Son’s relief as he’s reunited with ashes of Northern Ireland dad after they went missing on flight from Australia
The ashes of a former Ballymena man that had been lost on a flight were returned to his son for an emotional ceremony in his native town with just over two hours to spare.
Australian Bob Gilmour (63) had always promised to bring his parents' ashes back to the UK to be scattered where they were born, but they were lost in transit as he took a flight from Italy to Ireland.
Aer Lingus has apologised after a bag transporting the ashes of Co Antrim man Sam Gilmour and his wife Marjorie, originally from Birmingham, failed to arrive in Dublin Airport on Saturday.
But they finally arrived in Ballymena at 8.30am yesterday - just ahead of the planned private service at 11am.
Bob, his wife Kristen, son Declan and daughter Sarah, had organised two ceremonies for this week with the help of relatives, one in Ballymena and one in Birmingham.
They had planned to spend five days in Ireland before flying to England today for his mother's ceremony.
"The last couple of days have been hectic," Bob admitted.
"My parents were happy but never really saw themselves as Australians," he said.
"My dad was always an Irishman, my mum was always an English girl, and they both decided that when they died they would like to have their ashes brought home.
"When my daughter Sarah found out she was going to Italy to train with the Bolshoi ballet this summer we decided to make a family trip to Europe.
"Mum and dad have been sitting in a box on the mantelpiece for a while and we all agreed to keep good on a promise."
Assisted by his cousins in Ballymena - Molly Bartley, Margaret Alexander and Dorothy McCartney - arrangements were made and a ceremony booked.
"My father had grown up in 23 Springwell Street and left school at 14 to become an apprentice engine fitter," said Bob.
"When he turned 18 he joined the RAF as the war started, and met my mum there when she was working as a rigger. They fell in love and got married.
"They came back to Northern Ireland after the war ended and had two sons. But in 1967, when I was 11, we all emigrated to Australia and settled in Hobart in Tasmania.
"I'm the only one alive and my dad and mammy always told me that when they passed on they would like to go home. I was the only one able to do this."
After completing the ceremony yesterday, Bob said it was a relief to have fulfilled his promise to his father.
"As time dragged on since Saturday we didn't think it was going to happen," he said, and admitted he can see the funny side of the adventure now.
"It would have been a strange thing for us to have held a ceremony scattering his ashes without any ashes to scatter," he said.
"My cousin Molly had arranged for a lovely memorial plaque and it reads 'Ballymena boy came home at last'. Well he very nearly didn't! Honestly, my dad would probably be laughing his head off!"
Two of the four lost bags were quickly located by Aer Lingus, though not the one containing the ashes.
"It was incredibly difficult to get any answers," said Bob.
"We had to go through their website time and again when a simple phone call would have been ideal. I had no confidence they would find the bag.
"In the end we started to head north on Tuesday and we were halfway to Ballymena when we got the call that the bag had been located in Milan. It arrived in Ballymena in time for breakfast.
"It all worked out in the end and I have to thank everyone who has helped, especially all those in the media who have highlighted the story.
"I'm sure, without the publicity, we'd all still be looking for my parents. The generosity of people across Ireland has been wonderful."
On Tuesday night, an Aer Lingus spokeswoman said the missing baggage had been located in Milan's Malpensa Airport.
"Regrettably, it was not loaded onto the Aer Lingus flight by the baggage handlers at Malpensa Airport," she said.
"The baggage will now arrive overnight into Dublin Airport where it will be immediately transported to the family. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused."
Bob flies to London this afternoon before travelling to Birmingham to complete the second ceremony by scattering the ashes of his mother.
"She's coming with me this time in a carry on bag," said Bob. "I'm not letting her out of my sight again!"