Belfast Telegraph

Agony of losing Ryan returned when mum saw body of little Aylan on beach

Grieving Antrim mum launches fundraising drive to help child refugees fleeing war-torn Syria

By Lisa Smyth

A mother who lost her only son in a drowning accident has launched a fundraising drive to help refugees fleeing war-torn countries.

Olivia Espie said the agony of losing five-year-old Ryan came rushing back after seeing images of the two young Kurdi brothers washed up on a beach in Turkey.

The youngsters drowned along with their mum as they made a desperate bid to escape the violence in Syria.

"When I saw the picture of one of the little boys, it reminded me so much of Ryan," she explained.

"I was in floods of tears, I just cried all day.

"He had on the same colour T-shirt Ryan was wearing when he left me, he looked so similar.

"I know the pain of losing a child and I don't want anyone else to go through what I've experienced."

The family had only just arrived in Lanzarote for their first holiday abroad when tragedy struck.

"We had been dropped off at our accommodation and had to walk up a street," explained 43-year-old Olivia, who is from Ballymena in Co Antrim.

"My mum was keeping an eye on the kids and we were carrying the luggage and I'll always remember Ryan (right) pointing out the swimming pool.

"He was terrified of water, he wouldn't even let you wash his hair, so I had to reassure him.

"The next thing we noticed he was missing, so we started searching everywhere; we looked in the pool but it was so dirty we couldn't see anything."

Olivia, an emergency medical dispatcher with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, was still looking for Ryan when she heard a guest say they had found him.

"Some man was sitting there and I heard him say some poor family had just arrived and they had found the little boy face down in the pool," said Olivia.

"I ran round and I will never forget what I saw, my little boy was lying on the side of the pool with a crowd of people around him. I heard someone saying there was a pulse in his ankle, but he was gone.

"I think that my job helped me to cope because I know now that the pulse was probably nothing, it was probably just because they were giving him CPR."

The next few days were a blur to Olivia - made even more painful as she was forced to leave her precious son behind as she returned to Northern Ireland.

"I had to get on the plane and listen to all these children calling for their mummies, it was horrific," she said.

"They told me that Ryan would be on the next plane, which is why I agreed to go, but that didn't happen.

"I had taken him away on his first family holiday and was supposed to bring him home again, but I had to leave him there.

"When we finally got him home it was in the middle of Drumcree.

"I wanted to go to the airport to be there when he arrived, but a policeman told me I couldn't because there was so much trouble.

"He said there was a risk the hearse could be hijacked and so I had to wait at home for him to arrive, it was the longest wait ever."

Sixteen years on, Olivia is still haunted by her loss.

"It's not something you ever get over; no parent expects to bury their child," she said.

"Ryan was such a smart, loving little boy, he was so protective of his little sister Rachel.

"She is the only thing that has kept me going through all these years.

"When I saw those pictures of those little children, my heart just went out to the poor father.

"We need to remember there are stories and people behind these pictures and no parent would ever put their child at risk like that for nothing.

"How bad must it be for them in their own countries if they feel it is a better and safer option to go out in a dinghy in the sea?

"It would have been Ryan's 21st birthday on September 28 and I won't be able to give him a hug or bake him a cake or have a big party for him.

"Instead, I am asking people to help me to help these children.

"It's not their fault and it would be a great tribute to Ryan to know that we have done something to help."

  • Anyone who would like to donate to Olivia's fundraising drive should email her on

Belfast Telegraph


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