When Tragedy Stunned Community At Rostrevor

TRAGEDY stunned the community at Rostrevor and beyond, when three members of an esteemed local family lost their lives in a fire at their home in the village, in 1999.

President Mary McAleese, M.P.’s and councillors led over a thousand mourners at the joint funeral of Brian and Briege Boyle, along with 28-year-old daughter, Sasha. The flames had swept through their Rosswood home, just a few hours after the 21st birthday party for son, Shane. Another daughter, Marie, had escaped through a roof window, with the help of neighbours.

Meanwhile, Paul Tinnelly, member of a prominent Rostrevor family, was shot dead in front of his mother, 35 years ago. Employed at Reeds factory in Warrenpoint, the victim was an officer with the South Down Command of the Official IRA, but had been involved with double-agents, the Littlejohn brothers. Also, boating disasters on Carlingford Lough have claimed the lives of various residents of the Kilbroney region, over the past 100 years.

Shops put up their shutters, and hundreds of people lined the funeral route at Rostrevor in January 1999, as the three coffins of the fire victims were carried past the scene of the tragedy. At the Star of the Sea Church, Bishop Francis Gerard Brooks presided at the con-celebrated Requiem Mass, assisted by Frs Gregory McGivern and Michael Farrell.

Monsignor Arthur Bradley, P.P., told the mourners: “Tragic death hits us all with such appalling suddenness, that it robs us of our hopes and dreams of the future. It is a cruel reminder of the harsh reality of life, from which we hope to escape. And it has left the Boyle family heart-broken.”

Describing Brian Boyle, (50), a carpet-fitter, as “a highly-respected member of the community,” he added: “All who knew him were cheered by his smile, and warmed by his friendliness. A keen sportsman, he was a member of the local football and hurling teams, as well as Warrenpoint Golf Club.

“Sasha was a lovely young girl, full of the joys of life. Involved in sport, she was a member of the local youth club and camogie club. A computer programmer, she showed such promise of the future. Her mother, whose two brothers died during the past year, had played for St Bronagh’s ladies football team.

Surviving son, Shane, told the congregation of the “joyous time, which our family and friends enjoyed at the party, when the house was filled with laughter.” He said that the people of Rostrevor had been “marvellous and very supportive, bringing refreshments, helping himself and Marie to “bear up.”

Such had been the intensity of the blaze that, despite wearing protective clothing and flash-hoods, two Warrenpoint firemen, Paul McKinley and Nigel McGuffin, had to receive hospital treatment for burns. They had fought their way through the flames to locate those inside. A guest at the birthday party, Mrs Ann Kavanagh, had to be treated in hospital for smoke inhalation.

“Pandemonium” was how the neighbours described the scene at the height of the blaze, about four a.m. They were frantically trying to get the family out, using garden hoses to douse the flames, while waiting for the fire-fighters to arrive.

Smoke detectors had been fitted in the Boyle residence, but the battery had been removed. When the smoke penetrated the adjoining dwelling, the alarm went off. It was understood that a candle had caused the outbreak.

President McAleese had been accompanied by South Down M.P., Eddie McGrady; Mick Murphy, MLA, the chairman and vice-chairman of Newry and Mourne district council, Brendan Curran and Josephine O’Hare, as well as Councillor Tony Williamson. The president had sent a private letter of condolence to those bereaved, having known the family for 20 years.

On a happier note, did you know that there had been ambitious plans to transform Rostrevor into a major tourist resort, 50 years before Warrenpoint? In fact, a British tourist guide of 1896 referred to the village as “the sweetest watering-hole in the three kingdoms, and one of the most beautiful spots in Ireland.”

Indeed, two centuries ago, the Chief of the Irish Exchequer, Edward Barre, described Rostrevor as “a place of resort for people of fashion, who come to drink goat’s whey, which is preferred to asses’ milk, as a great purifier of the blood. The herbs, which grow on those hills, are thought to be the most medicinal of anywhere in Ireland.”

150 years ago, a promenade was to be constructed by moving the pier. The Mourne Hotel, later the Great Northern, was built for the Earl of Kilmorey, compete with roller-skating rink. Horse-drawn trams transported thousands of visitors to the village each summer, stopping at Tinnelly’s Corner, where a Rest-room had been provided.

Kilbroney Park was a mecca for day-trippers, flanked by the scenic Fairy Glen, and containing Douglas Fir, Norwegian Spruce and Grand Californian Great Pine, along with a carpet of laurel, foxglove, bluebells and fern, as well as “flaming furze” on the hillsides. And at the summit was the unique Cloughmore Stone, with a stunning panorama of Carlingford Lough and the Cooley peninsula.

However, the scene was very different, back in the 1750’s, as the Kilbroney valley and its hinterland was described by a government official as “absolutely uncivilised country. Anyone who ventures to go there does so at their own risk. It is an almost inaccessible retreat of rapparees and outlaws.

“The cabins one sees on the side of the hills are the most miserable huts I have ever seen. They are built with sods and turf, with no chimney. The door is made of a hurdle; the smoke goes out of the door; the cocks and hens, pigs and goats, and maybe a cow, inhabit the same dwelling as the family.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008