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Greenvale: Parents of Morgan Barnard speak of enduring heartbreak a year on from St Patrick's Day tragedy

'I was watching Morgan lying there, trying to make him move… the surgeon telling me they did all they could'

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Morgan in a school photo

Morgan in a school photo

Maria and James with a picture of Morgan

Maria and James with a picture of Morgan

Lauren Bullock

Lauren Bullock

Connor Currie

Connor Currie

Morgan Barnard’s parents Jimmy and Maria and brother Calvin at his funeral

Morgan Barnard’s parents Jimmy and Maria and brother Calvin at his funeral

Friends leave floral tributes outside Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown

Friends leave floral tributes outside Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown

Morgan (left), Robyn, Maria, James holding baby Reagan and brother Calvin

Morgan (left), Robyn, Maria, James holding baby Reagan and brother Calvin

Morgan in a school photo

Morgan Barnard's parents had no idea he was at the Greenvale that night. There had been no mention of it that morning when he breakfasted with mum Maria (39) in the kitchen of their Dungannon home.

Maria and James (44), her partner of 22 years, thought Morgan had gone to spend St Patrick's Day with friends, while they were in the final throes of moving house.

But, exactly one year ago today, Maria took an unexpected phone call and found out the unimaginable had happened.

Her second eldest child, the 17-year-old "who lit up the room", had got on a bus to that hotel in Cookstown and wasn't ever coming back.

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Maria and James with a picture of Morgan

Maria and James with a picture of Morgan

Maria and James with a picture of Morgan

The last thing mother-of-six Maria told Morgan before he left that fateful day was: 'I love you, I'm so proud of you'." He told her he loved her too - a memory she holds on to dearly.

Morgan was one of three teenagers who lost their lives in a crush outside the Greenvale Hotel on March 17 last year. Lauren Bullock (17) and Connor Currie (16) also perished in the Co Tyrone tragedy on that dreadful Sunday night.

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Lauren Bullock

Lauren Bullock

Lauren Bullock

What would have been a housewarming for Morgan's new home turned into a wake for him instead.

"He never got to spend a night here," said dad James, sitting alongside Maria in the family's Springvale house.

"We had paint up there for his room. My brother and nephew ended up painting it for his remains coming back from the morgue."

Reflecting on the tragedy that engulfed her family a year ago, Maria, who was 17 weeks pregnant when she lost Morgan, said her mind remains "stuck" in events at Craigavon Area Hospital.

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Connor Currie

Connor Currie

Connor Currie

"Around 10.30pm Morgan's cousin told me he'd heard something bad had happened at the Greenvale, so I made a frantic call to the hospital," she said.

"They wouldn't tell me anything. They asked me if he had any distinguishing marks. I said no, he was just a normal teenager.

"Then she asked me if he had (teeth) braces. Once she said that I dropped to the ground. She told me to make my way down and to make sure I had somebody with me. I knew then it was bad."

James told how they drove in silence for the 20-minute journey to the hospital. "I'm always the one to say to Maria: 'It's fine, it's okay'. But this time I never spoke. We never spoke," he recalled.

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Morgan Barnard’s parents Jimmy and Maria and brother Calvin at his funeral

Morgan Barnard’s parents Jimmy and Maria and brother Calvin at his funeral

Morgan Barnard’s parents Jimmy and Maria and brother Calvin at his funeral

James told of how Maria ran past the police while he was escorted though A&E into a room where he was told he had to identify his son.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," James said. "Maria was on the floor, screaming.

"It seems like a dream, it's not reality, you're just looking for somebody to pull you out of wherever you've stepped into…

"I was watching Morgan lying there, trying to make him move… the surgeon telling me they did all they could…

"It's unimaginable to see your own son lying there… he can't breathe or talk or do anything."

James added: "Right up until that night we were still moving stuff from the old house. I was absolutely sure Morgan wouldn't be going out to a disco that night."

Morgan had been at the Greenvale just once before, again without permission from his parents.

"It was renowned for being really crowded at times but Morgan didn't know that," said James. "He had no idea what he was walking into."

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Friends leave floral tributes outside Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown

Friends leave floral tributes outside Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown

Friends leave floral tributes outside Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown

After they'd got back from the hospital, and when the younger siblings asked why so many people had suddenly arrived, Morgan's parents said they were coming to see the new house.

Memories of Morgan abound in the home he never got to live in - an easy going, fun-loving teenager who was never in a bad mood. The place is now defined by emptiness in his absence.

"I miss him being around," Maria said. "It was so much livelier when he was here."

Maria said Morgan couldn't wait to go to university to study business and finance.

"He actually talked about owning hotels one day," James added.

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Morgan (left), Robyn, Maria, James holding baby Reagan and brother Calvin

Morgan (left), Robyn, Maria, James holding baby Reagan and brother Calvin

Morgan (left), Robyn, Maria, James holding baby Reagan and brother Calvin

"He wanted his own hotel. It's ironic that he was taken from us at a hotel."

There was laughter as they recalled his "random" purchases.

"He'd buy the most random things with his birthday money," said Maria. "He bought an oil-filled radiator when he was in 2nd year. And a memory foam pillow."

Maria, a stay-at-home mum, recalled how Morgan would return from school and fuss over his sisters.

"He'd throw the girls up in the air, he had to have a wee play with them," she said.

James, a joiner, who's worked very little in the last year, told how his 74-year-old dad John Pat warned him the day after Morgan's death that such a tragic event was "life changing".

He added: "He said don't try to get back to normal because you'll drive yourself crazy. You have to let a new normal find you."

Morgan's grandfather, who has been a great source of strength, was speaking from experience. James's sister Majella died at just 36 after a short illness.

It has been a real struggle for the family since Morgan passed away because what happened has, not surprisingly, changed their lives forever.

"Normal life has stopped for us but the year has flown in," Maria said. "It seems to be going in slow motion, yet it has gone in so fast. It's very confusing.

"It's been very hard but we've been very busy with the children. They've helped us keep the whole thing afloat."

Morgan's siblings - Calvin (21), Robyn (5), Reagan (4), Elyssa (3) and Laurcon (now almost 8 months) - have brought great comfort to Maria and James, but there have been challenges.

"Robyn is only five years old but she's smart and very deep," said Maria.

"She drew a picture for Morgan this morning and told her daddy she'd give it to him when she goes to Heaven."

Two weeks before Christmas Maria decided to use a song from the hit children's movie Frozen II to help them explain to the younger kids that Morgan had died. Up until then they'd simply said he'd gone to Heaven.

"It was the song from the film when Anna and Elsa learn of their parents' deaths," she explained.

"Robyn replied: 'You mean died forever?'. And then she cried for an hour solid."

Older brother Calvin has suffered enormously.

Maria added: "It was him and Morgan for 13 years, so really he has nobody. He's left alone, just when they were developing a relationship as young men as opposed to having sibling rivalry."

All those years of being over-protective and look what happened anyway. I couldn't protect him Morgan Barnard's mother, Maria

James said he believes Morgan is with them every day. "He has to be; I feel his presence everywhere," he said.

"We would not be in this position without him."

He recalled how a picture of Morgan that had been on a top shelf in their living room inexplicably ended up on an armchair on the other side of the room.

"I believe wee things like that show us he's here," James said.

"Morgan was mad into Oasis, the song Wonderwall especially. We have never asked Alexa to play Oasis, but after Morgan's death the machine just randomly started playing Oasis songs. Maria broke down in tears when she heard an Oasis song come on."

For Maria - who has ceased to use the phrase 'St Patrick's Day' - the 17th of every month is hardest of all for her.

Having a new baby has "kept me right", especially as he's "so happy and placid, so lovely".

Despite the grief, Maria and James stayed strong at a time when many other marriages might have crumbled.

"It hasn't been an easy road," admitted James.

"Most days simple things are an absolute struggle."

Close family have been great, though, especially Maria's aunt Sheila Martin (48) and James' brother Dan (38). But it hasn't been easy, even before Morgan's passing - James lost his mother Winifred aged 64 in 2015 from a respiratory disease.

"My sister and mum passed but it doesn't begin to touch the grief I've felt with Morgan," he said.

Maria admitted that until this happened, she believed she led a charmed life.

"I always thought I was lucky," she said. "You know when you're at school and you hear about people losing grandparents or aunts… I had all my grandparents until I was an adult, so I had none of that. Little did I know what was ahead."

Describing herself as a "super over-protective" mother, she said Morgan's death was a tough lesson.

Every day I ask myself: is this really real? It's the kids that keep us going Morgan Barnard's mother, Maria

"I ask myself what was the point?" she said. "All those years of being over-protective and look what happened anyway. I couldn't protect him.

"Morgan had only started going out. Before that he spent his time in his room on his PlayStation."

Perhaps the hardest element surrounding their cherished son's death is the fact that they still don't know exactly what happened.

"Apparently there were too many people pushing and shoving, trying to get in," James said.

"The ones at the back didn't realise the gates at the front had been locked. People fell."

When Morgan was on the ground a young guy lay down beside him, as his parents discovered after he died.

"The boy didn't even know Morgan but he just wanted us to know Morgan wasn't alone," James said.

"He came to the house during the wake to tell us he held Morgan's hand.

"He said this at the wake. He wasn't alone, which was something, if there's any comfort at all in any this."

An investigation is currently under way, with Maria vowing "to keep on going until somebody is held accountable for Morgan's death".

James said they can't move on until they can draw a line under it. "I want truth, accountability and prevention," he said.

"I believe that if I had those three things we could move on in life.

"After getting your son stolen from you that's not too much to ask. That'll let us move on and grieve. It'll be the start of our grieving, probably. We need to know what really happened that night."

Maria spoke of her ongoing struggle to push through the pain barrier.

"Every day I ask myself: is this really real? It's the kids that keep us going," she said.

Meanwhile, James takes some solace from the words of a local cleric.

"The priest said to us one day, amid the chaos of this house: 'Without you knowing it, these kids will carry you through this'," he said.

"Now, when I look back a year later, I know he was so right."

But they also believe Morgan himself helps them through each painful day.

"We talk about Morgan all the time," Maria said. "We had a party for him here at home, for his 18th birthday on February 8.

"Sheila and I are also going to do a skydive in his honour because it's something he'd want to do."

As for today, St Patrick's Day, they will be spending it together as a family. "It'll be a DVD day for mammy and daddy and the kids," Maria said.

"The doors will be locked and the blinds will be down."

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