herald

Tuesday 22 August 2017

'Inspirational' lecturer killed in horror blaze was due to wed

Originally from New York, Ms McDermott was living in Dublin and was engaged to fiance Colin O'Neill, from Portmarnock
Originally from New York, Ms McDermott was living in Dublin and was engaged to fiance Colin O'Neill, from Portmarnock

The tragic young woman who died in a house fire over the weekend was engaged to be married.

Grace McDermott, aged in her 20s, lost her life in a blaze which ripped through the house she was staying at, in the early hours of Monday, in Annacotty, Limerick.

Originally from New York, Ms McDermott was living in Dublin and was engaged to fiance Colin O'Neill, from Portmarnock.

She was a lecturer in communications at Dublin City University and was a scholarship post-graduate student working for her PhD.

More forensic tests are being carried out at the house where she lost her life to establish the cause of a fire, with a phone charger suspected to have caused the blaze.

Gardai are not treating the fire as suspicious.

Ms McDermott had travelled to Limerick with a female friend to participate in the Great Limerick Run, to raise funds for Barringtons Hospital in the city.

She joined 12,000 runners taking part in the event.

Tributes

As she lined up, she posted a photo with a final message on her Twitter account. "Here we go," she wrote.

A woman and three male university students managed to escape from the burning house and raise the alarm.

Firefighters later removed Ms McDermott's body from a first-floor bedroom.

Ms McDermott co-founded the popular academic website and blog Women Are Boring with friend Catherine Connolly, who told the Herald the project was Ms McDermott's passion.

Her parents are understood to have travelled to Ireland from New York yesterday.

Online tributes have been pouring in for the "inspirational" young American woman. A former DCU graduate, Aisling McDonald, wrote online how Ms McDermott had given her and her fellow students "inspirational lectures" when they were in DCU.

Another user on Twitter said: "Grace and the (Women Are Boring) project was a big inspiration to me.

"Such a positive role model for fellow PhD students. Absolutely devastated to hear this."

A separate user wrote: "Grace gave some of the most interesting lectures I attended in DCU and she was an inspiration to us all."

A source at the University of Limerick (UL), where Ms McDermott graduated with a masters in international tourism before embarking on her PhD in Dublin, described her passing as "unbelievably tragic".

Ms McDermott was found by firefighters from the Limerick City Fire and Rescue Service after they responded to the fire at 3.20am on Monday.

Three members of the UL Bohemians rugby squad and a woman, who had been in the house at the time, escaped without physical injury.

Garda sources say her body has not yet been officially identified. Family members will now have to go through the agonising ordeal of being asked to provide a DNA sample as part of the identification process.

The detached property at The Oaks, Riverbank, Annacotty, was badly damaged in the blaze.

Two units of the city's fire service attended the fire, with firefighters bravely entering the burning house in a desperate attempt to rescue Ms McDermott.

Pictures posted to Ms McDermott's Twitter account showed her about to enjoy a drink.

"The long weekend begins," she wrote.

The families of Ms McDermott and Mr O'Neill were both too upset to comment when contacted by the Herald, as were the members of UL Bohemians who escaped from the fire.

On Monday, UL Bohemians spokesman Tony Quilty said the players who survived the fire are "devastated", while expressing his sympathies to Ms McDermott's family.

"My concern now is just for our lads, it was a tragic house fire," said Mr Quilty.

Shocking

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the lady that has tragically died."

Locals in the area expressed their shock.

One man, who was returning from work at the time of the fire, said he saw firefighters battling the blaze.

"I asked if anyone was hurt and they said one woman was - it is very sad to hear," he said.

"I hope the other people in the house are okay, it is really shocking that this has happened."

Local Fine Gael councillor Marian Hurley visited the scene. She said the community had been rocked by the tragedy.

"We've had a tragedy up the road after a lovely lady in the prime of her life had a stroke a few days ago and her funeral was yesterday and she lived around the corner," Cllr Hurley said. "We're a community in shock.

"I want to sympathise with the woman's family and friends. A lovely young person taken in their prime - it's just too much to take," she added.

"People wouldn't necessarily know their neighbours, especially [those] in their 20s.

"They'd be typically going to work every day, coming back, going to the local park and so on.

"As yet, we don't know the identity of this poor and unfortunate girl."

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