herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Couple who flew out to care for sick brother die in fire tragedy

Aftermath of fire that claimed the lives of couple Joe and Anne Whelan and Joe’s brother Jim
Aftermath of fire that claimed the lives of couple Joe and Anne Whelan and Joe’s brother Jim

A retired couple who flew to London help care for an ill relative died in a tragic house fire that claimed all three lives.

Tributes have been paid to Joe and Anne Whelan, from Cobh, Co Cork, who travelled to Essex to care for Joe's sick brother, Jim, who had lived in the UK for years.

Jim had been suffering from ill health in recent months and had just returned home from hospital.

The fire broke out at the mid-terraced property in Romford, east London, early on Monday morning. All three pensioners were trapped inside despite the best efforts of the emergency services to save them.

Mrs Whelan, who was in her 60s, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her husband, also in his 60s, died on Tuesday evening.

Bedside

It is understood he lived long enough for his sons, Joe Jnr and Hugh, to fly from Cork to be at his bedside in the London hospital.

Jim lost his battle for life yesterday having been on a life support machine.

The two brothers were originally from Dublin. Joe remained in Ireland while Jim had spent his entire adult life in the UK.

Joe had served for a time with the Naval Service in the 1950s before setting up home in Cobh. His wife, Anne, nee Gannon, is from Cobh.

The couple lived on Tay Road outside the Cork harbour town and were described by neighbours as "totally devoted to each other".

"I saw the two of them out walking together just the other week," said a neighbour. "You'd never see one without the other. They were absolutely devoted to each other.

"Both were very private but the Whelans are a lovely family and very supportive of the Cobh community and their neighbours.

"Everyone here is heartbroken for the family."

Desperate

Another neighbour said the retired couple flew to London to care for Jim, who had been cared for by his devoted family in the UK.

"Joe and Anne just wanted to give the family a bit of a break by helping to look after Jim for a few days," she said.

Neighbours desperately tried to rescue the pensioners but were beaten back by smoke, heat and flames.

Four fire engines attended the blaze, which was fought by 22 officers.

An Essex police investigation is under way, but the fire is being treated as a tragic accident.

Last night, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan offered his condolences.

"I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the three people who died," he said.

"My department is providing assistance to the family in this tragic case."

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