The community in Ballinasloe was in shock yesterday when they awoke to the news that a married couple had lost their lives in a fire which tore though their mobile home in the middle of the night.
The couple, who were named locally yesterday as Christy (59 ) and Janie Ward (53 ), died when the mobile home they were living in near Poolboy caught fire in the early hours of yesterday.
The family, who were originally from the Mountbellew area, had previously lived in a temporary halting site nearby but were housed in recent years in St Grellan’s Terrace in Ballinasloe town as part of a relocation programme.
However they returned to Poolboy last year and moved into the mobile home close to where they had previously lived. It is understood the couple had been visiting relatives in the UK when their house was destroyed in a fire, and they took up residence in the mobile home on their return.
It was reported locally yesterday that a caravan occupied by the Wards was also destroyed in a fire some 15 years ago, close to the scene of this week’s fatal blaze.
A family living close to the Wards raised the alarm shortly after 2am yesterday when they found the couple’s home ablaze. Two units of Ballinasloe Fire Brigade rushed to the scene and fought the blaze for several hours, but were unable to save the couple from the inferno.
There was little left of the Wards’ home at the scene of the fire, which was cordoned off yesterday as gardaí carried out a technical examination of the area.
State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy carried out a preliminary examination of the Wards’ remains at the scene yesterday afternoon. Their bodies were later removed to Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe for full post mortem examinations.
Mr Ward, who was known by locals in Ballinasloe as ‘Cowboy’ because he often wore a cowboy hat, was a well known figure in the town. The couple had a large family and were well known and respected in the Traveller community.
Family friend Ann Ward told the media yesterday that the Wards were a lovely, happy go lucky couple who were greatly loved in their community.
Mayor of Ballinasloe Cllr Pat O’Sullivan expressed his sympathies to Mr and Mrs Ward’s relatives yesterday, saying it was a terrible tragedy that was felt by the entire town.
“I want to extend my sympathy to the family on behalf of the people of Ballinasloe,” he said.
Cllr Michael Finnerty also expressed his sympathy to the family.
“He was well known in the town and it’s an awful shock,” Cllr Finnerty said. “It’s very sad for those who are left behind.”
Fr Bernie Costello, chaplain of Portiuncula Hospital, who went to the scene of the fire in the early hours yesterday, said the deaths had left the town in shock. He said the entire community was praying for the family and wanted to extend their sympathy.