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’
Published on RSA page. The reality of driving unaccompanied