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'We'll never get over loss of chatty Chantelle (7) in freak car tragedy'

Family reveal princess gravestone on anniversary

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Chantelle Keenan’s family at her grave

Chantelle Keenan’s family at her grave

With her brother Michael

With her brother Michael

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Chantelle Keenan’s family at her grave

The heartbroken mother of a child who died when she became trapped after a car rolled down a driveway has said she will "never get over" the loss of her daughter.

On Tuesday, little Chantelle Keenan's family unveiled a stunning princess-themed castle headstone and surrounding grave at Glasnevin cemetery in north Dublin to mark her first anniversary.

The child's devastated parents Kathleen and John Keenan spent months designing it, saying they wanted it to be perfect because it was their "last gift" to their little girl.

The seven-year-old was rushed to Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, on July 7 last year, after she got trapped between the car and a wall outside a house in nearby Boyle O'Reilly Terrace while visiting relatives.

Speaking publicly for the first time, her devastated mother Kathleen (28) from Finglas West in north Dublin said: "There are no words to describe the pain of losing a child. It destroys you from the inside out, and it's hard when you have other kids because I have to try and be strong for them.

"It was just a freak accident that could have gone in a lot of different ways, but it didn't, it went in the worst way possible.

"When I got the phone call, they told me that she had broken her arm because at the time, I wasn't there with her, she was having a sleep over with family for a few days.

"But I had a bad feeling that it was much more. Call it a mother's instinct.

"I just knew that my baby was not OK and that's what kills me. It's that I was not there with her when it happened. I might not have been able to help her, but at least I could be there with her, to hold her hand.

"But by the time I got to her, she had already passed".

Little Chantelle was playing with friends in her extended family's driveway in Drogheda when a car in the driveway began to roll unexpectedly.

"Chantelle had been sitting in the back of the car when it began to move. She got scared and tried to get out and when she did she jumped out the back door and she got trapped between the car door and a small wall," mother-of-three Kathleen said.

"She passed away so quickly in the hospital. She went into the hospital around 1.40pm and she passed at 2.02pm, so it was really fast.

"I would like to thank the man who came to help her. His name is Andrew, I don't know his second name, but he is from Drogheda.

"He released her from the car and carried her in. All the neighbours from the area tried to help. I am really grateful".

Kathleen praised family, neighbours and friends who tried to help Chantelle that day.

In the year that has passed, Kathleen said her family continues to suffer as they try to come to terms with their huge loss.

"My husband John is a broken man, never to be the same," she said. "Of our three kids, Chantelle was a daddy's girl. He is not a man to talk or show emotions, but anyone that knows him knows he is not the same man.

"We have two other children, Michael is nine and Chelsea is three.

"I had Michael first and then I had Chantelle only 11 months later. I had them close in age so they could be company for each other, they are very, very close.

"Even though Chantelle was younger than Michael, she would be always looking out for her big brother and he would follow her around everywhere.

"Michael is lost without her, you wouldn't see one without the other.

"I try to be strong, but at times it can't be helped, I do have my breakdowns.

"It's very hard at times, but like any child, they don't like to see their mammy crying.

"So I know when I cry it hurts them, so I try to stop, but I know they understand that I can't help it at times."

Kathleen described Chantelle, who attended nearby St Bridget's school in Finglas, as a "lovable chatterbox".

She said: "Chantelle was a chatterbox, she would talk the ear off a donkey. Everything seems so quiet without her because from the moment she woke up in the morning until she went to bed, she'd find something to talk about.

"I'd say to her, 'do you ever stop talking, Chantelle?' and her reply would be 'but, Mammy, I love to talk' with a big cheeky smile."

Animated

Kathleen and John loved this favourite saying of Chantelle's so much that they had it engraved on one of the many plaques on her princess grave.

The little girl was also laid to rest in a bright pink coffin carried by John.

On Tuesday, Chantelle's family gathered in Glasnevin to unveil her headstone, while the family wore T-shirts with Chantelle's face printed on them with the words, "Daddy's girl" and "We love you" printed on them.

The grave has several animated images of Disney characters, including Snow White, Cinderella, Elsa from Frozen, and Belle from Beauty And The Beast.

"I designed the grave myself" said Kathleen. "I just thought of everything she was about and that's what she was, a bright, colourful person.

"There are pink crystal chippings (stones). As you can tell by her castle, she really loved pink. I just hope she loves it as much as we do.

"It was the last thing I could do for her, so I wanted to give her the best."

Kathleen also revealed that it was not the first time her family has been struck by tragedy.

Her two-year-old nephew Michael Mongan died after he was trapped in a blazing caravan in Dunsink Lane in Finglas July 6, 2010 - almost nine years to the day before his cousin Chantelle died.

Other children who had been inside the mobile home managed to escape but tragically little Michael lost his life.

"My sister Anne-Marie lost her son. It was just nine years after, another tragedy happened again to Chantelle. Two freak accidents just one day off each other," Kathleen said.

"My son is named after him, we have put his photo and Chantelle's photo in a frame together. It is just too much for one family to go through."