The Kindness of Strangers

They said it was impossible, but they hadn’t counted on People Power.

It had been some time since I’d met Eamon and Marie Roche. It was lovely to sit and chat with them over a coffee and catch up with all their news. They looked happy and relaxed after the Christmas holiday. I was struck by the difference the year had made to their lives.
At the same time the previous year, they were struggling to come to terms with events, and the struggle had taken its toll on their happiness. A retired couple who had worked and paid for their dream home, (Eamon had recovered from a heart attack on Christmas Day 2010), were facing homelessness. It seemed incredible.
My first visit to their home was early last year. They’d spent their Christmas worrying about the possibility that their beautiful house in Abbey-feale could potentially fall into the River Feale, after their decking suddenly collapsed due to river erosion. When I initially heard about their worries, I wasn’t unduly concerned. The house was built in recent times, presumably had been built to modern specifications, and even if some structural damage was becoming evident, I assumed that some action would be taken by the local authority, river authorities, Board of Works, the developer, or some state body. After all, the house was purchased in good faith, had passed all sorts of engineers’ reports and standards regulations. What happened was not the fault of the home-owners. But as days turned to weeks and months, it seemed the urgency of the situation became a priority for nobody except the Roches themselves. It also became clear that, despite the best efforts of their local representatives, no help would become available to them from any quarter within Government. The local authority had, in fact, evaluated the work that needed to be done and the final cost would be somewhere in the €500,000 mark. The office also furnished a Dangerous Building notice, but other than an offer of social housing, no financial aid was offered. No state body assumed responsibility for river erosion, or the fact that planning permission had been granted on a site that had clearly been unfit for purpose, each depart-ment passing the buck, many promising offers of help, but all to no avail. After many meetings with public officials, and visits from local politicians, official inspections of their home, nationwide media coverage, and public meetings, the Roches, it seemed, were on their own. But just when they were at possibly their lowest point, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of Neilie Lyons of Fealeside Construction, a local contractor, who paid them a visit. “This can be fixed,” he told them. “I can help you. The first thing you have to do is get an engineer” he told them. Marie told me that, in a short time, things began to happen. “Neilie got Donal Brosnan, a local engineer, and also a structural engineer, Michael Connolly. Himself and Jack Foley, and the two engineers were outside, coming up with a plan”. Neilie Lyons spoke to Noel Hilliard of Hilliards, Listowel, a piling and drilling company that carries out large scale works all over Ireland and abroad. Noel was familiar with the Roches’ story and he agreed to help. This was an incredible offer from a company that carried out major industrial works. Eamon remembers the day that Noel rang him. He asked if he thought it could be fixed. “Of course it can,” Noel said. “But you haven’t seen it,” replied Eamon. “I’m sitting here in my office looking at it on Google maps,” was the answer he gave Eamon. “I’ve a friend in Kilmihil, he’ll be able to help too.” The friend turned out to be L and M Keating, a multi-disciplinary civil and marine engineering con-tractor, market leaders in their field who, like Hilliards, carry out major works nationally and internationally. Noel also told them he’d get a Dublin firm to design the plan for saving their home. Again, the firm was AGL Con-sulting, one of the leading geotechnical engineering consulting firms in Ireland. To keep down costs, two of the company’s con-sultants designed the plan over a weekend, in their free time. The financial cost to the Roches was a concern but Noel Hilliard told them from the onset, “No one is going to make money out of this job,” and he duly kept his word. “Hilliards were just brilliant. Nothing was an obstacle for Noel, he’d a solution for every problem,” Eamon told me.
At the end of the day, the job cost the Roches a company pension that Eamon had to cash in. But he is so grateful that it cost less than twenty percent of the initial costings that had been given by the local authority. Everybody involved in the job cut their costs to the minimum, knowing the plight of the family. They are so thankful to people. “The kindness of strangers, and the people who went out of their way to back us, that’s what saved us,” Eamon said emotionally. The Roches can’t speak highly enough of Neilie Lyons, Jack Foley, Noel Hilliard, L and M Keating, Donal Brosnan, AGL consulting, Maurice Collins, Eamon Barrett, local represen-tatives, especially Councillors Mike Collins and Seamus Browne, and of course, their neighbours Pat Leahy and Seán Moore who accommodated them while the works were going on. “We’ve brilliant friends and neighbours,” Marie said. The difference the year has made to them is remarkable. “I can visualise sitting out on my deck during the summer,” Marie said. As I was walking out the door, Eamon pointed to under-stair drawers that had been fitted just before Christmas the previous year. “I thought those drawers would never be filled” he said.
I have always believed in the power of good in the face of adversity, and the Roche’s story is a fine example of the goodness that exists in the world. Eamon and Marie’s family home is saved because two local men, Neilie Lyons and Jack Foley sat down together and came up with a solution that set off a whole series of events that involved good people. The community of Abbeyfeale, the surrounding parishes, the locals and the people who stepped up to help a family in need are to be commended and applauded. Driving home from the Roches’ house, I was reminded of a quotation by Mother Teresa. “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” That’s exactly what the local and extended community did for Eamon and Marie Roche. People power is the greatest power of all.