President hears of lives cut short or changed forever from road traffic victims

Áras an Uachtaráin holds event for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) chairwoman Liz O’Donnell calls it the “grief that does not go away”. For those who have been badly hurt or bereaved in a road traffic collision, their lives are marked by a single day which marks the before and after moments in their lives.

For Maureen Kirby that date is April 20th, 2005. Her sons David (18) and Paul (20) were on their way home from their grandmother’s house in Midleton – Paul was driving. On a very bad bend, their car collided with another. Both were killed instantly.

Ms Kirby wears a locket with pictures of her two sons on it. “It is hell on earth. My boys are gone, but I get up out of bed every day,” she said.

“My life is before and after the accident. It makes you very aware of how delicate life is. The two boys left home that day happy out, in great spirits.”


Every one of the 100 or so relatives gathered had a similar tale of death or disability. For the first time President Michael D Higgins marked World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in Áras an Uachtaráin. It is usually hosted by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in central Dublin.

The death of Shane O’Farrell on August 2nd, 2011 led to a change in the law. He was cycling home in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan when he was hit by a car driven by Zigimantas Gradzuiska, a Lithuanian native who was out on bail and had a long list of previous convictions. He drove away from the scene without stopping.

He got an eight-month suspended sentence and never served time in jail. Since that incident, the law has been changed making a hit and run punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“We have so many questions unanswered,” his mother Lucia said. So too does June Fitzgerald whose husband, Christopher (53), was killed by a driver who had been on his mobile phone shortly before the collision.

Christopher had been driving his motorbike home from work when he was hit by a van which had swerved into his lane on the Monasterevin to Portlaoise Road. The date was August 17th, 2018.

“The man who killed him got a two-year suspended sentence and brought us back to court looking for his licence back,” she said.

There was also the pain of those who were badly injured. Geraldine Lavelle (37) was paralysed from the chest down when she went out for a cycle on October 31st, 2013 in Co Longford. She was hit by a lorry and knocked off her bike. At the time she was cycling 25-30km a day.

“My life changed in an instant that day. I have been trying to regain independence. The next step in my journey is a new home. I can’t wait,” she said.

She said the first few years were the most difficult, as she had to adjust to a life she had “no connection or experience of”. There were “a lot of struggles and day-to-day problems”.

Despite having limited movement in her hands, she paints and gave one of her creations to the president.

Dr Laura Farrell was a 28-year-old medical doctor when she was involved in a head-on collision in the car she was driving on the road between Edgeworthstown and Longford.

She has no memory of the incident in February 2009 which left her in a coma for 10 days. She spent the next 11 months in hospital followed by a year in a wheelchair. She can no longer work as a doctor. “I used to run marathons. I played football in Croke Park twice. I’m not able to work as a doctor any more. Life is not the same. It was way better before that. I’m lucky to be alive.”

President Higgins praised the courage and resilience of those in attendance who despite their “immense grief and pain” had found the strength to advocate for safer roads and fewer casualties.

He noted that road fatalities were rising again having fallen to an all-time low in 2021. There have been 43 pedestrians killed on the road to date this year.

“The truth is that for many, including children, it is too dangerous to use the roads as either a pedestrian or a cyclist. This must change,” he said.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times