A rural community is rallying around a family who lost everything in a fire that ravaged their Killinkere home last month, with an appeal going out to tradesmen and suppliers to help rebuild their house.
“I was sitting there, thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ and, without even asking [the community] were there for us,” emotional mum-of-two, Therese Steele, told The Anglo-Celt.
In the immediate aftermath, the heartfelt intervention saw the displaced Steele family - Therese and her daughters Harmony (16) and Trinity (11) - taken in, with clothing and other essentials provided.
An iFundraise page with a €30,000 funding goal has been set up to help get the family get back on their feet. As part of the drive, a table quiz and auction will take place at Killinkere Leisure Centre this Saturday, November 18, from 8.30pm.
A ‘Killinkere Fire Fund’ account has also been set-up at Virginia Credit Union, while the committee organising the events are now reaching out to businesses and tradesmen around the country in the hope they might be able to help with the rebuilding end of things.
What has made the Steele family’s plight so dire is the fact that their Lissannymore home was uninsured at the time.
Hairdressing student Therese has faced significant adversity in recent years. As an Australian national living in Ireland, she was not entitled to claim any State benefits. In terms of employment, one business where she worked closed soon after she started.
To compound an already hefty catalogue of hardships, Therese’s father, John Kelly, passed away suddenly back in Australia and, in the same week as the house fire, her car stopped working.
On top of losing their home, the family’s two cats, Candy and Lucky, sadly perished in the blaze.
“I feel a bit like Job from the Bible, thank God I haven’t got the festering boils,” laughs Therese, who, throughout it all, still radiates hope and positivity.
But the day of the fire, a week before Hallowe’en, Therese admits will forever remain etched in her memory.
‘Don’t go burning the house down’
After dropping her youngest daughter home, she left again to collect Harmony from Virginia Vocational College at 4pm. She lit a small fire, noting ironically that her final words to Trinity as she left were: “...and don’t go burning the house down. We both laughed.“
Dramatically, and just minutes after Therese departed, the fire alarm went off.
“It was only sticks, there were no coals. [Trinity] came downstairs and there was a fire in the middle of the carpet. So it wasn’t electrical, no log or anything had rolled out, it must have been a spark. What’s incredible is how quickly it caught.“
Frantic, Therese’s youngest ran to fetch a bucket to collect water to douse the flames but could not find one. By now the fire had fanned to about three to four foot high in the centre of the living room and was spreading fast.
Oblivious to what was occurring back home, Therese was running some simple errands in Virginia town when she received a call from a neighbour. “It was only when she rang me again a short time later to say ‘there’s now fire coming out of your house’ that I really started to panic.“
On approach, despite the maelstrom of firemen milling around her property, Therese admits breathing a slight sigh of relief. “From the front, it doesn’t look so bad. One of the firemen even came up to me and said, ‘you’ll be alright’, thumbs up. But then I met another and I could see it in his eyes. I’d actually been thinking we’d be sleeping there that same night, but no, it was gutted.“
Within the hour, the wave of community support swelled and grew stronger, as a bewildered Therese struggled to contemplate what next lay in store for her and her girls.
“Out of no where, neighbours and their friends, people I’d never met before just took us under their wing, even before I had time to get my head around it,“ says Therese, who is now staying with her daughters in Virginia Town.
Thankful, she doubts had the family been in Australia, the reaction would have been the same. “I really don’t. This is something that is really Irish.
“There is something very special about Irish people, about Ireland. I know a lot of Irish when they go to Australia that’s what they miss most.
“I don’t know how to think, it’s devastating, but people have given us hope again."
Overwhelmed by the generosity, Therese thanks all who have come to their aid to date and many donors, who have chosen to remain nameless. “I don’t even know how to thank these people, but they’ve been amazing. From the bottom of my heart, we’ll never forget this as a family.“
One option being explored by the Steele family is to hopefully restore their damaged home to its former glory but Therese accepts that having to knock and rebuild the property may be on the cards. Whatever the path forward is it “won’t be cheap" accepts Therese, who is giving consideration to locating a log cabin on the site for the family to live in in the interim.
Her comments come with consideration of the Christmas period ahead and as a mother trying to restore some normality for her young family. Regardless, she says they’ll make the most of it together.
“It’s lovely and peaceful up [at Lissannymore]. The kids have been very good, they’re not expecting a whole lot at Christmas. It could always have been worse. Thankfully no one was injured, that would be worse. At least we still have each other. I see the girls hug each other and give each other strength, and that gives me strength too. I know things will get better. It’s a new adventure."
‘We’d do it for anyone’
“We’d do it for anyone in the same circumstances," says Tony O’Reilly, one of community group in the Killinkere area who’ve set in motion efforts to support a local family whose home was devastated by fire last month.
A signed and framed All-Ireland Winning Dublin jersey heralding the teams historic three-in-a-row; signed Kodaline memorabilia; tickets for a Manchester United match and vouchers for dinner at some of the regions most lavish restaurants are among the prizes up for auction at the Killinkere Leisure Centre this coming Saturday, November 18 from 8.30pm. The auction and raffle will coincide with a Table Quiz at the venue also, cost €40 per table, €10 per person and concessions for OAPs and Students.
The proceeds from the event, along with whatever monies are raised online and at the local Credit Union, will assist putting a roof back over the heads of Therese Steele and her girls.
“It’s a terrible thing to happen for any family, for their home to be destroyed like that, a young family, and so close to Christmas as well," Mr O’Reilly told The Anglo-Celt, heaping praise too on all other community members who have been so valiantly working on behalf of the Steele family.
“No one has been found wanting. People have been very generous with time, and prizes too. We’ve scoured the country and people have come forward with some great things, everything right up to a load of turf."
But fundraising, Mr O’Reilly accepts is only the first step. The next will be in assessing the damage and moving forward from there. “That’s the next step and the big step. We’ve already started asking... We’re looking for anyone, tradesmen, businesses and suppliers, anyone who can help, provide a day or two work, anything to get this family back on their feet and back into their home."