Belfast Telegraph

Dunloy slurry tragedy: School prays for critically-ill father as pupils mourn loss of a classmate

By Joanne Sweeney

Just three days ago, Robert Christie bounded home from school – excited about the weekend ahead.

Now his classmates are coping with the devastating news that the much-loved eight-year-old will not be back among them.

Today marked a sombre day for all those at Knockahollet Primary School as it opened its doors for a new week amid the realisation one of its popular pupils would not be returning.

This small country school is mourning the loss of the P4 pupil who was found dead on Saturday in what is believed to be another incident of being overcome by slurry fumes while he accompanied his father working on a nearby farm.

At the same time, the pupils and staff will be hoping and praying that Robert's father, Bertie, will survive the accident that claimed the life of his youngest son, who was described by the school's principal as a "wonderful little boy".

Gerry Black has been principal of the school has just over 100 pupils and a small teaching staff for the last 11 years.

The loss of little Robert has been the biggest tragedy to hit the school during his time there.

The small, bright and welcoming school is one of the most easily recognisable landmarks in this countryside area of Dunloy, Co Antrim.

Robert's two elder sisters, Alice and Isobel, are in the P5 and P7 classes of the school which is within a few minutes' drive from the Christie family home on Knockahollet Road.

The farm on Ballynaloob Road, where Robert was with his father mixing slurry at a friend's farm, is also just a few minutes from Robert's home and its proximity emphasises just how close-knit this farming community is.

"We are all really still taking it in, and somehow coming into the school has really brought it home," said Mr Black.

"The events of the weekend will have a huge impact on all the other children, staff and wider Knockahollet area.

"There is a very strong community spirit within our school and it's this that that we will be drawing on in the days and weeks ahead as we help Robert's family and all our families try and come to terms with what has happened."

The Christie family home is a typical modest farmhouse, hidden away from the main road, where Robert was first introduced to the farming life.

It was surrounded by cars yesterday as family and friends lent their support to Simone Christie and her daughters as they cope with their tragic loss while also caring for Mr Christie, who was still in Causeway Hospital last night where his condition was still said to be "critical".

Mrs Christie is also closely involved with the Ballymoney Women's Institute, from which she will no doubt draw great support over the coming months.

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