independent

Saturday 14 December 2019

Wexford man and family homeless after fire in Australia

The Walsh family pictured on Saltee Islands during a holiday home to Wexford last year
The Walsh family pictured on Saltee Islands during a holiday home to Wexford last year
Fire turns the sky orange in this picture taken shortly before the house was engulfed in flames
All that remains of the Walsh family home in New South Wales
The house and farm before the devastating blaze

Maria Pepper

A Wexford man and his family living in Australia have been left homeless after a bush fire completely destroyed their house and farm, leaving them with nowhere to live.

Kieran Walsh, originally from Waddingtown, Cleariestown, his Australian wife Jennifer and their four children have been left devastated by the fire which raged through their home at Yarranbella Farm, near Macksville in New South Wales last weekend.

Kieran and his daughter Johanna (18) who has just finished the Australian equivalent of the Leaving Cert, were at home last Friday when Fire Service personnel arrived and told them they had a few minutes to get out of the house.

The family were aware there were bush fires in the area but didn't think they were that close and believed fire fighters would get them under control before their property was reached.

Jenny, a teacher and their three sons Oliver (16), Finnian (14) and Alfie (12) were in school at the time, and Kieran and Johanna grabbed passports and legal documents before fleeing the house.

A photograph taken as they left shows the sky lit up with flames over the roof of the farmhouse which was situated down a long lane on 110 acres of fields and woodland.

Kieran, a son of Richard and Brigid Walsh, who grew up on a farm in Cleariestown, and Jenny, a second generation Irish Australian, bought the farm in 2013 and left Sydney with their family for a slower pace of life in Macksville where the boys are in high school. The area is an hour from Coffs Harbour where Jenny teaches.

'The Fire Brigade came down the lane and said you have to leave, there is nothing we can do. There were a lot of different fires that had joined up and there are a lot of trees and woodland in the area. There is a forest close by', said Kieran's sister Finola.

'They couldn't control it because of where it was located. They just had to grab what they could and leave. They got on the phone to Jenny and she said to get the passports and legal documents'.

'By the time they were leaving the house a few minutes later, they couldn't see their hands the smoke was so thick. There was smoke everywhere', said Finola.

'It's very dry there at the moment because they haven't had rain in two years. It's summer time and it's very hot.'

Kieran, who works with a construction company, and Johanna fled to a friend's house 10 miles away and they could still see the flames and smoke from that distance.

Jenny and the boys joined them a short time later. The family are currently staying in the home owned by the grandparents of a friend of Johanna, who are away on holidays for a fortnight.

They weren't allowed back to Yarranbella Farm until Saturday and in order to reach the house, they had to get a tractor to clear debris from the lane.

When they got to the top of the lane, their beatiful house was gone, with nothing left but a pile of charred rubble. Farm buildings and livestock were also lost and even a large water tank was burned.

'There was just nothing left. It was just ash. In the photographs, you can see the frame of an iron bed and the stove. The children were very upset', said Finola.

Kieran and Jenny paid $500,000 Australian dollars for the property, deciding to move from their former home in Seven Hills, Sydney so that their children could experience life growing up on a farm.

Kieran, a former St. Anne's GAA player, left Wexford for Sydney in 1992 on a one year working holiday visa and met Jenny Ryan. They got married in 1999 and their four children were born in Sydney.

'The house was gorgeous. It is real rural Australia', said Finola, adding that their mother Brigid has visited the family there. Kieran was last home with his wife and children in August of 2018.

'We are all very upset for them. If they were in England, you could go straight to them', said Finola. 'As Kieran said, they have to get on with it now'.

'He said your initial reaction is thank God we're all fine but then you go down the lane and you see the house gone and you think, so much of our lives was in there'.

As the house was destroyed in a natural disaster, the couple were still unsure earlier this week whether they were fully covered by insurance. A number of neighbouring properties on the road were also completely burned while others were saved as the path of the fires changed quickly.

A fundraising campaign has been established by Jenny's sister-in-law Debbie Smith Ryan at https://www.facebook.com/donate/1062388567440138/?fundraiser_source=external_url to assist the family with immediate accommodation and other expenses as they were left with nothing but the clothes they stood up in and Jenny and Kieran's cars.

As they pick up the pieces following the loss of their home, it is the family's hope that they will be able to rebuild again on the site.

Finola spoke on the phone to her niece Johanna who is planning to study dance in Sydney from next year. 'I said to her, you are so brave. She replied, we are a very strong family and we will get through this'.

Wexford People

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