Heartfelt sympathy has been expressed after the tragic death of 19-year-old schoolgirl Ellen Finnegan in a house fire – on the third anniversary of her mother’s passing.
The upper sixth pupil at Assumption Grammar in Ballynahinch died after a fire in her family home, which lies adjacent to her father Bartley’s butcher shop in Castlewellan.
As tributes to the teenager – who was an only child – poured in, a senior fire fighter said had a working fire alarm been fitted to the property “I have every reason to believe that she would have escaped, either she would have heard it or the neighbours would have”.
Group commander Max Joyce said more than 20 firefighters tackled the blaze, which was reported around 4am on Saturday, and recovered Ms Finnegan from the first-floor flat at Lower Square.
Despite the efforts of fire and ambulance service personnel to revive her, she was pronounced dead at the scene.
He said there was nothing “pointing towards a suspicious fire” and “it would appear to us as being purely accidental”.
He added that the “big learning point from the tragedy” was that if there had been a working smoke alarm, “I think that young lady would have had a really good chance of surviving”.
Group commander Joyce added: “Given it is the start of a new year with people making resolutions to lose weight and do what they need to do, if they were to make a resolution instead of thinking about getting a smoke alarm to actually do it.
“Once installed the battery has to be maintained – so instead of all these nice resolutions why not try getting a smoke alarm and maintaining it in 2016.
“I have said before it is around £5 for a smoke alarm. A battery for it is £1 and if that is what we are talking about – £6 in total – to save someone’s life then that to me is nothing.”
Yesterday Assumption Grammar opened from 1pm-4pm to allow pupils “to come together at this sad time”.
Their Facebook page said Fr Conor McCarthy would lead pupils in prayer during the vigil. “Year 14 and the leavers of 2015 are most welcome to attend,” added the post.
And earlier, hours after her death, an online message from Assumption Grammar said: “We are saddened to share the news of the death of our pupil, Ellen Finnegan. Our thoughts & prayers are with Ellen’s family and friends.”
Among whose who knew the teenager was SDLP councillor Laura Devlin, who said: “Castlewellan is in absolute shock following the tragic death of Ellen Finnegan.
“Ellen was a highly intelligent, strikingly beautiful young lady with a quick wit and sharp personality – a personality that she was renowned for.
“All of these attributes made her such a popular person. In these ways and many more she was a lot like her late mum Nichola.”
Ms Devlin said her younger brother Christopher had been “good friends” with Ellen and their group of friends had been on holiday to Santa Ponza last year.
“Christopher said Ellen was the best craic and full of fun. It is just so heartbreaking,” she said.
“The Finnegan family have owned the butchers in Castlewellan for as long as I can remember. They are at the heart of the community and are loved and respected by everyone. The news on Saturday morning is just so hard to process.
“Any time I called to the butchers, Bartley would talk about Ellen and what she had been up to.
“She was the total and utter apple of his eye.
“I visited Bartley on Saturday morning and all of the Finnegans and Halls continue to be in my thoughts and prayers on what continues to be a very dark weekend.”
Also expressing his sympathy, SDLP MLA Seán Rogers has said: “There is a great sense of solidarity in the Castlewellan community and they will support those who have been left devastated by losing Ellen at such a young age.”