Faces of 2015

Ireland says Yes to same-sex marriage

'Today, we are more truly a nation of equals'

Grainne Healy and Brian Sheehan - Yes Equality

History was made in May when Ireland became the first country in the world to bring in same-sex marriage by a popular vote.

1.2 million people voted yes, with many people travelling home to cast their vote, some of them voting for the first time.

Yes Equality co-directors Grainne Healy and Brian Sheehan said the referendum was "all about belonging".

"Irish lesbian and gay citizens had to ask the Irish people if they too can belong to Ireland and belong in Ireland. In their deep generosity the Irish people have said 'Yes' – Yes, we belong'."

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay during an interview on RTÉ Radio in January, said the referendum was about liberty and equality.

He said he decided to speak about his sexuality because as a minister he would be campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum.

"There are political and policy reasons too. I am now the Minister for Health ... I don't want anyone to think that I have a hidden agenda or that I’m not being fully honest with them."

Leo Varadkar, centre, said the referendum was about equality

Leo Varadkar, centre, said the referendum was about equality

On the day of the result declaration images of hundreds of happy people celebrating at Dublin Castle were beamed around the world and social media lit up with stories of proposals and of coming out to loved ones for the first time.

An emotional couple mark the moment of the declaration at Dublin Castle

An emotional couple mark the moment of the declaration at Dublin Castle

There was an outpouring of support for journalist Ursula Halligan who wrote a moving article, which was published in The Irish Times, about her decision to come out as gay having, as she said, resigned herself to "going to my grave" with this secret and how being surrounded by the debate over the referendum "forced her to confront the issue head-on".

This referendum was also interesting in that it had the support of all the main political parties from the outset.

Indeed, independent TD Mattie McGrath, one of the few Oireachtas members to call for a No vote, said with the whole weight of the political establishment and public sector in favour, "you couldn't fight that and move that mountain".

After the vote, Ireland was heralded as a beacon of inclusivity and equality and while the result speaks for itself, the campaign beforehand showed the situation wasn’t as straightforward.

Claims and counter-claims on the future of marriage in Ireland at times reduced the campaign to an often heated and uncomfortable debate not about equality but about sexuality and attitudes to homosexuality in particular.

However, while in defeat the No side was magnanimous, recognising that the people had spoken; campaigners reiterated their fears that children would suffer as a result of not having a mother and father and that the institute of marriage would be forever undermined.

In November, Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald signed the commencement order for the Marriage Act 2015, enabling same sex couples to marry.

On 17 November, Richard Dowling and Cormac Gollogly became the first same-sex couple in Ireland to tie the knot – celebrating the "sea change" they had witnessed in the country since they first met 12 years ago – and made possible by the will of the people on 23 May.

For all those who voted Yes the result is that, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny put it, "all people now have an equal future to look forward to".

A Murder in Glasgow

'Our little angel has been taken from us forever in the cruellest of ways'

Qualified nurse Karen Buckley was studying at Caledonian University in Glasgow when she crossed paths with Alexander Pacteau on a night out in the city.

Within minutes of meeting him the only daughter of John and Marian Buckley was dead.

The young Cork woman left a nightclub she had been at with her friends to go home. She never made it.

Her disappearance sparked one of the largest searches ever undertaken by Glasgow police.

Her parents travelled to Scotland to appeal for help in finding their daughter, but four days after she was reported missing Karen’s body was found at a farm on the outskirts of the city.

The officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Jim Kerr, spoke of the devastation her death had caused.

"We cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of Karen’s family and friends and all our thoughts are with them at this very sad time"

Det Supt Jim Kerr

Karen’s murder shocked the city – hundreds attended a vigil in her memory at Glasgow’s George Square and neighbours close to where she had lived while studying for a masters degree in Occupational Health Therapy lit 1,000 candles for her at another vigil.

Her murder was keenly felt in Ireland too and hundreds of people, including fellow nurses who formed a guard of honour, gathered in Co Cork for her funeral.

Her cousin Siobhan Leahy read a poem entitled 'Karen', which recalled her love of travel and study - "a nurse with plans, a woman full of dreams".

In August, Pacteau pleaded guilty to the murder of the 24-year-old.

Karen's father John addresses the media

Karen's father John addresses the media

Judge Lady Rae said: “This crime is a very shocking and disturbing case. You killed a young woman who was a stranger to you in what appears to be a motiveless, senseless, brutal attack”.

In September, Pacteau was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years in prison.

John Buckley said afterwards he hoped Pacteau would never be released and spends every day in prison haunted by what he did.

Karen’s parents and her three brothers spoke of the devastation they felt following her death.

They described her as a normal 24-year-old girl who loved her job and loved to travel.

"We will never see Karen in this life, we’ll never again see her smiling face, we’ll never hear her laugh or her voice, and there are actually no words to describe our loss"

The Buckley Family

Terror in Europe

According to Europol's EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2015, four people died as the result of terrorist attacks in the Europe in 2014.

In 2015, more than 147 people died in two terror attacks in Paris, which were claimed by al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State.

Citizens of several European countries, including Ireland, have also died in two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia, both claimed by IS.

Europol says the overall threat to EU security is likely to increase as IS and al-Qaeda affiliated groups have the intent, capability and resources to carry out terrorist attacks against the EU and the West.

"I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war"

These were the words of Gerard Biard, editor-in-chief of the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo following an attack at its office in Paris which left ten of his friends and colleagues dead.

Seventeen people in total died in three days of violence in the French capital last January, in attacks claimed by al-Qaeda.

Three police officers were among the dead. One was assigned to protect Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, who knew he was on an al-Qaeda death list. Charbonnier, whose cartoons were signed Charb, died in the 7 January attack.

A second police officer – Ahmed Merabet – was shot dead at point blank range as he lay wounded in the street in the aftermath of the attack at the magazine, which was carried out by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.

A tribute to Ahmed Merabet, whose murder shocked the world

A tribute to Ahmed Merabet, whose murder shocked the world

The third police officer was shot as she carried out a routine traffic stop.

It is believed she was killed by Ahmed Coulibaly. He then took a number of people, including young children, hostage at a Jewish supermarket.

Four hostages and Coulibaly died when police stormed the building.

"Je Suis Charlie" became a rallying call as the world reacted to the events in Paris and world leaders joined thousands of people and French President Francois Hollande in a powerful demonstration of solidarity in Paris.

"They just started opening fire on the tourists as they were getting out of the buses ... I couldn't see anything except blood and the dead"

A survivor of the Bardo massacre
So-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for Bardo Museum attack

So-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for Bardo Museum attack

Two months later however, 21 tourists lost their lives during an attack claimed by the so-called Islamic State on the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital.

People from France, Spain, Poland, Italy and Japan were among those who died as they got off a bus outside the museum in Tunis on 18 March.

Once again French President Francois Hollande joined other dignitaries to pay tribute to those who died and thousands took to the streets of Tunis in a march against terrorism, carrying signs that read "We are Bardo".

Spanish tourists Juan Carlos Sanchez and his wife Cristina Rubio, who was four months pregnant at the time, told reporters of how they hid in a storeroom at the museum overnight during the attack.

At the time, the attack was believed to have been the worst in more than a decade in Tunisia – but even as the country came to terms with what happened, worse was to follow.

"It is unprecedented. Unreal. It is almost impossible to come to terms with"

Canon Liam Devine
Lorna Carty and Larry and Martina Hayes died in the Sousse attack

Lorna Carty and Larry and Martina Hayes died in the Sousse attack

In June, three Irish people were caught up in a terrorist attack while on holiday in Tunisia.

Larry and Martina Hayes from Athlone in Co Westmeath and Lorna Carty from Robinstown, Co Meath were among 38 people killed at the popular beach resort of Sousse when a lone gunman opened fire on tourists.

Tunisian student Saif Rezgui, who sources said had been radicalised by Islamist militant recruiters, carried out the attack at the Imperial Marhaba hotel. He was later shot dead by police.

The so-called Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The priest at the funeral for Mr and Mrs Hayes described them as "soul mates". They were buried on the same day as the birthday of their only child, Sinead.

"Could anyone think of a sadder or more heart-rending way to celebrate your birthday than to attend the funeral of both of your parents?" Canon Liam Devine asked mourners.

Ms Carty, a mother-of-two, was on holiday with her husband Declan when Rezgui stalked the beach front, shooting people as they lay on their sunbeds or ran for cover.

Members of Dunderry GAA Club and Meath senior football panel formed a guard of honour at her funeral.

"I saw my final hour unfurl before me, I thought this was the end. I thought I'm finished, I'm finished. I was terrified"

Survivor of the attack on the Bataclan
90 people died at the Bataclan

90 people died at the Bataclan

A survivor of the attack on the Bataclan music venue in Paris on 13 November described the scene as like a battlefield with blood everywhere.

In what has been termed France's worst attack on home soil since WWII, a series of co-ordinated attacks in Paris left 130 people dead – the majority at the Bataclan where US rock band Eagles of Death Metal were playing.

Among the dead was the band’s merchandise manager Nick Alexander, who was from the UK.

Video footage of people fleeing the venue emerged, including a haunting image of a pregnant woman hanging from a window ledge as gunshots rang out and bodies lay prone on the ground beneath her. She was later pulled to safety by another concert-goer and survived.

Flowers and candles were placed at the various scenes across the city even as the Place de La Republic became a focus point for thousands of people who gathered daily in the aftermath of the attacks, although the mass public rallies and demonstrations seen after the January attacks, were not repeated as a state of emergency was in force.

Francois Hollande said the attacks, claimed by IS, were a declaration of war.

As friends and relatives frantically searched hospitals looking for loved ones who did not come home that Friday night, long queues formed outside blood banks as people tried to do what they could to help.

Two weeks later Mr Hollande again led his country in a solemn ceremony to remember the victims of another terror attack in Europe.

France witnesses the deadliest attack on home soil since WWII

France witnesses the deadliest attack on home soil since WWII

'Too many hearts have been broken and lives shattered'

Garda Anthony Golden, a 36-year-old father of three, was a popular figure both among his colleagues and the people he served.

Stationed in Omeath, Co Louth, the Mayo man was an active member of the local community, involved in fund raising, particularly for cancer charities.

On 11 October, Garda Golden escorted a victim of domestic violence to her home to retrieve some possessions.

They were met by her former partner, dissident republican Adrian Crevan Mackin, who shot them both, killing Garda Golden and leaving Siobhan Phillips in a critical condition, before turning his weapon on himself and taking his own life.

Garda Golden's death was a shock to the local community, and the country at large.

Thousands of gardaí travelled to Blackrock for the funeral, with over 2,000 in uniform.

Uniformed gardaí walk through Blackrock during the funeral of Gda Golden

Uniformed gardaí walk through Blackrock during the funeral of Gda Golden

They were joined by President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and representatives from across the political spectrum.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and her Northern Irish counterpart, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, were also in attendance.

Fr Pádraig Keenan addressed the assembled mourners, saying that there is no place for violence in our society, that too many hearts have been broken and too many lives shattered.

"Garda Tony is the 88th member of An Garda Síochána who has died protecting our country, our society and our community. It is 88 members too many"

Fr Pádraig Keenan

Mourners heard Garda Golden was remembered as a happy man, proud to serve, a role model for the community - and by his brother Patrick as a "big gentle giant".

Journeys of hope and despair

'My children slipped through my hands'

Warning: This story contains a disturbing image

Aylan Kurdi was a three-year-old Syrian boy whose family were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.

Their intended final destination was Canada where they hoped to join a relative who had already emigrated from war-torn Syria.

The young family had been sheltering in Turkey when they decided to make their desperate bid across the Mediterranean Sea at the beginning of September.

Aylan died, along with his five-year-old brother, Galip, and mother Rehan, 35, after their inflatable boat capsized.

They were among 12 refugees who drowned off the Turkish coast of Bodrum that day.

The chilling photograph of Aylan's body, lying face down, washed up on a Turkish shore quickly became a viral symbol of the tragedy of refugees.

The image of Aylan's body washed up on a beach touched people all over the world

The image of Aylan's body washed up on a beach touched people all over the world

It prompted sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping thousands of refugees using dangerous sea routes to reach Europe.

Aylan’s father, Abdullah, was found semi-conscious and taken to hospital near Bodrum.

Later he described how his children were lost from his grasp:

"I was holding my wife's hand. But my children slipped though my hands. We tried to cling to the boat, but it was deflating. It was dark and everyone was screaming"

Abdullah Kurdi

Abdullah's sister Tima Kurdi, who lives in Vancouver, said her brother had made a privately-sponsored refugee application to the Canadian authorities that was rejected in June because of complications with applications from Turkey.

Turkey has hosted more than two million refugees from the Syrian conflict and is the main launching point for migrants coming to Europe, via Greece.

More than 886,000 migrants arrived in Europe by sea this year, according to the latest UN figures released in December.

Like the Kurdi family, most are fleeing conflict and violence in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Along the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece, where more families are travelling, children account for at least 30% of the 589 deaths so far this year, UNICEF also said this month.

In October alone, at least 90 children died in the eastern Mediterranean.

Days after his family's deaths, Abdullah returned to his hometown of Kobane to bury their bodies.

He told mourners:

"I don't blame anyone else for this. I just blame myself. I will have to pay the price for this the rest of my life"

Abdullah Kurdi

'These are all our children'

News filtered through slowly – reports of multiple casualties at an apartment building in California – and the possibility that Irish people may be among them.

It was to be several hours before the shocking reality of the situation became known.

Five Irish students and a young Irish-American woman were dead and seven of their friends badly injured.

Thirteen people at a 21st birthday party in an apartment in the town of Berkeley were on a balcony in the early hours of 16 June when it collapsed, crashing four storeys to the ground below.

The young people lost their lives when a balcony gave way

The young people lost their lives when a balcony gave way

Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, and Lorcán Miller, along with Olivia's cousin Ashley Donohoe, from Rohnert Park in California, all died.

Ireland’s Consul General in San Franciso, Philip Grant, summed up the stunned disbelief felt as the full realisation of the tragedy hit home.

He described the pain, suffering and loss as "universal".

Flowers and cards were laid near the scene of the tragedy

Flowers and cards were laid near the scene of the tragedy

Lorcán Miller from Shankill in Dublin was a sportsman, an academic, and in the words of the retired headmaster at St Andrew’s College in Booterstown, an "exceptionally lovely young man".

He was a medical student at UCD and a talented hockey player and athlete.

Eoghan Culligan played football for Ballyboden St Enda’s GAA Club since he was a young boy.

The DIT student’s love of sport was reflected in the gifts brought to the altar during his funeral mass, which included a medal he won playing Under-13s rugby, an Irish rugby jersey and a signed Dublin GAA jersey.

His mother said her youngest son had been a light in their lives and the family had lost a beacon that would never shine again.

Niccolai Schuster was sports mad and "magical" in the words of his father. He was a devoted big brother to Alexei and set up the Beechwood Transition Year soccer team for him.

A photo of a smiling Niccolai and German soccer international Bastian Schweinsteiger appeared in newspapers and news websites and the player paid tribute to the young man in the days that followed the tragedy.

At her funeral in Dublin, Olivia Burke’s father said that not being able to experience her potential would be an enduring hardship for the family.

The loss of her cousin, Ashley Donohoe, was a double heartbreak for the family, who said despite the physical distance between them they were incredibly close.

Olivia was a caring and considerate person who "packed a lot into her 21 years", her father said.

Ashley was laid to rest in California. Her parents said she was an intelligent and talented young woman and someone who wanted to make a difference in the world.

Eimear Walsh was a medical student in UCD. Fun-loving, independent-minded, bright and confident, her father said her death had left a huge void in their lives.

The seven people injured in the collapse - Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Hannah Waters, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn - returned home over a period of months.

Some of them sustained life-changing injuries.

All of them showed a remarkable strength and determination in the face of both an unbelievable trauma and the inevitable media intrusion that followed.

The last of those injured to return to Ireland was Hannah Waters in September.

The Irish Consulate in San Francisco tweeted an image of her plane and Seamus Heaney’s poem 'Postscript’ and paraphrased the last line "Our hearts caught off guard & blown open".

A Family's Anguish

"This is our life sentence, for us there is no parole"

The O'Hara Family

Elaine O’Hara’s family spoke of the loss of their daughter, sister, friend following the verdict in one of the most sensational murder trials in recent history.

The 34-year-old was murdered by Graham Dwyer in 2012.

Elaine’s family said she loved working with children and had a strong work ethic and was always there to help others. She adored her niece and loved reading, painting and playing with her.

Her ambition was to be a teacher and she was studying to be a Montessori teacher before her death.

She was described as an intelligent person but one who was emotionally immature and very trusting of anyone who showed her kindness.

That naivety led her to believe that Dwyer loved her.

However, prosecuting lawyers described the relationship between them as "entirely predatory".

The often harrowing evidence heard throughout the trial painted a picture of a vulnerable young woman who was troubled by thoughts of her own self worth and did not value herself.

Her trust in Dwyer allowed him to isolate her and exploit her – to undermine her sense of self. He used her psychological difficulties as "nothing but an opportunity to achieve what he wanted".

What he wanted was to murder Elaine by stabbing as a way of fulfilling a sexual fantasy.

After gardaí painstakingly built their case, Dwyer was convicted in March of her murder.

He was given the mandatory life sentence.

Tragedy in Carrickmines

"Only the families themselves can know the reality of what that loss actually means"

Fr Derek Farrell

The country awoke on the morning of 10 October to news that several people had lost their lives in a fire in Dublin.

As further details emerged, the scale of the tragedy became clear, with two families devastated as a fire tore through their homes in a halting site in Carrickmines.

Ten people lost their lives, including five children, with the youngest victim only six months old.

Tara Gilbert and Willie Lynch, their daughters Kelsey and Jodie, and Willie's brother Jimmy Lynch died in the fire.

Thomas and Sylvia Connors also died, along with their young sons, Christy and Jim, and their six-month-old daughter, Mary.

14 people were left homeless by the fire, a situation that would go on to cause tensions between authorities and residents of an area chosen by the council to house the survivors.

The tragedy nevertheless struck a chord with many people.

Pope Francis sent a message of sympathy, which was read out at the funeral.

"The Holy Father prays especially for those who have died, and he wishes to assure all their family members, their friends, and the whole Traveller community, of his spiritual closeness and sympathy at this very difficult time"

Come on you boys in green!

It was beginning to look like a familiar story for Ireland, with disappointing results against Scotland and Poland leaving qualification for Euro 2016 in doubt.

A home game against world champions Germany was seen as largely a damage containment exercise, with a trip to Poland three days later the real challenge.

But then Shane Long popped up. 70 minutes into the match at the Aviva, he latched onto a long ball from goalkeeper Darren Randolph, who had earlier replaced the injured Shay Given.

Long, also a substitute, smashed a glorious strike into the German net. Manuel Neuer, considered by many to be the best keeper in the world, was helpless.
Somehow, Ireland clung on for the win.

In practical terms, the victory meant that Ireland were guaranteed a play-off spot, but it meant much more than that. Victory over the reigning world champions gave the team a lift, and gave fans licence to dream.

Ireland travelled to Poland knowing a win, or a draw in which they scored at least two goals, would secure their place in France.

But it was not to be, with Poland emerging 2-1 victors to claim the second direct-qualification spot, consigning Ireland to yet another high-stakes play-off.

The draw was awaited with trepidation. After previous heartbreaks, fans were hoping for a kind draw. In the end, it was Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Fans made the complicated trip to Zenica, though perhaps they shouldn't have bothered as in the event, fog obscured the view of fans and players alike as the second half got under way.

But, just as the game seemed to be fading away, Robbie Brady emerged out of the mists, pouncing on a loose ball and carving out a chance for himself, and somehow scoring - though it took a few seconds for everyone to realise Ireland had taken the lead.

"They've scored?! Robbie Brady has scored! That is sensational! Out of the gloom, the brightness shines!"

Robbie Brady celebrates breaking the deadlock

Robbie Brady celebrates breaking the deadlock

The euphoria wasn't to last, with Roma star Edin Dzeko levelling for the home side within four minutes. Nevertheless, Ireland returned home with an away goal, and the dream intact.

The stage was set. A scoreless draw would mean a bon voyage to France - but playing for a stalemate could backfire, particularly if Bosnia scored early. The consensus was that Ireland needed to score to be safe.

And they weren't shy about trying. With a stadium full of excited fans, the Boys in Green were quick out of the traps, pressing from the early stages of the game.

And after 24 minutes a questionable handball decision went Ireland's way (for once!), and Jonathan Walters had a chance to give the home side the lead from the penalty spot. He didn't hesitate, calmly stroking the ball home, and sending the fans into raptures.

Getting the opener certainly took the pressure off, but the nerves remained, with the tie still delicately poised. But when Walters scored again with 20 minutes to go, keeping his cool as the ball fell to him at the back post after a mis-hit clearance, the fans started to really believe.

Jonathan Walters celebrates his and Ireland's second goal

Jonathan Walters celebrates his and Ireland's second goal

The visitors fought hard to get back into the game, but even with the Dragons bearing down on goal Ireland stood resolute, and repelled attack after attack.

The party was in full swing by the time the final whistle went, confirming Ireland's place in the finals.

Walters, the hero of the hour, summed it up:

"It has been a long two years, but we got there. That was the plan from the start and every single player has played a part in this."

Jonathan Walters
Darina Daly, Lochlann Mac a' Bháird, Teresa O'Connor

RTÉ, Getty Images, PA, EPA