Belfast Telegraph

Caravan tragedy: Nan and Francie O'Reilly inseparable in death... just as they were in life

By Deborah McAleese

They died as they lived - together. As family members wept tears of sorrow yesterday for Nan and Francie O'Reilly, they were able to draw some small comfort from the fact that neither would have to live without the other.

"It would have been worse if one had died before the other," their heartbroken niece Joanna O'Reilly said.

"They were always together. While we are devastated about what happened, it makes it that little bit easier to know they went together."

A small police cordon was the only indication yesterday of the tragedy that had struck within the grounds of this caravan park, situated in one of the most scenic areas of Newcastle.

The couple, who were both in their 70s, had happily lived in a permanent mobile home within Bonny's Caravan Park at the foot of the Mourne Mountains for almost four decades. They moved there on the day they were married and refused to consider making the transfer to a house, despite friends and family often suggesting they should.

While investigations into their deaths are ongoing, it is believed they lost their lives as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas heater.

Their bodies were discovered at around 3pm on Wednesday - Nan's birthday - when her sister arrived at their caravan with a present.

When she was unable to gain access to their home she asked for assistance from two of the caravan site's workers, who opened the door and found the couple.

It is understood that Francie had intended to replace their gas heater this week as he was concerned that it was not working properly. However, as temperatures plummeted below freezing they had no choice but to continue using the old one in the meantime.

The tragedy has shocked the Co Down seaside town, where the couple were held in great affection.

Francie, who had worked as a gardener for most of his life, retired to be a full-time carer for Nan, who had not been well for several years.

However, according to friends and family, he was never one to be idle and still enjoyed gardening for others.

Everyone who knew the pair spoke of them with genuine fondness.

"They were just made for each other and they just lived for each other. It is just absolutely devastating," said Joanna.

"They were fantastic, two wee walking saints. Francie was my favourite uncle. He was just amazing. He would just sit and talk away for hours. I last spoke to them on New Year's Day and they were in great form.

"Francie just idolised Nan and she idolised him. She had been very sick and he took care of her.

"Francie had been complaining about the heater a few days before and had planned to go out and get a new one. It is just an awful tragedy. They never wanted to move out of that caravan. They were just that content with each other and where they were. They were always so happy. We are all just in shock. It is awful."

One of the couple's neighbour's, Janet McNally, was visibly upset as she spoke about Wednesday's tragedy.

"I was coming home from work and I saw flashing blue lights behind me," she recalled. "As soon as I came up I knew something was wrong because their blinds were still closed,"

Mrs McNally added: "Francie was the loveliest wee man. He was like our caretaker and gatekeeper in here as he was always helping everyone out. It is very hard to take in.

"Francie would never stay at peace. He was always out investigating everything. Both of them are going to be very badly missed.

"Francie looked after Nan a lot - she wasn't great on her feet. It was her birthday yesterday.

"I suppose it is nice that the two of them went together. They just slipped away and that was it."

A post-mortem examination has been carried out and a multi-agency investigation launched at the caravan site on the Tullybrannigan Road in a bid to definitively determine the cause of the deaths.

However, it appears that this is the latest in a number of tragic carbon monoxide deaths.

In 2012 carbon monoxide alarms became a legal requirement in all new homes in Northern Ireland following the loss of teenagers Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson.

The friends died from carbon monoxide poisoning in August 2010 after a gas leak in a holiday apartment in Castlerock, Co Londonderry.

"I would appeal to everyone to make sure they get a carbon monoxide alarm to prevent further tragedies like these. The Newcastle community is devastated by the deaths of Nan and Francie," said Sinn Fein councillor Willie Clarke.

"I knew Nan and Francie all my life.

"They were great friends with my mum and would always have been in the house for cups of tea. They were a great couple and were very religious. They would have gone to Mass every day. I do not know anyone who could say a bad word about either of them," Mr Clarke added.

The couple will share the same funeral Mass and be buried together.

"That is the way it should be," said the couple's great-niece Colleen O'Reilly. "They just lived for each other, so it is right that they be waked and buried together."

Read more:

Two people found dead at Newcastle caravan park: carbon monoxide poisoning suspected 

Sister bearing birthday gift found caravan tragedy couple Nan and Francie O'Reilly 

Pillars of their small community, and companions to the very end 

Newcastle caravan park deaths: Elderly couple 'lived for one another'  

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