Belfast Telegraph

Greenvale victims remembered: Painting marks month since crush tragedy

It was so horrific I had to try to give some comfort to the families, says Northern Ireland woman as she paints new picture in tribute to those who died in Greenvale tragedy

Emma’s second painting
Emma’s second painting
Emma McGowan, left, and her sister Anna who was at the Greenvale Hotel on the night of the tragedy
Floral tributes outside the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

It was a poignant image which captured the heartbreak of the St Patrick's Day hotel tragedy in which three teenagers died.

Emma McGowan painted Lauren Bullock (17), Morgan Barnard (17) and 16-year-old Connor Currie - who died after a crush outside the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown - walking together hand in hand towards a rainbow.

The watercolour painting was liked and shared thousands of times on social media in the days after the March 17 tragedy.

Emma (23), who is from Fintona but lives in London and works as an intensive care nurse in the city's Hammersmith Hospital, has released a new image to mark a month since the community was plunged into grief over the tragic deaths.

The latest painting depicts the trio of friends as angels, sitting on clouds overlooking Ireland.

Emma, whose younger sister was at the Greenvale on the night of the tragedy, has since presented copies of her artwork to the families of the three who died.

She said she found that art was able to express feelings when words failed people following such a great loss.

"I am an ICU nurse in London and in my spare time I do a little water colouring and doodling," she said. "I have been doing it for years.

"My 16-year-old sister was outside the Greenvale Hotel that night. And I think just listening to her and my little cousin, we all just thought 'it could have been any of us'.

"We just felt so heartbroken for those families that their loved ones didn't get to come home. I was brought up in Fintona, not far from Cookstown, and would have spent my teenager years going out and going to the Greenvale and the Glenavon.

The original Emma presented to the victim’s families
The original Emma presented to the victim’s families

"And that is another reason I related to it. Those were the best days of our lives."

Emma said she was inspired by the courage of her younger sister Anna, who was there that night and witnessed the tragedy.

"My sister Anna was a source of inspiration for the painting," she added. "She was there at the Greenvale Hotel that night.

Morgan Barnard
Morgan Barnard

"I've seen how it's impacted them all at such a young age but I've been blown away by the maturity and strength of these young adults.

"They have a long way to go but it's important they take the support there and lean on each other.

"I just think that there were no words for the whole situation and listening to my little sister, it was such a horrific story to listen to that I had to give some kind of comfort that they are together and things are better where they are.

Connor Currie
Connor Currie

"It was quite surreal. It actually was a penny-drop moment. The image kind of immediately came to my mind.

"I tried to keep the theme of St Patrick's Day, the comfort of knowing that they are together in a better place, wherever that is."

The image was shared widely in the days after the tragedy.

Lauren Bullock
Lauren Bullock

Emma said she was overwhelmed by the response.

"The picture went viral on social media," she added.

"My Facebook just blew up. It went around the Cookstown and Dungannon area and then further. It was unbelievable.

"I think people just looked at it and everyone had their own interpretation of it.

"I was getting so many messages from people. One 70-year-old man said he was bawling like a baby at the picture.

"I think it just hit home when people saw it, and the idea of them in an afterlife but all together.

"It's like anything, when you have these horrific tragedies that are so awful, it is nice to have some manner of comfort.

"I flew home two weeks after the tragedy to spend some time with my sister. And because I was at home I went to each of the families and gave them a framed copy of the paintings.

"I was very lucky that I got to meet all of them. They were all so thankful and so appreciative.

"It's something that they will have forever. It was all very heavy-hearted. I wished I was doing it for a good reason."

Last week, a month on from the tragedy, Emma painted a second image, of the trio as angels overlooking their loved ones, which she hopes has given their families more comfort.

"I did a second painting and sent it to the families," she added.

"What is strange is that Morgan's family contacted me to say that I had drawn Morgan left-handed and they asked how I knew he was. And I didn't know.

"And Connor's family said that he was buried wearing his GAA top, like I painted him in the picture, but I didn't know these things. I'm over here in London.

"I knew it was the month's mind, because my little sister was talking about it. The families said that it was just so lovely and comforting that they were angels looking down on them now.

"And I suppose that is them moving forward, not moving on, just forward.

"It is very, very sad."

Emma said that although not overly religious, she is spiritual and believes that, as is reflected in her artwork, everyone moves on to a better place after death.

"I am not a religious person," she continued. "I wouldn't associate myself with any set religion.

"But I definitely think that there is somewhere beyond us that is a better place. I have seen so many different people, so many walks of life and so many different religions.

"In London, I just think that after all this we have to go on to somewhere better, wherever it is. Whether that is a cloud or a rainbow, it is somewhere better. That is my take on it."

Emma has been inundated with requests for art since she first released her painting in March.

She is considering taking up art as a profession.

She added: "I have messages from people asking if I would do something for them. I have had companies asking for me to do some drawing for them.

"I've had a beauty business asking for me to do something that their customers can look at while they are getting treatments done.

"I have had a few requests from people to do some more personal things for them.

"I have started to put more little doodles and sketches up and when people like it, it definitely gives me more encouragement to get better at it."

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