Tomás’ closed violin case, vivid photos of a smiling Amelia dressing up, and John’s shiny new guitar – a 50th birthday gift he never got to open – on the living room wall. All act as poignant reminders of happier times when the now quiet home was filled with laughter, music and bustle in the home of this former family of four.
The framed print of the memorial near Quigley’s Point, where John, Tomás and Amelia tragically lost their lives when the family car crashed into Lough Foyle on a fateful night in August 2020, is a visual clue as to how The life of Geraldine, Woman from Donegal, Mullan, has changed irrevocably since the fun family photos that adorn the walls were taken.
On the print, the silhouette of the monument in the foreground is stunning as the sun rises on the still waters behind.
“I lost my whole family in the sea there, in the Foyle, and unfortunately I only have bad memories of that night,” says Geraldine, 47, quietly.
“When it came to putting something up at the crime scene, it was actually Kevin Barr who pulled it off [the monument] – Kevin would have been the Coast Guard that came to me in the water that night and got me out.
“For me, John, Tomás and Amelia were my bright spot, they were my everything. John loved nature, he loved everything that had to do with wood, so the railroad ties connected everything to nature.”
The tribute contains the colors of the rainbow that Amelia loved. “Amelia is in the middle – the middle sleeper – but there are only six colors because she was only six years old, in October she would have been seven,” says Geraldine.
“They’re all pointing towards Moville because we were driving home that night. Amelia didn’t like the dark, so I got three lights. And the marble is the same marble as her tombstone.
“I’ve gotten to know Kevin and his wife and their two little girls since the accident. I suppose it came full circle for him because that night in the water, for both of us, it was a struggle to get us out of the water, it was tough. So I assume there was healing for him too.
“I stop there on my commute to work and on my way home, it’s hard to get past the scene, but when I do I stop and say a prayer,” adds Geraldine.
Geraldine is a highly respected Acute Oncology/Hematology Clinical Nurse at Letterkenny General Hospital.
“It’s a post that was set up in response to Covid,” she explains. “For patients undergoing chemotherapy, I would be their liaison if they encounter any problems. They call, and then it’s a matter of protecting them from accidents as much as possible. It’s a new service I’m setting up. I did the interview on Monday and then the accident on Thursday, so I just went back to work last February.
“I love my patients and I’ve been in oncology for 15 years now and thanks to John I’ve been able to do my masters because I used to pac to Galway. It’s the patients that get me through every day. When I go in there I can change my name from ‘Geraldine Mullan’ and just put on the name ‘Geraldine the Nurse’ and be there for the patients.”
In addition to her part-time job, Geraldine also founded and runs the Mullan Hope Centre.
“After the accident, I didn’t have anyone to run the garden center,” says Geraldine. “John had been in the business for 25 years, he had it well established, but when it came to the gardening skills, John would always have said to me, ‘Do what you’re good at’.
“The community has been so good to me since the accident that I wanted to give something back to the community. A few of us got together and talked and the idea for the Mullan Hope Center came up. ‘Mullan’ of course because it would be dedicated to John, Tomás and Amelia because I only have good memories of the four of us over there.
“The ‘Hope’ stands for ‘Hub of positive energy’. John, Tomás and Amelia were full of life. Amelia was only six, Tomás 14 and John 49 so they still had their whole lives to live and unfortunately due to the nature of our accident they were all taken suddenly.
“I mourn – yes, I’ve lost my husband, I’ve lost my children – but Tomás and Amelia’s friends have lost a school friend. For John, there are clients who have lost a loyal friend and businessman and the whole community suffers.
“I just wanted to create a space for people to come in and yes, it’s difficult. Opening day on day one was very bittersweet because the three people I wanted there weren’t there, but it was a nice day because of them. The community came out in full force and supported us, and that’s how it started.”
Ahead of the opening, a representative from the Sunflower Festival organized by the Redcastle Village Association came forward to say that the 2021 event would honor John, Tomás and Amelia. The festival encourages people to plant sunflowers and Amelia was happy to take part in it the previous year.
“We opened on July 4, 2021 and it was a family day combined with the festival,” says Geraldine. “The sunflowers were blooming at that point, it was beautiful. We had music and crafts, there were so many different activities.
“The community has been absolutely brilliant. I’m originally from County Galway but Moville is my home and the way they have looked after me since the accident…I can’t thank them enough knowing that John, Tomás and Amelia are so proud on them all would be . I would like to think that they look down with pride on everyone who has supported the center since it opened.
“John would always have said, ‘Plant a seed and watch it grow,’ and that’s how it is with the center and the different things that we’ve held.
“It’s all about family for me, I don’t have my family anymore, but to see families laughing and having fun means a lot. I know John, Tomás and Amelia would love that too and it’s nice to see that Amelia’s friends and Tomás’ friends are there because they are my connection to them.”
Despite finding “every day difficult”, Geraldine was keen to do “something positive” to mark the first anniversary of her loved one’s death and hosted a fun family day at the centre. Tomás and Amelia’s friends were involved and Geraldine says: “There were tears but there were also smiles and it’s very enriching to see the smiles on their faces.”
The Sunflower Festival, which used to center around a village or two in Donegal, has taken place across the country as people across the country got involved in solidarity. Geraldine who visited various schools and organizations across Ireland to see the exhibitions and give lectures.
“It was nice to see people getting involved, people who don’t know me, John, Tomás or Amelia,” says Geraldine.
“The sunflower is a sign of hope and I look for hope every day. They follow the sun all day and when there is no sun they look for energy from each other. You are the flower of Ukraine and you are the flower for the hospice.”
The center introduced indoor farmers’ markets “as a way for local businesses to showcase their talent,” hosted benefit concerts and bike rides, and hosted Amelia’s Glad Rags for Hope fashion show to celebrate the “little fashion queen’s” eighth birthday.
The center hosted themed Halloween and Christmas events. Geraldine is planning a holistic running weekend this summer as mental health is very important to her. A gardening course is held in April, continuing the center’s previous life as the Moville Garden Centre.
Sharing memories of her late husband, their son and daughter, family vacations, their children’s achievements and the time they spent together at the garden center, Geraldine smiles through her tears, her voice filled with emotion.
“John was my soulmate, he was my best friend from day one,” she says. “He was my one true love. He always put everyone else first and himself last, especially around here. Family was everything to him.
“He himself and Tomás were like two peas in a pod, he was the best father. Music was his way of switching off. In the summer it was 14-15 hour days, he would come in and pick up the guitar and start playing and teaching the kids different chords. I have fond memories of him.
“Tomás was the best boy, the best son, the best big brother. The kindest, gentlest boy one could ask for. He was obsessed with Apple and had his iPhone and AirPods.
“He adored his little sister. I used to joke that I got third in line because Amelia was number one, Daddy was number two and I was number three, but I didn’t mind because the two were inseparable.
“He loved music, the violin and the accordion. I’ve started playing Tomás’ violin now, I’ll never be as good as Tomás, but I feel close to him when I play it. Tomás has brought nothing but joy into my life from day one.
“Finally, this little rascal, as I call her, ‘my sunshine’ Amelia. She was born a year after our marriage and completed our beautiful family.
“She was the apple of her father’s eye and her big brother and I wouldn’t blame them because she was just brilliant. She and I were so alike that we sometimes clashed; like Mother like daughter. When she was given a time out, she would inevitably look at me and I would start smiling and the time out would end sooner than it was supposed to.
“She was an independent little lady, even though she was six years old, she was determined. We climbed Croagh Patrick in 2019 and she would have been just five years old at the time. She was very proud of that. Like Tomás, she had as many boyfriends as girlfriends.
“She loved her Tik Toks and would include her nanny and grandpa. She was just a bundle of energy; a beautiful little girl.”
Geraldine finds birthdays, Mother’s Day and similar occasions particularly difficult. “Amelia was due to celebrate her communion in a few months and she’ll see her little friends celebrating communion, but she’s not there,” she says.
“Tomás was supposed to be 16 on Sunday… The more time without her, the harder it is. I’m functioning, I’m moving forward, I’m back to work and doing things, but I would always say I have the public face and I have the private face, and the private face is that comes home to the empty house. Look it is what it is, I just have to do my best to keep going for them, that’s what they would want from me, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
“The Mullan Hope Center is a way of honoring John, Tomás and Amelia, they were very much a part of the community and I’m heartbroken that they are no longer here, but the center is growing, I suppose it is one as I remember them.
“They say a man dies twice. They die when they die and they die when you stop talking about them and I will never stop talking about John, Tomás and Amelia. As long as the Mullan Hope Center is there, her memory will live on in a positive way.”
For more information about the Hope Center go to www.facebook.com/themullanhope
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/every-day-is-hard-but-i-want-to-make-them-proud-geraldine-mullan-who-lost-her-husband-and-two-children-in-2020-lough-foyle-tragedy-41529092.html “Every day is tough but I want to make them proud” – Geraldine Mullan, who lost her husband and two children in the Lough Foyle tragedy in 2020