04 Dec 2021

'Ciarán got quieter and quieter. With that, Seán said to me I think Ciarán is dead.'

Parents Ronan & Gillian Treacy will front this year's Road Safety Authority Christmas campaign

The late Ciarán Treacy

Ciarán Treacy from Portarlington who was killed in a crash caused by a drink driver in Laois in 2014.

The parents of a child killed by a drunk driver near Portarlington, who are fronting a campaign to stop people from drinking and driving, have relived the horrific loss of their son and the damage the drink driver responsible has caused.

The heart-wrenching Road Safety Authority TV ad campaign starts next Thursday, December 1 and features footage of the late Ciarán Treacy, aged just four at the time of his death in 2014, playing with his family.

His parents, Ronan and Gillian Treacy, announced that they were taking part in the campaign in an interview on RTÉ's Ray D'Arcy show. Gillian made the offer to front an anti-drink driving campaign more than more than a year ago, after a drunk driver was convicted and jailed for causing the death of her son.

On the late afternoon of Holy Thursday 2014 Finbarr O'Rourke from Portlaoise caused the death of little Ciarán, badly injuring Gillian. O'Rourke had been on a drinking binge that day and ploughed across the road and hit their car head on when they were on their way home to Portarlington from Portlaoise.

She told Ray that her Ciarán and his brother Seán, aged seven at the time, had spent "a beautiful perfect day" day around Stradbally's woods and lake on the day of the crash.

Gillian said she collected the boys afterwards and met a friend in Portlaoise. Her daughter Caoimhe was in creche. On the way home she recalled a conversation she had with Ciarán about pancakes. There were lots of lemons left over from a party the family had hosted for Ronan's father the previous week.

"The last thing Ciarán would have said to me in the car was 'Oh mam are we having pancakes?' And I said 'yes we will' and he said to his brother 'Sean we're having pancakes!' That was the lovely chat in the car coming home," she said.

Gillian told Ray the accident happened quickly but it felt like slow motion. 

"In saying that I was able to take in half of the car's reg, the colour, the make. I noticed Finbar O'Rourke slumped over the wheel. There was a lot to take in in those few seconds...He just came across the road. You don't really have time to think. I didn't even have time to brake," said Gillian

She recalled the airbags, the smell of smoke, the engines of both cars sitting on her legs and, the noise.

"The noise was deafening - the crashing and then just the silence. When everything came to a stop there was just this silence. That was more scary than the noise," said Gillian.

She said the children initially screamed and she was trying to comfort them. She said she was trapped so she tried to tell her son Sean to get out of the car because she was a afraid of a fire.

"Ciarán got quieter and quieter. With that, Seán said to me I think Ciarán is dead," said Gillian. 

She remembered that local man Emmett and his son Ciarán were first on the scene.

"Emett removed Ciarán from the car and performed CPR on the side of the road. His son Ciarán phoned for the emergency services," she said.

Ronan Treacy told Ray he found out at 8.20pm that there had been an accident when he got a call from Gillian.

"I didn't think it was that severe. The fact that she was able to remember my number and tell me where it (the accident) was - Ship House, Ballymorris. I just really didn't think about it. I just grabbed Caoimhe put her into the car.

"I got to literally within 10 metres where the collision was. There were ambulances, fire brigades. People working on Gillian's car and people working with Ciarán.

"I went to Gillian and she said 'go to Ciarán. I think there is a problem with Ciarán'. I went over towards him and the would not let me come near him...They didn't want me to see. I went over to Seán and he was hysterical. A local woman was singing to him, trying to comfort him to block out the noise," said Ronan.

Gillian said it took a little over an hour for the emergency services to cut her out of the car. Gillian was taken to Tullamore hospital while Seán and Ciaran were taken to Portlaoise hospital where the midlands paediatric unit is located. Ronan travelled with his sons.

"When I got to Portlaoise I was ushered into a room, taken to one said and they told me about Ciarán. I remember dropping to my knees and crying. I just couldn't believe it. I remember being told 'you have to get it together and get out there and pretend to Seán that nothing has happened'. They were concerned about him as well and we had to be strong for him.

"At the same time I was worried about Gillian as well. The fact that she was in a different hospital was really really difficult," he said.

Gillian said she had to be resuscitated at the A&E in Tullamore. She doesn't remember much about her own immediate hospital care other the "panic" on arrival in hospital and the team of doctors and nurses.

"I was very close to dying at one stage," she said.

She said that she had known from the immediate aftermath of the accident that her son was gone.

"I would have known from the car the silence. It was a silence that I knew deep in my heart the Ciarán was either very badly injured or at the worst dead. I was leaning toward dead so I kind of knew.

"I knew for some reason that Seán was going to be ok. But I knew it was Ciarán was in trouble. I had that feeling all along," she said.

Gillian recounted the first thing she asked her two brothers and sister when they came to see her in Tullamore was was there any word on the boys.

"They kinda looked away...that said it all," she said.

On the day after the accident Ronan visited her and with his brother Fergus. She was on a ventillator so couldn't communicate with him.

"I wrote a letter C on the sheet. Ronan knew of course its meaning and Ronan told me than that Ciarán didn't make it," she said.

Gillian complimented the hospitals for their medical care and a lot more.

"I have to say that both Portlaoise and Tullamore hospitals were fantastic. They looked after Ronan and the boys very well (in Portlaoise). Tullamore hospital was fantastic. They organised for me to go to the funeral. Ciarán was brought to me on the Friday.

"With the medication and surgery I don't remember a lot but I do remember him being brought to me. He looked perfect with a lovely pyjamas and blanket. On Saturday night I would have spent all night talking to him so that was really special.

"It was the hospitals that organised all of that. They put everything into motion. Everything that they could have done they did for us," she said.

Gillian went to the funeral with her aunt Caroline and an ICU nurse. She did not attend the burial as her "heart could not have taken that part". 

Gillian also spoke about the injuries she suffered and which she is still recovering from.

"I broke both my ankles. I had a compound fracture to my left leg. I had a broken pelvis, broken elbow and broken sternum," she said.

Gillian was in so much pain with her left leg that amputation was suggested to give her a better quality of life. Since then a frame has been put on her leg and the healing has improved.

Ronan spoke about how the two other children managed during the horrific time.

"They were wandering around the house. Their cousins were around trying to keep them company. Seán wouldn't accept that Ciarán was gone. He wouldn't come in to see him in the coffin during the wake until the very last minute.

"I remember I encouraged him to write a letter letter to Ciarán and put it in and he did that. Thankfully he did say goodbye," he said.

The couple also spoke about the man responsible and the system of punishment for drink driving. Ronan believes Finbarr O'Rourke went drinking after finishing work. 

"As soon as he finished work he drove straight to Portarlington and went on the rip with a buddy of his where he consumed anything up to 10 pints of cider. He got into his car and changed our lives forever.

"He walked away from the scene. He was almost a kilometre away from where he was picked up. Subsequent checks by the gardaí on his phone records showed that he phoned his friend twice. Not once but twice. Never even attempted to ring emergency services," said Ronan.

The man who caused their son's death heard about the impact when he was being jailed last November.

"Everything that happened in the Victim Impact Statement is what happened an is the truth," said Gillian.

"It came from the heart. That was our only voice in the court because Finbarr O'Rourke pleaded guilty. We didn't even have a voice in court. That was our only way of getting the impact across to him and to the judge and to the public," she said.

Gillian read some of the victim impact statement on the Ray D'Arcy Show. Part of it features in the ad campaign.

"Some of my darkest moments have been at night when the children slept trying to come to terms with everything from the trauma of the crash, the nightmares, the feeling of being on fire, the screams of my children and not being able to attend to them as a mother. 

"On nights that it was unbearable I just wanted to die. Ronan would hold me while we both cried and ached for Ciarán. We've had to watch our parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and extended family and friends of Ciarán go through this nightmare of the complete devestation of Ciarán's loss."

The maximum sentence for drunk driving causing death is ten years. O'Rourke's original seven and half year sentence was reduced to six years in recent months on appeal. The couple told Ray that the reduction of punishment made them angry. 

"Without a doubt but we probably knew it was going to happen because that is what is done in Ireland," said Ronan.

"That is the way the system falls. Number one, they don't get enough time for that particular crime. And then number 2, they get an automatic third off (their sentence for good behaviour) which is totally wrong.

"I say to myself who is going to give us our third off? If anything it has taken years off our lives," he said.

Ciarán Treacy would have been turned seven on January 3 next.

Ray D'Arcy praised the Treacy family for taking part in the ad campaign.

"I think what you are doing is amazing because every time that piece of video goes out on the TV and you are in the room at home, you are going to have to relive that day, that moment and the loss of your son.

"But I can tell you now that, and I know this to be a fact, that by doing this, Gillian and Ronan you are going to save lives. That is an OK legacy for little Ciarán" said the TV host.

Gillian said she hoped it would work.

"It is very difficult but as I said all along - if this prevents another family from what we are going through it will be worth it," said Gillian.

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