'Our son Oisin died a hero saving girl'
A young boy who drowned while saving a teenage girl has been hailed a hero by his devastated parents.
Oisin Quigley (13) lost his life in February last year, when he saved the girl from the Lyreen river in Maynooth, Co Kildare.
His heartbroken mother Gordana said a part of her "is missing" since his death.
His father Eric said they were devastated after Oisin's inquest earlier this month revealed that he and his friends had been drinking before his death.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, the separated couple said Oisin would have been trying alcohol for only the second time in his life and that an inquest was incapable of reflecting the true personality of their "good- natured" son.
"If you were to read [the inquest] and you didn't know Oisin, you would think he was a bit of a messer, a bit of a gurrier," said Mr Quigley.
He described Oisin as an "affectionate, caring and perfectly imperfect" kid, while Ms Quigley said his personality meant Oisin "just went without hesitation" to save the girl.
Oisin and two friends - one boy and one girl - had taken time off school and ended up drinking by the river.
They were unable to cope with the level of alcohol consumed and fell asleep, said Mr Quigley.
However, when the other boy woke up, the girl who had been sleeping on a blanket beside them was missing. He saw her struggling in the water and tried unsuccessfully to save her.
"Oisin then woke up, saw what was going on and, without hesitation, jumped straight in to the river to help," said Mr Quigley.
"[The other boy] said they got the girl halfway up the bank but she slipped on the wet grass and bumped Oisin into the river.
"He was washed down a few metres and was hanging on to the bank. The other boy, who was still trying to get the girl out, said, 'I'll be over to you in a second'.
"The boy managed to get the girl into a stable position but, when he turned round, Oisin was gone," he added.
"That would be typical of Oisin. Without hesitation, without any care for his own safety, he jumped straight in to try to help the girl.
"The hardest thing to cope with is that he died so tragically.
"Oisin got caught in the bushes, in the water. His arms and legs were torn to shreds from the thorns and everything else.
"For a kid who was so beautiful, loving, generous, caring and all of those wonderful things... it doesn't make sense that he would be taken that way."
Gordana said she wanted people to see the sort of person her son was.
"He wouldn't even think about it. He saw his friend in danger and he just went in," she said.
"The alcohol takes from everything else. Nobody is concentrating on what he actually did."
Teenage drinking is not uncommon in Ireland and Oisin's parents said his death was a warning for other children of his age.
"I'd like to use this as a warning to other kids of the danger of water and the danger of alcohol and the danger of mixing the two together," said Mr Quigley.
Oisin's parents agreed this was a message that was difficult to get across because of the growth of under-age drinking.
"I can't blame Oisin, because we all do stupid things in our lives and we're still here," said Mr Quigley.
"He was only a 13-year-old experimenting."
The hours following the tragedy were incredibly difficult for both parents.
Eric was taken by gardai to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and Gordana, who had been on holiday in Wexford, had to endure a long journey back to be with her son.
"We had two or three days off, so we went down to Dungarvan, and at 4pm we had a call from the gardai... that trip...," added Ms Quigley, who was unable to put into words the depth of her despair.
Meanwhile, what was an initial afternoon of celebration for Eric, who was registering his newborn daughter Eabha's birth in Naas, turned into the worst possible of his life.
"I was calling him, to try to get hold of him to see if he wanted to come to the restaurant after school and have dinner with us because I knew Gordana was away and he was going to be staying with me that night," he said.
"A garda car picked me up in Maynooth and they drove me into Crumlin Hospital to the emergency room, where they were still working on Oisin - but I think it was more for my benefit, he was already long gone at that stage."
The pain hasn't eased in the 18 months since Oisin died - not just for the parents but for the whole family.
Videos of Oisin dancing in the kitchen with his youngest sister are still viewed regularly, while thousands of photographs are held on family computers and dozens more are dotted around the homes of both his parents.
"It's like a part of me was gone," said Ms Quigley.
"We all miss him, especially his little sister, Lara (4), my daughter. She remembers him. She talks about him every day.
"He played with her. He minded her. He changed her nappies. He took her trick or treating.
"It is nice but it is very painful. Sometimes I'm like, 'Please, I don't want to talk about it today'. I just can't talk about him.
"But then there are days when you remember him, you watch the videos of him and then you smile a little bit.
"I have videos from his 13th birthday and his sister Caoimhe made him a fake cake out of a balloon. We put cream and decorations on it, and he cut it. Of course, he was all splashed.
"It was Caoimhe's 19th birthday last month, and on Facebook the memories pop up and there was a picture of the two of them on her 16th birthday. It's something that comes up and it just throws you back.
"Then I said it would be a perfect birthday present for Caoimhe, so I printed the picture. She was so very happy about that.
"I'm going to try to organise a 5k run for next year, around his birthday, so that'll be another way to maybe remember Oisin. I want it to become an annual event.
"This year would have been his Junior Cert," said Ms Quigley. "It's been a nightmare for me.
"When you see children going to the exams, you're thinking Oisin should be walking with them, I should be at home, I should be giving him a hard time about studying, about this about that. It's very, very hard."
The little things are what remind Eric of his son the most, even when getting dressed in the morning.
His affection, in particular, was regularly highlighted. One of the most pertinent examples was the way Oisin would blow a kiss every morning his father dropped him off at school.
It didn't matter to Oisin whether people were watching or not, or that he was in secondary school.
Many days would begin with a kiss and end with one.
"When the kids were going to bed, they'd all give me a hug and a kiss," said Mr Quigley.
"Oisin was the one who'd linger the most. He was just so affectionate.
"He was a scruffy kid. He was always going around in odd socks with his shirt sticking out and a lace undone. Since he passed away, I haven't worn matching socks.
"I get up in the morning, put on my socks and it reminds me of him. The odd socks are a ritual for me now.
"Everything reminds me of him. He'd light up a room. It's funny, when people die, they tend to be put on a pedestal, people remember the best of them and gloss over the bad bits.
"There were no bad bits with Oisin. When you give somebody a eulogy, it's always the positive stuff, but he really was angelic. He was perfectly imperfect."
Any hope that the pain would ease as the inquest into Oisin's death was concluded, has not materialised.
However, Mr Quigley said there was a sense of relief it was all over.
After a request from Ms Quigley, Oisin's school has now implemented a policy whereby parents are notified if their child is absent from school.
"The system in school didn't send notifications in the morning. I made them implement that," said Ms Quigley.
"I said, 'If I don't do this now, when I actually can do it, and that happens again, then I could never forgive myself'."
The parents also wanted to thank their neighbours, the Maynooth community and the emergency services for their support.
One gesture in particular came from one of Oisin's classmates, who sent the family a letter in the days after his passing detailing his life in school with Oisin, what they did together and what they learnt.
Meanwhile, on the evening before the funeral - in windy, wet conditions as the family brought Oisin's body back home for one final night, neighbours lined the street outside the Maynooth home, candles aloft.
The photo held by both parents is particularly special to Mr Quigley.
"It's one of the last I took of him. I got the camera before Christmas, the anticipation of Eabha arriving and he was my model to try it out on.
"The one in the hood, we have in all our houses. It's kind of the one we most remember him by.
"He was just turning the corner of becoming a man, I suppose," he added.