe it.
How do you describe a sister so indescribable? Louise was a wonderful person, a free spirit, a great sister, my only sister. She was the life and soul of our family. She was funny, intelligent and fearless.
Louise certainly made a lasting impression on anyone she encountered: big bright eyes, a mop of curly blonde hair and the personality that would fill a room.
When I think of all the things that I will never again do or share with Louise I am heartbroken. We used to play the guitar together and I feel so sad when I see her guitar now. Never again will the house be filled with her strumming and singing. Never again will she tune my guitar for me as I was clueless as to how to do it or help me to learn a new chord. Never again will we play our favourite songs together. Never again will I hear her sing her own melodies.
Louise was the best little sister you could want. I really do miss her. I haven’t really been able to say that at all, as admitting it would mean that she really is gone and I won’t see her again. I miss the chirpy manner she would always greet me “Hi Fi”, she would almost sing it.
Louise and I went to the same primary school, secondary school and attended the same university, UCC. I feel like I was always there, just in case she needed me and she was certainly there to help me too.
A prime example of this was when I was on crutches with a broken foot in my final year of college. Louise would deliver food groceries to my student house every Monday evening, walking in the wind and rain with a big backpack weighing her down. We used to joke that she was like a donkey dragging the food to me on her back!
I feel so bad that I wasn’t there at her final moments; trapped upside down, submerged in water, when both she and mom needed help.
Any milestones in my life, things I achieve or places I visit will not feel as joyful as they should. I feel guilty that I can do things that Louise can now never experience. The girl who had a great love for life will never experience all the things that life had to offer her.
We will never go to see our favourite tennis stars in Wimbledon together like I had promised when we were teenagers, once we were fully finished with exams.
It pains me to visit her grave and accept that the chatty and charming Louise was silenced, so young. I am internally tortured at all the things that I never asked her, never told her and now never can. Not only did I love my sister dearly, I admired her so much.
As we grew up together that line between sister and friend was blurring every closer. But now she is gone and I have been deprived of my sister and of the lifelong friendship I would have had with Lou.
The week of the funeral was excruciating; on Christmas Day we opened the presents they had gotten each other in the funeral home and decided what gifts to have buried with them. I felt utter heartbreak when my father realised that he will not be buried with his wife and child as the plot is now full.
I had to pick out the clothes that Mom and Louise would be buried in. I thought back to the night before they died, when they had both shown me what they were planning to wear on New Year’s Eve to an extended family gathering and chose these clothes.
After the funeral mass we walked outside where I stood back, feeling helpless, watching my mother and sister being placed into two hearses. I kissed both coffins for the last time, as the church bell tolled. This moment will haunt me forever. I almost fell to the ground as they lowered my mother and sister into the cold grave. As they lowered my little sister into the ground to be reunited with our mother, I let out an agonising shriek. Poor mom and Lou, they did not deserve such a horrific death.
The day after the funeral we read about ourselves in the newspapers. It was like reading about someone else’s family, it still wasn’t real. I looked at the photographs on the front pages, of the coffins being carried from the church. I commented that a girl at the edge of one of these photographs ‘looked so upset’ and asked my aunts who she was, only to be told that it was me. It startled me that I couldn’t even recognise myself.
I flew over to England in September 2015 to join my parents in helping Louise move in and settle into her new student apartment in Brighton. I have such fond memories of the weekend we spent in Brighton and seeing the sights in London. I could not face tarnishing these memories by going back to Brighton to move her belongings home in January. The thought was too traumatic for me to handle. Instead Dad and Declan went to complete this horrific task.
I await Christmas with fear and dread. Now Christmas feels like further salt rubbed in the wound; unimaginable torture. I will forever be reminded of and scarred by the agony of spending Christmas Day in the funeral home.
The warmth and contentment I used to associate with Christmas has been forever replaced with a cold, harsh, silence.
‘Every happy moment will be darkened because I can’t share it with them’
AT 11pm on December 21, 2015, I went to bed with a smile on my face. I was just after enjoying a nice meal celebrating my anniversary with my now fiancé Ciara and I was excited to finish up work and spend Christmas at home with my family.
The next night as I cried myself to sleep I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up.
Now when I go home I’m struck by a deafening silence. No longer am I greeted excitedly by Louise telling me about her latest adventures in college or by a loving hug from my Mam. Instead, as I sit at the kitchen table I stare across at two empty chairs at where they should be.
A tragedy like this changes you as a person and sometimes when I look in the mirror I don’t recognise the person looking back. The grief is all consuming, it’s like a tidal wave crashing over me as I’m paralysed to the spot. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve hid my tears from colleagues, retreating to bathroom cubicles silently screaming until the moment passes. I wipe away my tears, put my mask back on and return to my desk as if nothing ever happened.
My concentration is all over the place and I can’t think through the dark clouds of negative thoughts. I’ve lost my spark. I hope one day I find it again.
The thought of my mother and sister screaming for their lives knowing they were going to drown tortures me every night. The nightmares leave me physically exhausted. I hear their screams. I see them die again and again, I wake suddenly drenched in sweat and day after day I get up and go to work.
As bad as those nightmares are the happy dreams when I can see them, hug them, talk to them are worse. It seems so real and then I wake and the crushing reality hits me ten times harder.
Weekly counselling and running are my two refuges from helplessness and despair but as much as I try I can’t run away from reality.
My friends reach out to me, they try and get me out of the house but I cry off time and again. I can’t enjoy myself and on the rare occasions I do go out the loss can hit me in an instant. Surrounded by friends I can feel completely alone trapped in my own head just longing for them to be alive.
I don’t know where I’d be without my fiancé Ciara, she has been my rock throughout this. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to see the hurt in my eyes and pick me up time and time again.
Heartbreak: The word doesn’t even do justice to the pain of burying my baby sister. I was very much the protective older brother for Louise, because of her autism I was always looking out for her that bit. I needn’t have worried, she was able to mind herself.
Louise was genuinely the most caring person I’ve ever known. She was a selfless advocate for human rights for a variety of causes and she was always looking out for friends and family. I wish I could even be half as good a person as she was.
Growing up we bonded over our shared interests of reading, movies and music. I introduced Louise to some of her favourite artists and bands and I took great joy in educating her about rock music and giving her my favourite cd’s to listen to.
Lou was incredibly smart with an unbelievable thirst for general knowledge. I can remember the countless times she made the family laugh at the kitchen table regaling us with facts and anecdotes about the obscurest of subjects.
Of all her achievements of which there were many I don’t think anything made me happier than seeing how delighted she was when she and her friends won a table quiz at her secondary school beating all the tables of adults.
Louise’s talent for writing was honed from the hundreds of books she read and her desire to prove herself a writer. I always loved reading her latest articles for UCC’s paper and magazine.
Whether the piece was a hard hitting political article or a light humoured take on college life her skill for her craft shone through. The poems she wrote, particularly my favourites 15 Years a Journey and Sapphire, could stand proudly alongside any work of Irish literary greats like Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney and not look out of place. It kills me that she never got the chance to fulfil her potential as a journalist because I’ve no doubt she would have excelled.
Some of my fondest memories of Louise are the last few Christmases we spent as a family. Sitting down in front of the tv with Louise and Fiona watching the movies we got for each other or our family tradition of a walk down the road alongside the Blackwater river after Christmas dinner laughing and swearing we would never eat as much again. Christmas will never be the same, now every Christmas will just compound the heartbreak.
At the tender age of 22 my sister’s life was cruelly cut short by the actions of the defendant. Her plans for a family, her career aspirations, her dreams all gone, gone forever.
I’ve always been a mammy’s boy. My mother was my friend, my biggest supporter and the first person I would turn to. She was the kindest, most caring person you could ever meet. We, her children were her pride and joy and anyone that met her in Fermoy would definitely tell you that.
Mam put everyone especially her children before herself and gave us every opportunity in life. When myself and Ciara got engaged it broke my heart that the only way I could tell my mother and sister was to go to their grave.
They were robbed of that happy moment and going forward in life Mam and Lou won’t be there to see me get married or won’t be there to see my children be born.
Myself and Ciara always joked that we were going to build a granny flat for Mam to be onsite ready to help us raise our kids. Now we don’t get that and our children have lost the chance to have the most amazing grandmother and doting aunt Louise. This just breaks my heart.
Every happy moment in my life will be darkened with sadness because I can’t share it with them.
Mam and Lou didn’t just die that day, part of me died that day too.
It’s a tragedy that my mother along with my sister were the innocent victims of dangerous driving by an unaccompanied provisional driver. Nothing can ever bring them back but I hope that this victim impact statement has articulated my deep distress and anger.