When you watch TV, during the adverts you will have seen the high impact campaigns that play a key part of the RSA’s (Road Safety Authority’s) strategy to educate all road users on the perils of dangerous driving.
Like me, I am sure that the images portrayed in these adverts evoke an immediate and emotional response. It is impossible not to be effected by the powerful stories shared, often by family members of loved ones who have died on Irish Roads. For most of us, we can move on from the advert 60 seconds later, hopefully with at the very least a message stored in our brains to be more careful when either a passenger, a driver or a pedestrian on the roads.
Sadly for many families in Ireland, the harsh reality of living with the aftermath of a road trauma stays with them for a lifetime. For them, they cannot simply switch the channel off and move on, for they must learn to live with the senseless loss of their loved ones day after day.
I am going to share with you an emotional interview in my Ordinary People with Extraordinary Lives Series. Eimear Comerford has bravely agreed to share both her own and her families story, of the unimaginable loss of her beloved brother Gary.
Here is Eimear’s story.
Eimear, first of all, thank you so much for talking to me about a subject that I know is extremely painful for you and your family. Can you tell me a bit about your family life as a child?
We’ve ALWAYS been close. My parents have and would do anything for any for their 4 kids. Our childhood consisted of weekends loading all our bikes into Dads van and heading for the local woods to cycle together and stop for some treats (Club orange and chocolate fingers!) and cycle to our next destination, “The Rock” for a little swim before packing up and returning for the Sunday roast, genius mum had it timed to perfection, just add the spuds. Only recently I heard the following words come from my Dads mouth, “A family who plays together, stays together.” We all live within an 8mile radius of each other.
As kids Owen, myself, Gary and Eric all had sibling squabbles, yet the photos we have are all hugging, playing, at some scenic spot in Kerry or celebrating birthdays, Christmases or weddings. With just over two and a half years between us all, we were pretty close to say the least.
Club orange and chocolate fingers were a big treat in our house too Eimear, in fact, if I’m honest, they still are today! You sound like such a close family.
It was a very loving household, I remember winter evenings, snuggled under my Daddy’s arm in front of the fire watching TV. Friday night was treat night and Saturday morning was the traditional weekly bath…all very normal. We did everything as a family, we had weekends away together for communions and confirmations, celebrated every occasion together, taught each other how to ride bikes, swim and make peg guns! We played ball before school and after homework, we lived in the middle of nowhere so we had no choice but to get on most of the time!! But I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China! My Dad worked so hard, we often didn’t see him before bedtime and mum took care of all of us and ran a seasonal B&B as we got older.
We visited grandparents every weekend and saw as much of our extended family as possible. My Nana lived with us after suffering a heart attack and stayed until her passing.
We moved house in my early teens into the local town where my mum opened a large guesthouse and Dad oversaw the whole project, renovating a three storey Georgian townhouse, while keeping up with his own work. The reason for moving was so we could be closer to our friends and activities and eliminate the danger of the main road so we wouldn’t have to cycle or walk it etc.
Like you guys Eimear, my brother and two sisters and I did everything together as children. Were you all very close as you got older too?
We hung around more with school friends as we got older but then spent more time talking to each other outside the house. Being an only girl, having an older brother and 2 younger ones to look out for me I felt pretty fortunate. (Eric being a judo champ, I felt particularly safe!)
As I got older, Gary and I became closer. He was often the hardest child to warm to, generally difficult to deal with and high demands to match, liked the finer things in life including regular requests for fillet steak. He would cause trouble in both heaven and hell! Was a fussy eater, would tease us and pick on us. But as a young child I was the only one who could understand him as a toddler until he went through speech therapy. Owen & I are pretty close now as we’ve both got kids and my son and nephew are only 9 weeks apart, so play dates are plentiful. But it was Gary that would look out for me. Even at the ripe age of 21 when I started dating my now husband, Gary did his research and “checked him out” for me. Knew about past relationships, where he was working and what he drove. Not the hardest of tasks in west Clare but he did it all the same, I guess he felt it his duty.
And that is one of the most important roles of a brother, check out the new boyfriend! My brother John always took this role very seriously too I can assure you! Tell me some more about Gary Eimear, he sounds like such an amazing young man.
So many stories we’ve heard in the last 9 years have simultaneously shocked us and confirmed the type of person Gary is.
I say “is”.
Gary turned into such a handsome young man, I know everyone loves their own family but he is a looker!! And has the charm to match. Gary worked with my Dad and was in the middle of his electrical apprenticeship, doing fantastically…as he did when he put his mind to it. Still acting the general “Dell boy”, buying and selling mobile phones, never one to pass an opportunity.
Gary started off selling call cards, remember those? back when he was only about 10 or 11 years old!! But his mind was set on following my Dads trade, making him proud and making new friends wherever he went and with whomever he encountered…mostly the ladies!
Oh of course I remember call cards. What an early entrepreneur Gary clearly was. Eimear, what can you tell us about that fateful day in 2004 that would change all your lives forever?
On Saturday 10th April 2004, I returned home to Kilrush from Limerick with my boyfriend, now husband, Aiden where we both worked to see our families and go out with friends as it was Easter weekend and my mum’s birthday. Headed off to Kilkee that night met Gary throughout the night and went our separate ways. I returned home to Kilrush with Aiden after the nightclub, forgetting the customary call to Gary to see how he was getting home and to straighten up as Mum or Dad might still be up. Dad and Eric were still up watching TV; we bid them “goodnight” and headed off to bed. A few hours later, mum was banging on my bedroom door, the words “Gary has been in an accident”, those shocking words…I’ll never forget them. I went to the guestroom where Aiden was fast asleep and I remember banging for what felt like 30minutes but was probably 30seconds. Mum, Dad and Owen headed to the hospital with Owens fiancée (now wife) as they were instructed by the Gardaí. They were told that’s where he’d be brought. I rang my 2 uncles who lived in Kilkee to come be with us. Shortly after, my Aunt, Uncle and 2 cousins arrived to stay with us and they seemed to be pretty shocked. With myself and Eric not knowing much more than Gary was involved in a crash I remember getting pretty angry and saying “I’ll kill Gary for the fright he has put us through”.
Little did I know that Gary was killed instantly.
He didn’t have a chance.
I simply cannot comprehend the pain and loss of receiving horrific news like that. And no matter what I say here, no matter what words I go to write, they just seem trite and not enough.
I can only imagine what it must have been like, because for me, just reading Gary’s story, never having had the privilege to meet such a great guy, has moved me to tears. So for you his sister & his friend, well the loss must be at times all consuming.
You say he didn’t have a chance. Can you share what happened to Gary?
He was a front seat passenger in a car that crossed into a field on the opposite side of the road and crashed straight into a block pier that held a gate in place. He was wearing his seatbelt but was killed instantly. We were led to believe he sustained injuries and was headed to the hospital. From that point on, I believe that nothing was carried out as it should have been. The driver of the car wasn’t breathalysed where a 4am crash saw a car leave the main road and where a 19 year old man lost his life.
He was killed. He was by himself with no family to hold him in those vital moments yet the driver’s family was there to comfort him. Gary was killed!
The following are the injuries that Gary sustained:
Death was due to shock, secondary to fractured cervical vertebrae and cardio thoracic injuries. Fractured vertebrae. C3, C4, a dislocated right shoulder and a fractured left clavicle. Several abrasions were present on the forehead and smaller ones on the right thigh. The pericardium was torn and there was a contusion on the wall of the left ventricle with blood invested around paratracheal soft tissue. He was declared deceased at 5.30 am on 11.04.04
Oh Eimear, to lose a family member so young is tragic enough, but for it to happen in the way it did, well it must be extremely difficult to come to terms with. Coupled with the natural grief of losing a loved one, you all had to deal with so many other factors that intruded into your mourning, not least of which the justice system. It is obvious from what you have shared already, that Gary’s death has deeply affected you and your family, can you talk a little more about this?
So many things haunt me to this day, things I have to block out in order to find sleep at night and enjoy my family.
Bear with me as I try express some of these:
Being physically sick in the hospital in that morning. I can remember that I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous evening yet being violently sick, remembering the pattern of the tiles in that cold cubicle.
Being ignorant as to how a post mortem is carried out. When Gary was laid out at our home, I noticed a few specks of blood on the little pillow in the coffin at the base of his neck. He was also wearing his beloved Man Utd jersey; it came in a V shape at the neck. I had to adjust it to hide the plastic placed over his chest, both due to incisions that were made during the post mortem. These are things nobody warns you about.
I used always call Gary before getting a taxi home to see how he would return or text him when I got home to give him the heads up that Dad was waiting to make sure we all arrived home safely. That night I never did either, it gives me shivers when I think if only I’d have sent him a message. He got in a car that night with someone he wasn’t even friends with!
I’ll never forget the pain in my mother’s heart the day Gary was buried. Sitting in the church that morning and her uncontrollable sobbing for her baby boy, “Oh Gary, Gary, why Gary” The church was silent apart from people hiding their sobs, probably feeling like they weren’t allowed to be heard.
How my mum must have felt 19 years previously when she gave birth to her baby boy, she never dreamed of the heartache she would suffer.
When I was younger, my mind often wondered as it would. I found on many occasions thinking about something happening to Gary. But in these thoughts, I was the one that broke the news to my parents, the details of what happened to him was never clear. I’m not claiming to be psychic but for whatever reason Gary was sent to this earth I’m sure he achieved it…and more.
I am sure he achieved it too Eimear. He obviously had a huge impact on so many lives, not just his immediate family.
Gary’s life and loss affected so many people. Old ladies told us how he helped them with their shopping when he worked part time in a supermarket, another young girl told us of him accompanying her back to a nightclub where she left her phone, he drove a troubled friends car home one night time without even a provisional license in hand. Helping a friend was no trouble for him; he was who you’d call for help!
Gary formed special types of relationships with people he gave his time to. Himself and Dad were colleagues, teacher & student but most importantly “friends”. A huge piece is missing from my father’s heart, yes he now has 5 beautiful grand-kids but the void Gary has left is there, visible in his eyes.
Gary knew how to charm the ladies, had great practice with our mum. He drank tea with her, entertained the soaps (I believe to have some time with his mammy!) and enjoyed nothing more than catching the back of her neck in a squeezy tickle. He told them both regularly how much he loved them, and vice versa.
What wonderful stories to have relayed back to you, they must have helped sustain you all in your grief and still do today I am sure. As a mother myself, I cannot imagine a life where my children are not in it, in fact my mind will not let me imagine it, such is its horror, so my heart and thoughts are with your parents. No parent should have to bury a child; it is simply the wrong order of things. You must all be changed forevermore.
Gary’s death has changed so many people. For me, I suppose I’m no longer carefree. I’m more hesitant, but I’m sure motherhood has contributed to that. I’ve become closer with family members yet lost many friendships. Close friends never came to Gary’s funeral and maybe deep down I never forgave that. I also don’t have time to entertain time wasters and petty disputes anymore; there are more important people in my life. That may sound cold but I cherish every moment with my loved ones and refuse to have regrets. For a long time I suffered from guilt in many forms. I felt guilty that I wasn’t there for Gary, and still do. I felt guilty for enjoying myself, for having a loving relationship, for going for dinner, for watching a movie, all the things that Gary should be enjoying. It hurts that I rarely remember anything new about Gary, I often lay awake trying my hardest to remember something new that he did or said, or something we shared together. Owen lost his little brother and Eric lost his role model & room-mate. Eric and I slept on mattresses in my parent’s bedroom floor for weeks after Gary was taken. Our family dynamic was messed up completely. We 6 were now 5 that spare seat at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table staring you in the face forever.
The grief all consuming for all of you.
Dealing with this huge loss, trauma and disaster combined with a huge injustice and poorly led investigation delayed grief for us.
My parents. God, they must be pretty strong to get through the loss of a child. They have held each other together; they have picked each other up when they could not go on. They have learned to deal with their own grief as well as each other’s. They have learned to enjoy good things in life and talk about Gary in a happy way. We have lost a son, brother, cousin, friend, keeper, joker, romancer, business man and blackguard.
I have asked all my interviewees this question Eimear. Is there anything you would say to Enda Kenny if you had the opportunity?
I don’t really know what I’d say to Enda Kenny, probably that the Irish justice system is a joke! Plain and simple. I don’t know if I can go into it further.
For every interview I have written in this series, I have felt changed afterwards. And that is what I believe will happen when others read Gary’s story. They will be changed in a positive way from your words. You know that saying, every day is a school day? Well, it’s one I truly believe. I for one will talk to my children as soon as they are old enough to understand me and teach them about the dangers of getting into a car with someone who has been drinking.
Eimear, is there anything else you would like to say on this?
I would say that it’s never worth getting in a car with someone who has been drinking.
That all parents should let their children know they can call on them for a lift home at any time of the night, take the safe option. My parents always told us this, to call them if we needed a lift, but for some reason, Gary chose not to. The guy he took a lift from wasn’t even a friend of his!! The driver lied to us on many occasion and we can’t even believe his version of events!
The taxi driver who came upon the scene and the fire brigade showed huge respect to Gary in the immediate aftermath, and we are so grateful for that.
So many family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues (past & present at the time) and Gary’s amazing group of friends (who still keep in touch) all played such a huge part in getting us through the first few months after we lost Gary. Thank God for honest kindness and true compassion we were shown.
Thank God indeed for that. Eimear, would you be kind enough to share with us some memories of Gary? I have formed an image of him in my head already, a gorgeous, funny, loving, cheeky entrepreneur!
A whippersnapper wearing a little denim hat, not quite baseball stature, air “guitaring” to The Boss’s Born in the USA.
Spending evenings cuddling new-born kittens.
Trying to start my Dads van with a few safety matches…obviously watching too much MacGyver.
Going up the outside of an escalator in Todd’s (Limerick Brown Thomas) and having to jump off before he reached the ceiling of the ground floor.
Gary went in a school tour at the age of 7 or 8. Got a hefty £10 spending money yet returned with gifts for everyone plus £20 odd in his pocket. I remember my parents getting pretty peeved as they believed he stole the gifts and money! It turns out Gary bought bags full of souvenirs and mementos from their trip and sold them for double to his peers on the bus who had forgotten to buy for their parents! He made a nice sum that day!
And finally, pulling a funny face behind one of our friends backs in a playful way on the night he was killed, the last image of my brother.
Here is a collage of photographs of Gary, that really show his personality off, that Eimear illustrated so beautifully with her memories of him.
Eimear, I am smiling at those stories, what wonderful memories to have. Thank you again for sharing Gary’s story. I appreciate how hard this must have been, but I truly believe that your words will help others.
So everyone, here’s something that I know for sure, you must have been as moved by Eimear’s words as I have. This is important, we all need to remember this feeling. Then we can help make sure that we do not let Gary’s death or indeed his family’s loss be in vein. We need to share his story with our friends and our family and ask them to THINK before taking a chance and getting into a car, either as a passenger or driver, when drink is involved. If a red flag is raised in our minds that something is wrong, trust it, don’t brush it off.
Take a taxi. Walk. Call someone. Don’t get in that car.
Let’s all help reduce the current RSA Statistics some more -thankfully the number of Irish road deaths fell to 162 in 2012, the lowest level on record, down 24 from 2011,but 162 is still too many.
We must do all in our power to ensure that our children, siblings, friends, families or indeed ourselves are not just another one of those statistics.
Before I go I want to share some lyrics that have been buzzing around in my head since I spoke to Eimear about Gary. I hope that Eimear and her family feel they are appropriate. For while Gary is gone, something beautiful remains – a family bound by a shared love of each other and that of a great man taken from them far too early. RIP Gary.
We’re living in world, stars and dust
Between heaven ‘n all that surrounds us
We’re travellers here, spirits passing through
And the love we give, is all that will endure
Just like a rose after the rain
Something beautiful remains
Tears will leave no stains
Time will ease the pain
For every life that fades
Something beautiful remains
‘Something Beautiful Remains’ by Tina Turner
Thank you for reading, stay safe,