Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Berkeley Update 17th June

Irish Student Tragedy at Berkeley California

The heart aches with the news from California of the tragic deaths of six Irish students on Tuesday morning. The whole country feels their loss. Like all parents who have had young family members travelling abroad the nightmare scenario has emerged for their families, friends and communities of those whose lives were tragically cut short and of those injured whose lives will never be the same again. Writing about anything else this week is inconsequential and irrelevant.

In the late sixties I spent three summers on a J1 Visa in the United States in the cities of New York and Philadelphia. They were memorable summers. Thousands of students have followed in the succeeding decades. Eight thousand young people have gone abroad this summer. One hundred and fifty thousand students have availed of it in its fifty years of existence.  It is part of what is referred to as a ‘Right of Passage in Life’. Their presence can only act as a great bond, understanding and empathy for the host country.

There have been tragedies with the deaths of young students over the years. I remember the death of Shane McGettigan, son of Charlie, who died in a construction site accident in Boston in August 1998 with his colleague Ronan Stewart. It has happened in more tragic circumstances in this country to a visiting student with the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo in October 2007 in what we would imagine as the benign city of Galway.

Ironically as I try to type out these very inadequate words on Wednesday, at 1.50 in the afternoon, the father of Shane McGettigan, Charlie, is on Liveline talking to Damien O’Reilly and telling of Shane death. He references the support and consolation of the community in Leitrim and especially of the Irish community in Boston. Charlie relates how the Irish community on the ground and particularly the usual stand out people within that community stood with them and I am sure that the Irish community in California will rally around and give equally immense support. The coming days and weeks will be particularly traumatic while the hurt and grief will be lifelong. 

Charlie tells of the knock on the door at the unusual time and the immediate consciousness that something terrible had happened. Is this a dream he had wondered and hoped? 

Shane was a student at DIT and his family and his dad wished him well after a football game in Tuam as he took a lift to Dublin to begin his travels. They were happy for him and knew that is was part of life’s adventure, experience and enrichment.

“Time doesn’t heal but it helps you to cope. It is not what people say it is that they are there with you” Charlie relates. He tells of the impact of the President of the time, Mary McAleese, calling to their door and staying hours talking and supporting them. The constant question remains though, along the lines of; what would he be doing now?  

Maybe this tragedy will inspire those young people on their travels to take as much care as is possible for their own safety in the first instance and in knowledge that they are the most important people in the lives of many others and their parents most significantly of all.

These fine young people in Berkeley, as evidenced by the achievements in their brief lives, have left families and friends with a host of memories. Those cherished memories will not diminish with age now but will shine brightly through the years to come. Hopefully these memories will act as some ongoing consolation to their families for the tragic and unimaginable loss of their children.

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