All-Ireland winner opens up on losing his wife and friends in car crash last year

Kevin McElvanna has opened up on the tragedy that claimed his wife Ciara and friends Patrick and Ciera Grimley, all from Madden in Co Armagh, last November. A member of Armagh’s All-Ireland winning squad from 2002, McElvanna also stuffed a broken neck and fractured vertebrae and his kneecap in the collision.

Patrick Grimley, Madden GAA’s secretary at the time and brother of current Armagh star Niall, had been at Dundalk racecourse celebrating his 40th birthday. He died at the scene while Ciara McElvanna passed away four days later in hospital. Patrick’s wife Ciera then succumbed to her injuries one week after the accident on the day Ciara McElvanna was laid to rest.

Speaking to Thomas Niblock and his former Armagh teammate Oisin McConville on this week’s BBC GAA Social podcast, McElvanna recounted the heartbreaking loss, adding that he temporarily discharged himself from hospital in order to break the news of his wife's imminent passing to their four children.

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“To be able to explain things to them, I needed to do that face-to-face.” said McElvanna. "Probably a bit ahead of schedule in terms of my own injuries, when I would have been discharged from hospital, I left the hospital temporarily to come home to do that.

"My brother Paul drove me home. I had to prepare how I was going to break that news to them.

"Part of my medical training, I have broken bad news on a number of occasions in traumatic circumstances, so that maybe equipped me with some preparation or skills with how to go about that, but nothing prepares you for that scenario - to tell your children that their mummy isn’t coming home.

"I spoke to them individually and explained - that was probably the most difficult thing amongst everything.

“It is difficult to see your children in pain in any scenario whether it is on a football pitch or whatever. To bring their worlds crashing down amongst them was a very difficult thing to do.”

He added: “I have to say, I’m so proud of them in how they reacted. Obviously, they were devastated but, almost immediately, and that’s typical of Ciara and the amount of her that’s in them, they rallied round each other and me and put their arms around each other and said ‘we’ll get through this’ and that was a remarkable thing for children aged between 14 and seven.

"I’m so proud of them, they are amazing kids and they continue to look after me in the aftermath of it.”

Amid the palpable scene of grief and sorrow, the Madden community did everything they could to help the McElvanna and Grimley families in their time of need.

Armagh's Kevin McElvanna (right) pictured with Steven McDonnell after the 2005 Ulster final replay win over Tyrone in Croke Park
Armagh's Kevin McElvanna (right) pictured with Steven McDonnell after the 2005 Ulster final replay win over Tyrone in Croke Park -Credit: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

"From the moment the accident happened, we were wrapped up really by our family, our neighbours, our community to help us through it," stated McElvanna.

"Through what was the most difficult times of any of our lives; in the hospital, at home, during that very difficult two-week period where we had three wakes and three funerals on our road.

"The whole community, not just the GAA community, but the entire community mucked in. Nobody knew what to do, but everybody wanted to help.

"They helped in very simple ways. It was really remarkable the way everybody stood up in really adverse times and nurtured us through it. It (Madden) is a special place.”

McElvanna also paid tribute to renowned GAA coach Gavin McGilly who came across the accident that night.

Unbeknownst to McElvanna, McGilly had also been at Dundalk races that night and was in a separate party travelling home on the same road. McGilly accompanied McElvanna to the Royal that night with the Madden man adding: “I’ll be forever grateful for what he did for me that night - he went above and beyond.”

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