Berkeley dead are children of Ireland who will remain forever young
Published 23/06/2015 | 00:00
Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan's emotional description of the young Berkeley dead as the 'Children of Ireland' rang loud and true.
Speaking at the scene of the horrific accident on Friday and standing with grief-stricken families of the victims, Minister Deenihan said they had 'become the children of Ireland'.
His words carried an electrifying charge across the 5,000 miles of land and water separating the places of birth and death of the bright young students.
A few have wondered this past week if the blanket coverage of the tragedy in the Irish media has been disproportionate. But it's a story that has understandably gripped the vast majority of Irish people everywhere. That's because Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Ashley Donohoe and Eimear Walsh clearly represented the best of us.
Bright young people adjusting to adulthood in a period of great freedom, their faces captured the positive essence of youth - fun, promise and friendship. They could have been any of our sons, daughters, brothers or sisters.
In the world that should have been, they would have spent a dream summer in the States celebrating their youth, making new friends and learning life-skills that would have helped them in realising their vast promise on their return home.
There are few parts of the country unaffected by their deaths with family links as far south as Kerry. In Niccolai Schuster and injured victim Aoife Beary's ancestral town of Listowel on Thursday, the US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley paid tribute to the J1 Visa programme.
He said the programme had given the US the opportunity to meet the 'best and brightest' of Ireland's youth and as further details of the dead emerged, his words were perfectly apt for each of the six tragic victims of this freak incident.
Ambassador O'Malley spoke at the event alongside journalist Billy Keane who is a close relative of Niccolai Schuster. Such a connection - like many others across the country - brought the impact of the tragedy even further home. The words of these public figures, like those of Minister Deenihan and other leaders, were exactly what was needed.
Their words let the grieving families know beyond doubt that an entire nation stands with them in their grief. It might only come as small consolation under the horrific losses suffered, but it plays an important role at the hour of immediate grief.
In voicing what all of us feel, such words play a powerful role in helping the national community process events too. The vast majority of us did not know any of the tragic victims, but their lives as presented now posthumously, touch most of us deeply.
In describing them as the Children of Ireland, Minister Deenihan touches a powerful mythological chord resonating with one of the most beautiful of all the stories in our rich folklore, the Children of Lir. As the remains of five of the victims return home this week, we are urged to think of them with their wings unfurled on high, forever young.