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Gone but never forgotten

Patsy Quinn scrubs the memorial stone in Sixmilebridge laid to remember her son, Barry, and all deceased local people. Photograph by Declan Monaghan

PATSY Quinn was on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor when her sister walked in. It was a Saturday. The garden was bathed in unusual March sunshine but Patsy, on this rare day when she didn’t have any plans, had committed to cleaning the house.
Her husband Tom and their 14-year-old son Eoin were in the sitting room watching the television. Ireland were playing Wales in the Six Nations. They were recording the game for Barry. He had asked them to before he and his cousin left for a day fishing on Lough Corrib.
“The front door was wide open. My sister arrived in. She often called; she just lived three doors up. I said, ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day? Isn’t it fabulous out there?’ She was quite serious looking. She said ah…” Patsy’s voice still trembles when she remembers that day six years ago.
“She kind of just stood there looking and she broke the news to me then. I said ‘oh no he could swim, it can’t be true’. Then I heard the voices inside. I could hear men’s voices inside in the room and I said ‘oh no it has to be true.’ They were inside, my sister’s husband and my nephew. They had told Eoin and Tom. The three of them had come together to tell us,” Patsy recalls.
It was March 22, 2003. Ireland won the match by one point but the Quinns had stopped watching.
Twenty eight-year-old Barry and his cousin had rented a boat for the day. They moored at Cannivar Island for lunch but the boat began to drift into the lake. Barry swam out to bring it back but he got into difficulty in the deceptively cold water.
His body would not be recovered for three more hours. It was the start of what Patsy described as “total devastation for our family”.
She had lost her eldest son.
“It is just… the death of a child is unnatural. It goes against the natural order of things. It is one of the most devastating ordeals a family can suffer. It is a huge, huge void in your life and you know that will never be filled. That void will always be there with you and your family,” Patsy says. 
She recalls the days after hearing the news.
“My husband was very good. He was very strong as well. I found him very strong. As a mother you are trying to be there for your other children. You know they are grieving. They have lost their brother and you are so divided in your emotions. Tom was brilliant. He was very, very strong,” she says.
Tom travelled to Galway to identify the body. It was true. It was Barry.
Patsy waited at home where family, neighbours and friends had already begun to call. She remembers their kindness in those first hours, and since.
The following day Patsy went with Tom and the family to the University College Hospital Galway. 
“They did a post mortem on him up there. We brought his clothes up and we followed the hearse all the way back to Sixmilebridge. We laid him out here in the house,” Patsy remembers, pointing towards the dining room. “When we came back from Galway, there were so many people… so many people here, outside.”
“People came and everything was a blur after that to me. Even the funeral I found it hard to go back and think what happened. I will always remember the crowd and the huge amount of people who attended his funeral. He had lots of friends. People he went to college with came from Dublin and I remember they came and made themselves known to us and it was testimony to him, the amount of people who showed up at his funeral,” she says.
Patsy is still intensely proud of her son, and still shattered by his absence. She tries to explain, “he was my rock. He was always there. He really was my rock. He was my first born and it is hard to put into words the great loss he is to me and to us as a family.”
After the funeral there was a whirlwind of emotions and visitors and things she never imagined she would have to think about. Then, there was just grief.
“I remember I just sat in my kitchen, I didn’t want to go anywhere. It was a month I’d say before I went outside my door. I have a very good family, both my husband’s family and my own. All the time they called to see how I was. They wanted me to go and get my hair done and go here and go there so I said ‘I can’t go on like this. I have two more children to think about.’ You can’t just wallow in your own pity either. My sister called one day, my twin sister Carmel, and she said ‘Patsy he is not coming back. You have to pull yourself together now.’ So I did.”
Barry’s friends came together and raised money to erect a memorial to him near the spot he entered the water off Cannivar Island. The generosity of the people from Sixmilebridge and its surrounding parishes meant there were funds left over to put up a memorial stone and seat in Sixmilebridge in memory of all deceased local people. After that donations were made to Bunrattty Search and Rescue, Galway Search and Rescue, the local community centre building fund and towards a hatchery for the fishermen in Oughterard. “I always think some good things come out of something like that,” Patsy reflects.
After the stone was erected on Cannivar Island, the Quinn family travelled up to Lough Corrib where the monument was blessed. Here again Patsy was moved by the large turnout.
“Lots of his friends arrived up with flowers and there was a flotilla of boats and loads of people up there. The local fishermen ferried people back and forth to the island for the blessing with their boats.”
“We all found it was very healing to be there on the spot… actually it helped us a lot. It was… it helped a lot of his friends to get closure and come to terms with it really,” she believes.
Earlier this year Patsy’s colleagues in the local Tidy Towns organisation contacted her. Kairos Communications had approached them seeking permission to film the group at work for RTE’s new Angelus. Today Patsy can be seen back on her knees, this time scrubbing the stone by the river.
The words on the Sixmilebridge memorial stone are particularly poignant. They come from a greeting card Patsy found in a shop about a month after Barry’s death. The card stood out. The face of it was a sepia toned sunset over water and an empty wooden fishing boat tied up. 
Its words, “Nobody is gone unless you want them to go. If you don’t want them to go then they will be with you forever,” are engraved on the stone, followed by: In memory of those who are gone but will never be forgotten, erected by those who will always remember them.”
Barry is remembered every day. His mother remembers that she never had to tell him to do his homework as a child. She thinks about how he always helped her out without being asked, and she says he still does. She recalls how he willingly shared his skills in quantity surveying with his friends who were building houses and how he gave his time generously especially to his sister and brother.
“I always remember the day before his accident. It was a Friday. My son Eoin was here and when Barry came home. Eoin was a bit upset. He had broken his hurley. Barry said we’ll fix that now and he got into his jeep, and I remember I had dinner on so he said ‘We’ll only be a few minutes, we’ll be back.’ And he brought him up the road about three miles and there is a hurley maker up there, John Torpey, and he arrived back with two hurleys. He’s just that kind of guy,” Patsy says.
“When Dawn was very young she followed him around. There was three years between them. You know the big brother kind of thing and she followed him everywhere. Going to school, they walked up together. He was like her protector,” she continues.
Patsy misses his sense of humour too but she laughs are she thinks back on some of the things he did.
“Barry had a bold sense of humour. When he was about 20, one evening when we came in. I don’t know where we had been but it was night time. He had put two boots at the end of the couch, a blanket and a head or a hat at the other end of it. We though he was lying on the sofa, but he was hiding behind it. He jumped out and had a great laugh at us because we thought it was him lying there.”
Patsy has gone six years without making a new memory with Barry so she holds onto the old ones. At Christmas and on his birthday, the family remembers Barry together over a meal, but the memories flood back without need for occasion. Patsy remembers her son’s love of the outdoor life of hurling, rugby of shooting and especially of fishing.
Barry loved fishing. Tom had taught him well and from a very young age he could name almost any fly. He loved fishing and loved the water. The memorial on the shore of Lough Corrib reflects that, as does the monument on the banks of the O’Garney River.
The water is even visible from Barry’s grave in Killeen Cemetery. “I think he’d appreciate that,” Patsy smiles.

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