Tragic deaths of traveller infants highlight atrocious conditions at Kilkenny halting site

A YOUNG child choked to death in a car seat while in a caravan at a County Council run halting site on the edge of the city writes Sean Keane

A YOUNG child choked to death in a car seat while in a caravan at a County Council run halting site on the edge of the city writes Sean Keane

The tragedy comes six months after his younger brother, just seven weeks old, died in the same caravan.

The double tragedy has struck a travelling family living in atrocious conditions on the outskirts of Kilkenny city at St Catherine’s Halting site.

Four weeks ago, Mrs Helen Reilly, had run across the road to cook dinner in a neighbour’s caravan after running out of gas in her own mobile home and wanted to make sure her little boy was safe while she was just a few yards away. When she returned a few minutes later her three year old boy was dead.

Timmy Reilly’s month’s mind Mass was held on Thursday last and there were scenes of utter devastation. Part of the reason for the incredible outburst of emotion was because they were also remembering another young infant who died six months previously in the same caravan.

Seven week old Aaron Reilly, Timmy’s brother, died after after a cot death like incident. Helen and her husband, Michael Reilly, are regarded as decent people who have been hit by tragedy and not helped by their surroundings of the last seven years.

The travelling couple were told that the infant, Aaron died as a result of a “bug in his blood.” Despite these harrowing experiences and many false dawns in crowded, third-world conditions on a site that is not for purpose, Michael and Helen Reilly are nowhere nearer getting out of the halting site - which they call Hell. . Helen is inconsolable and despite daily prescriptions of sedatives, cannot sleep and cannot rest until she is out of there.

They were moved to St Catherine’s on a temporary basis seven years ago. St Catherine’s was opened 23 years ago as a temporary measure. And on the day their son Timmy was buried, the council acceded to their request and removed the caravan from its bay on the site. They struggle to survive with genuine fears for the rest of their children and those of their neighbours languishing in equally Dickensian-like conditions. They have become almost immune to the rats, the sewage, the flooding in such a confined space.

There is no hot water, no washing machines, no showers, no baths. Children are washed in little tubs. Set up originally for three families, it now is home to 12 families on a 1.5 acre site and in total almost 70 people live there. There are plans to build 10 houses in its place but as of now they remain just a dream - even that number could not adequately cater for the numbers there.

Also, t has been confirmed by council officials that members of the settled community continually go to the area around St Catherine’s Halting Site and deposit rubbish there, expecting the Travellers to be blamed for it.

The mother of the two dead infants, Helen is beyond hope and is on a prescription of drugs but she cannot sleep at night knowing she is just yards from where her two babies died.

The Reilly’s were supposed to be moving to a house in Callan and were told they were definitely going and were just waiting for the keys until, they were informed by the council, a legal problem had arisen. They do not know what to think and have turned down a temporary accommodation in the Emmet Street area because they are already in what is supposed to be temporary accommodation. “We have no guarantee we won’t be left there for another seven or eight years,” Helen Reilly said.

Helen wants somewhere for the family and their animals and does not want her children reared in the city with the fear of getting hooked on drink and drugs. Husband, Michael isn’t seething with anger, he has gone past that and he doesn’t condemn anyone for his plight. Hehas great time for the people he has been dealing with in the housing section who seem to be doing their best in restrictive conditions. “I do condemn those who took away our hope of a house in Callan,” he said. Articulate and pragmatic, he said that it is not too late for someone to come back to them and tell them they can go to Callan which is their dream.

The Travellers know there are issues with dogs and horses at St Catherine’s but how they can be left in such deplorable conditions in the 21st century beggars belief. And poignantly, after Michael and Helen Reilly lost their first boy, Aaron, who was just seven weeks old, they asked to be moved from the caravan in accordance with Traveller tradition. They and their seven children lived in just one bedroom because Aaron’s bedroom was boarded up after he died there.

The couple lost Aaron six months ago. Helen fed him when he woke at 6am and when she came back to check him for the third time at 8am he was dead.

In the case of Timmy, she had him in a car seat which was placed in the caravan and put on him for his own safety and this is a common practice among Traveller families. It fell over and Timmy choked on the strap.

And serious questions are now bring asked about how a 10 foot wall was constructed, to segregate the Travellers from the development at Margaretsfield.

Kilkenny County Council issued this response after a number of questions from the Kilkenny People: “The Council are dealing with the immediate and long term accommodation needs of the O’Reilly family. The Council sourced and offered temporary accommodation for the O’Reilly’s family pending the completion of a longer term solution in their preferred area. This offer was declined. We are not delaying the acquisition of a house in Callan as we are awaiting contracts from the vendor. Also we are examining other available options in this area for acquisition Regarding the wall at St Catherine’s I have referred the matter to planning department to respond to you directly.”