Belfast Telegraph

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Heartbroken parents of Derry man killed by drunk driver make plea to Christmas revellers- never, ever drink and drive

Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher
Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher

By Leona O’Neill

The heartbroken parents of a man killed by a drunk driver 10 years ago have issued a poignant plea to Christmas revellers — never, ever drink and drive.

Martin Gallagher Jnr (25) was killed as he celebrated the Halloween festival in Derry city in 2009.

He was knocked down as he walked home with friends after getting dressed up and celebrating the city’s world-famous festivities.

Such were the injuries he sustained in the crash, his mother and father were not allowed to see his body and the family had to have a closed coffin for his wake.

Martin Gallagher who was killed after being struck by car at Racecourse Road in Derry.
Martin Gallagher who was killed after being struck by car at Racecourse Road in Derry.

His devastated mother Elizabeth said that the young man had his entire life in front of him when it was snatched away by a drunk driver.

“Martin was just 25 when he was killed,” she says. “He was full of life. He was only starting to live. He had a job that he loved. He was going steady and had everything to live for.”

One of five children, Martin Jnr had been only a few steps from his friends’ home when he was struck by a car in the Pennyburn area of the city.

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“Martin was knocked down as he crossed the Racecourse Road after being out at the Halloween night celebrations in the city in 2009,” Liz says.

“He had had a great night with his friends. We have so many pictures of it. He was dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and had such fun. He had left the bar and was heading home.

“He attempted to cross at a traffic island. He was about to step off the path when a car mounted the path and knocked him 20 yards down the road. His shoe was left where he had put his foot off the pavement.

Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher hold image of son Martin.
Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher hold image of son Martin.

“The impact he was hit with meant that small parts of his brain were left on the car windscreen. He had multiple injuries. He had broken arms, broken legs, broken eye sockets, his teeth. His body was mutilated.

“The man that hit Martin that night, he drove on. He went to a party and he left him lying there on the road.”

When Elizabeth and her husband Martin went to identify his body in Belfast, they were advised by a police officer not to see him, such was the severity of his injuries. Elizabeth recalls: “We didn’t get to identify him. We were taken up to Belfast to identify him but the policeman went in first and when he came out he was really overcome. He advised us not to see him, so that was it. We never saw our son again.”

Jonathan McGonagle was the driver of the car. He spent three years in prison and three out on licence.

Elizabeth said this proved to be no deterrent as McGonagle went on to commit further car crimes.

“We will never get over Martin’s death,” says Martin Snr. “It is 10 years down the line now, but you have the same feelings. You wonder what it’s all about.

Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher pictured in bedroom of son Martin killed in 2009.
Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher pictured in bedroom of son Martin killed in 2009.

“Our Martin never made it home that night because one man who decided to get into his car drunk and on drugs knocked him down and killed him.

“Our lives have never been the same nor will they ever be again. Marty was a really great son and we will never, ever stop missing him.

“Even now, if I hear the door opening for a split second I think, ‘I wonder is that Marty coming in?’ and the pain of losing him hits you again. We look at Marty’s friends now — they are all grown up, married and are having families of their own, but Martin never got that chance, it was taken from him when he was taken from us.”

His mother Elizabeth says the family was left devastated by his loss and will never get over it. She has kept his bedroom exactly as he left it that night 10 years ago.

“We are in a land of nowhere,” she says. “We couldn’t believe it was happening then, and we still don’t believe it, because we didn’t get to see him. Your body just goes into the mode of being here, but you’re not here.”

Elizabeth and Martin Snr have issued a plea to revellers ahead of the Christmas party season — to never get into their car after having a drink.

“I would like people to just think twice about it,” says Martin Snr. “Just don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Think of us and what we have had to endure. Your life is just ruined, you will ruin other people’s lives for ever. The man who killed Martin got three years. We got life.”

Elizabeth adds: “I know people say you get life when someone is taken from you. But you don’t know what that means until someone is taken from you.

“It’s like a part of your body taken away from you and there’s an emptiness left that is always there. It doesn’t go away.”

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