|Clockwise from top left: Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohue, |
Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan
'They lived and laughed and loved and left - we will not forget them' said UCD President Andrew Deeks quoting lines from Joyce's Finegans Wake at the memorial service held in Belfield last Friday for the young Dublin students who died tragically at Berkeley California while there on J1 visas for the summer.
I was away last Tuesday when I heard the tragic news on social media that evening and I immediately placed a message of profound sympathy on Twitter to the families and friends of the six students on behalf of UCD EGA. I could see that President Deeks was there before me clearly empathising with the entirely unexpected tragedy affecting the global UCD community. 'We lost six wonderful young people, and the lives of a generation of students were completely changed' he said and then quoting fittingly from UCD alumnus James Joyce in Finegan's Wake as the students died tragically on Bloomsday June 16th 2015.
The national outpouring of grief was huge, immediate and heartfelt. Flags on Government Buildings were lowered to half mast. The Irish Government sent Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan to San Francisco who having attended the scene and met grieving family and friends called the six students 'the Children of Ireland' as they had brought the Irish global community together with this sad event. Aer Lingus is kindly flying them home with their parents and relatives as a courtesy to Dublin this weekend for burial this Tuesday and Wednesday.
This was not the start of an exciting new life experience in Summer 2015 in a welcoming country that the students and their parents expected. All due apparently to defective timbers on an apartment block balcony with gave way to some 10 students who fell four stories to their death and terrible injury. It positively galls me as a civil engineer that the building regulatory system in California allowed these defects to go unchecked on a relatively new structure.
I have empathy with how their young lives were shattered as I too was a J1 student from UCD who aged 19 went to NewYork to spent the summer working and enjoying US life in Manhattan and upstate New York. I remember flying over the Statue of Liberty and landing in JFK and being met by USIT officials who brought us to a hotel off Times Square for 'an orientation course'. Then onto a job in a condo on Central Park West next to the block where John Lennon was shot and where TV detective series Kojak was filmed. Then up to the Catskills Mountains where many Irish New Yorkers had vacation homes when the August daytime humidity exceeded 90 degrees in Manhattan.
It was a trip in a lifetime that I could never forget and therefore I was deeply touched by the events in Berkeley. Hoping that the injured students make a good recovery and again deepest sympathy to the bereaved family and friends.
I will end with the most poignant but beautiful message I read on social media this weekend. It was written as a tribute from the girlfriend of 21-year-old Eoghan Culligan who died in the tragedy. Sarah McCarthy grappling for words to express how she felt, simply exclaimed : 'See you on the other side, my boy'. It was perhaps for her a message that had its own consolation.