THE theft of a memorial cross from a roadside in Ballyfin has caused huge hurt and heartbreak for the family of a crash victim.
The irreplaceable copper cross was made by the teenage brother of 25-year-old Darren Smullen, a father of two who died in the crash just months before his planned wedding.
When Darren’s partner and fiancée Lisa Bagnall called to the site last Sunday to lay flowers for his anniversary, she was shocked to discover that the large memorial had been stolen.
“There are just no words to say how much this has hurt the family,” said Darren’s sister-in-law Fiona. “To some it may not look like much, but a lot of thought and effort went into the creation of that cross to remember him. How low some people can go is beyond me.”
The family are particularly upset that the thieves also stole a treasured photograph of Darren, which was attached to the cross with rosary beads.
The memorial had special meaning and resonance for the family, as it was constructed from copper pipes to reflect Darren’s job as a plumber. At the time of the fatal crash on 16 November 2006, he was part of a team working on the renovation of Ballyfin House.
Darren’s younger brother Trevor, then aged in his early teens, lovingly created a memorial cross made out of copper pipes. The family erected the cross together with a remembrance plaque at the accident site near Ballyfin House soon after the crash, where it remained until the recent theft and was regularly visited by the family.
Darren’s brother Colm pointed out that the copper used in the cross is worth only a couple of euros, but the memorial is priceless and irreplaceable for the family. He said: “It’s unbelievable that anyone would do this. Lisa was hysterical when she found that it had been stolen and we are all very upset. It’s tough always without Darren, but now, with his anniversary coming up on Friday, it’s a particularly vulnerable time for us all. Finding a place of remembrance desecrated like that is just too cruel.”
The family do not know exactly when the theft happened, as it is three weeks since they last visited the memorial from their home in Westmeath. They are appealing to anyone who may have witnessed the theft or who may have seen something that could help locate the unique memorial to contact any local garda station. They hope that the cross could be lying around in a yard somewhere and that it is not yet too late to have the memorial returned.
Darren and Lisa, who lived in Kinnegad, were due to be married in 2007 and have two children, who were aged only seven and three at the time of his death. He travelled from Kinnegad to Ballyfin daily during the renovation of the former boarding school, now the world-renowned Ballyfin House Hotel, until his tragic death 12 years ago.
Anyone with information that could help locate the memorial can contact the garda confidential line on 1800 666111 or Portlaoise Garda Station on 057 8674100.