a stone cast into the stillness of a quiet pool
the concentric ripples of despair sweep out in all directions
affecting many, many people
- US author John DeFrain writing on the death of a child
Leaving out a bin this morning for fortnightly collection, the first person I saw was a pupil from one of the many local schools. Walking with his back to me, school bag slung over his shoulders, just a shirt with no coat or pullover. The first day at school was suitable for it: bright and warm. The scene replayed itself out throughout the day: sun and schoolbags as the hustle bustle of the wider town took a sharp turn upward as is customary at this time of year.
Of all the children making their way back to school over the next few days after the long summer break, my thoughts focussed on one who would not be making the trudge. Last week 13 year old Daniel Roche ‘s bicycle was in collision with a car on the Drogheda-Slane road at a spot that has been causing concern to local councillors. Two days later the Rathmullen teenager died.
There is so much that links the community to events like this. The school Daniel went to, the estate in which he lived, the clubs he turned out for on the sports field or in the ring. These things interact with our lives so frequently in a town like Drogheda that the impact of a young life lost is much greater than it would be in a city setting.
Last week’s Drogheda Leader took ink before Daniel died but was published just after he passed. The front page headlines “Prayers For Daniel” quoted the school principal as saying:
Daniel is a very pleasant young man and we were very saddened to hear about the accident and we hope that he makes a full recovery. It is a big shock for his classmates and they are all thinking about him. We all hope that he will join us back at the school soon.
Banner headlines but the hope of the principal, unfortunately, was to remain unfulfilled.
Despite the sunshine the atmosphere of the town has been tainted with the dark hue of bereavement. It is always the way when a child dies. Conversations revisited the drowning accident in which thirteen year old Gareth McGuirk lost his life over the summer school holiday period two years ago. Roads and rivers - eternal vigilance is required when negotiating them.
A keen sports player - boxing, Gaelic football and soccer all figuring among Daniel's active interests - the town’s sporting fraternity remembered him in its own way. My son’s team were to play St Nicholas’s GFC, the club Daniel played for at left back, on Friday evening but the game was cancelled as a mark of respect. Elsewhere, in shops Daniel's accident figured in discussion.
When his parents watch his school friends noisily make their way to class their hearts will be wrenched by their own son’s silence. The child whose laughter does not ring leaves the echo of a mournful peal.
The one way that their child's death can be integrated into the life of a vibrant community is for parents to constantly remind their children, without being overbearing, about the risks life is fraught with. While of no consolation to the immediate family, there is always something to be learned from accidents. If that something can make any contribution to the safety of the children that remain, the positivity of Daniel Roche's life will not have ended with his death.