50 years on, relatives gather to remember Tuskar Rock tragedy

50 years on, relatives gather to remember Tuskar Rock tragedy
Pictured on The L.E. Eithne Naval Ship where family of those lost on the Plane tragedy 50 years ago wisited the crash site near Tuskar Rock off the coast of Wexford. Pictured is a family member throwing flowers to sea during the wreath laying cermony. Picture: Patrick Browne

A WOMAN who was just nine years old when her father died in the Tuskar Rock air tragedy has recalled going to Cork Airport with her siblings to wave him off, only to hear the news of the crash from a neighbour soon afterwards.

Hilary Nunan went to Cork Airport on March 24, 1968, with her three sisters to wish her father Noel bon voyage as he travelled to London as part of his work with Shell.

Speaking outside a 50th-anniversary Mass at the Church of the Assumption in Ballyphehane in Cork yesterday to commemorate the Tuskar Rock crash in which 61 people died, Ms Nunan said the day started with joy and ended with tragedy.

“It was such a shock,” she said. “So sudden. Disbelief. We all went to the airport and Dad said goodbye to each and every one of us individually. That is my strongest memory. And after that I don’t remember anymore in the airport. Just being very close to Dad and him being close to us. When we got home, we got the news from a neighbour who had heard it on the radio.

Hilary Nunan holding a portrait of her father Noel Nunan who died in the Tuskar Rock Tragedy. Accompanied by her mother Mary McCarthy. 50th anniversary mass in Ballyphehane, Cork.
Hilary Nunan holding a portrait of her father Noel Nunan who died in the Tuskar Rock Tragedy. Accompanied by her mother Mary McCarthy. 50th anniversary mass in Ballyphehane, Cork.

“We went through a mixture of emotions over the years, and especially during different anniversaries and through the inquiries and reports.” Ms Nunan said the weekend’s commemorative events were important for the grieving relatives left behind when the St Phelim flight plunged in to the sea near Tuskar Rock off Wexford.

“It is a very special day,” she said. “The 30th anniversary was the first time that we all met all the relatives. Because prior to that we grieved on our own. Now it is like meeting a family again. This is today and what this weekend has been about.” Her mother, Mary McCarthy, said they were feeling the impact of the loss now more than ever because “everyone has a different reason for the tragedy”.Mary said she met Noel when she was just 15 years old and married him seven years later. They were childhood sweethearts and had a very happy twelve and a half years of marriage.“He was a wonderful husband and father. Anything you can think of. That’s what he was. Very sadly missed. We think of him a lot.” Also present at the Mass was Fr Charlie Nyhan of Carrigaline Parish who lost his brother John in the tragedy.

Fr Nyhan was in Peru when news filtered through. He was heartbroken not to be able to comfort his family.Fr Nyhan said the mass was a special day for the bereaved.

“It is very special to have this celebration and remembering them all again and the grief and the loss that everyone felt at the time. [The grief] hasn’t disappeared. It is still there. But it is more peaceful after all those years,” said Fr Nyhan.

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop of Cork and Ross Dr John Buckley.

Among those in attendance was the Lord Mayor of Cork Tony Fitzgerald and County Mayor Declan Hurley. President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp Commandant Brian Walsh.

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