Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland film-maker's grief after mother dies in house fire

By Adrian Rutherford

A world-renowned Northern Ireland film-maker has spoken of his devastation after the death of his elderly mother in a house blaze.

Peggy McGarvey (78) perished after fire swept through her detached bungalow at Linseys Hill in Armagh early Tuesday morning.

Her son is the Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who has worked on box office smashes such as Atonement and We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Mr McGarvey learned of the tragedy while filming The Avengers movie in Los Angeles.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph before flying home on Tuesday night, the 44-year-old said he was heartbroken by his loss.

“I’m devastated. I saw mum just a couple of weeks ago when I was back home. It’s a terrible loss for our family,” he said.

Mrs McGarvey is the third person to die in a house fire in Northern Ireland in the past week.

Care workers were alerted to the fire when smoke alarms went off around 7.30am. The pensioner was found dead in her bedroom, where the accidental fire is believed to have started.

Mr McGarvey described his mother as “a great woman”.

“She was just an extraordinary woman — strong-willed, funny and kind,” he added.

“She’d had a stroke a number of years ago and so wasn’t as active as she used to be, but certainly in her mind she was very agile. She still had her wits about her.

“While she lived alone, she had regular visits from home helps who would have called every day.

“She was greatly supported by her friends and neighbours who looked after her. She had very good neighbours, and benefited a lot from generosity of her friends.”

On Tuesday night Mr McGarvey was preparing to fly back to Northern Ireland for the funeral.

“I’ve got two sisters in the States, and I’m here as well finishing off the film,” he added.

Mr McGarvey was nominated for an Oscar for working on the 2007 film Atonement. He also worked on productions such as Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, The Hours, Along Came Polly and We Need to Talk About Kevin and on music videos for artists like U2, The Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney and Coldplay. Mr McGarvey said his mother had taken great pride in his achievements.

“She was very proud, always asking what I was up to,” he said.

“I’m just so shocked and so sad.”

SDLP councillor Mealla Campbell, who knew Mrs McGarvey, said she was stunned by the tragedy.

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said the death was “awful news”, adding that his thoughts were with Mrs McGarvey’s family.

Last Tuesday Albert Kane (64) died in a fire at his home on the Bush Road near Ballymoney, just hours after Sadie Ferguson (78) died in her home near Dromara in Co Down.

Profile

Born in Armagh, Seamus McGarvey began his career as a stills photographer, then went to film school at the University of Westminster in London. After graduating in 1988 he began shooting short films and documentaries, progressing to movies such as Atonement and World Trade Center. He has been nominated for an Oscar and the Turner Prize, and in 2004 received the Royal Photographic Society's Lumiere medal for contributions to the art of cinematography.

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