Belfast Telegraph

Little angel who died in ecstasy of achievement

Derry girl Tia Nagurski died doing what she loved best — climbing trees. In this affecting tribute, Kevin Myers remembers a unique child whose gift cost her her life

It is a hard heart that looks upon the elder and does not warm to its natural bounties. Its summer flowers yield a cordial that is fragrant and full of natural goodness.

The munificence of the elder then takes another full season to produce the elderberries, which make a fine wine for elderly teetotal Protestant ladies to get lawfully tiddly on.

Six years ago, the electricity board men came to check the elder in the Nagurskis' back garden in Derry.

They were not interested in the kindly blossoms that stimulate a body's auto-immune system, or the Presbyterian-friendly berries, but whether or not the elder tree was in any danger of growing into the electricity cable passing overhead.

Now anyone who has ever reached for the elder's remoter blossoms knows how inhospitable its higher branches are.

The bole and bough of the elder tree show no kindness to those who come to cut it; and he who prunes the elder branches does so with care, using long-handled saws, and cherry-picker hoists that rely on hydraulics to keep a tree-surgeon aloft.

So the electricity board men safely reduced the tree to a manageable size. They had no reason to spot Tia Nagurski in her house; how could they? She was only a year old.

From birth, Tia Anne Nagurski was one of those rare children with whom God blesses the world; kind, mischievous and ubiquitous. Turn your back, and she's gone; turn your back again, and she's beside you, always laughing with joy.

Once she had learnt to walk, she usually chose to scamper. But it was when she learnt to write that her really mysterious loveliness was revealed: for she would leave little notes for her parents, Brian and Natasha, to find, telling them how much she loved them.

Rare is the child who knows that adults cherish the love of children above all things. Merely the belief in such love itself is a benediction; but a note is a very paradise.

Tia was such an unearthly child that it seemed she was born of a contract between man and fairies, so full was she of grace, her mischief, of sweetness.

Most amazing of all was her ability to climb anything; chairs, tables, bookcases. Her hands were adhesive, and her head knew no fear of altitude.

Gravity was never an enemy, so light was her bird-like frame: were she to fall, it would surely be like a leaf.

But of course, she never fell. She was a monkey, a squirrel, a marmoset, a little climbing machine who would scale any tree to scan green counties and blue hills far away.

The summers of Tia's infancy went by, each warmer and wetter than usual, with the weather fronts from the Atlantic watering the Derry soil.

The elder behaved with its biennial generosity, its ivory-coloured flowers blossoming in May and the deep burgundy-maroon of its fruit following in the late summer.

And in spring last year the electricity board men came once more to look at the tree, and decided that all was well: the upper boughs were too far from the cable to make contact, and no one could possibly remain aloft on those thin, unsustaining branches. So they took their ladders and their saws and they went away.

One day the following September, Tia, aged six, went out into the garden, and began to shin up the unclimbable.

The boughs did not bend, nor the branches refuse her lissom journey as she scrambled up and up and up, as fast as a lizard, until she made it to the very top.

There, perched on the uppermost limb, she reached out towards the magic thing, the forbidden thing beyond, the electricity cable: and upon touching this fruit of Eden, 11,000 volts passed through her fragile little body, killing her instantly.

There is no rhyme or reason to this, nor any useful lesson to pass on to other parents. Tia clearly was a one-in-a-million child, about whom I know solely through the internet: and she was blessed with a one-in-10-million ability to clamber up trees.

The combination of her adoring and adorable nature, her addiction to climbing, her phenomenal arboreal skills, her weightless frame, the unprecedented growth of the elder tree, and the lethal nearness of the cable: these will probably never, ever recur while day and night divide.

The unique child was claimed by a unique accident. Her poor parents must have passed through a very special hell.

But there is this. Tia will know no old age. No illness will ever rack her body, and her heart will never be broken.

I'd like to think that she died in an ecstasy of achievement, of the kind that so moved John Gillespie McGee after taking his Spitfire to record heights, shortly before his own death nearly 70 years ago.

As he descended, this 19-year-old Irish-American fighter-pilot composed a poem in his head, which finished:

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

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