About 18 years ago when I was working in The Tuam Herald, word came to us that there had been an attempt to bomb the World Trade Centre. The plan involved parking a truck below the North Tower, near one of its corner crutches. The intention was to bring down one tower, possibly into the other, and kill thousands of people. The plan did not work, but unfortunately seven people were killed and thousands received varying degrees of injuries. The reason there was a Tuam connection is because there was a local woman who was working on one of the towers. Ann Marie McHugh came from a well-known local family — her parents Padraig and Margaret ran the Town Hall Tavern in the heart of the town — so news of her terror on that occasion was a story of considerable local interest. On the phone from New York (because there was no email or internet in those days ), she told me how, as an asthmatic, she was terrified as she had to descend 80 flights of stairs to make it out from the smoke-filled building. It took her hours to make her way down the darkened stairwell and she spoke of her relief reaching the ground and seeing the light through the smoke.
Ten years ago on Monday next (the day not the date ), the news came through that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. We switched on the TV and watched the burning building, horrified to see another plane approach the other tower. At first we thought it was a TV replay of the first one, but were shocked to quickly discover this was not the case. My thoughts immediately went to Ann Marie McHugh as she was the only person I knew who had worked in the towers. But I had no knowledge of whether she would be caught up again in a second drama at WTC.
At times when we hear of disasters overseas, our thoughts go to those whom we know are in that area. The world has become such a small place for the Irish now, it is very possible that someone we know could be caught up in any world hot spot or disaster.
Ann Marie was indeed still working at the World Trade Centre eight years after the first bombing, and still suffering severe asthma, she had to endure the horror of making her way down the same stairwells. Reports of her indicated that she was last seen having reached the 40th floor, while there were others who suggested that she did indeed make it out once again, but suffered an asthma attack and did not escape when the towers collapsed.
The 10th anniversary of her death is one that will bring it all back to her family and friends. Indeed, the regularity with which the terror attack is replayed and discussed has rendered the normal grieving process impossible for her family. With a death in an event as public as 9/11, their pain today, 10 years on, is as great as it was on that fateful day.
While other Galway people were in New York on that day, Ann Marie was the only local fatality. A reminder to us all that we can never isolate ourselves from incidents far away because the people who die in them are members of families just like ourselves, and hail from communities just like ours. This weekend, as we are bombarded with coverage of that tragic event that shaped all our lives, let us remember those who just went to work that day, and who never came home.
Members of Tuam Town Council will host a memorial ceremony for the victims and especially Ann Marie at the Garden of Remembrance at Chapel Lane, Tuam, after 10.30 am Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption this Sunday.