dara 1

When Dara was born in 1971 she was the third of three girls. After Dara, baby Anna was stillborn and she died on the same date that Dara died 39 years later, March 14th. Other children came along and in time there were four girls and a boy in the Fitzpatrick family. I am a twin, we’re the eldest, and from an early age Dara was aware that the two of us were in some way connected but that she didn’t have such a connection. She would often say to my mother “but who’s my twin?” and she was thrilled when our Mum would respond that she would be Dara’s twin. A great bond developed between Dara and her mother and having witnessed these exchanges it is no surprise. This is my earliest memory of a trait that we all saw in abundance in Dara throughout her life – a love for family and a desire to be really connected to those that she loved. In Dara’s last days she was connected to family, friends and work colleagues in ways that were outside of normal daily activities; she just took the opportunities to spend time with the people she cared about whenever they arose. For this we are now very grateful.

Dara was also very connected to living creatures other than humans and as children a succession of goldfish, budgies and guinea pig types came through our home. Dara loved these pets with a passion and when they inevitably shuffled off to the petting zoo in the sky, Dara would make us all traipse down to a field nearby and participate in a funeral for the much-loved animal. Woe betide anyone who sniggered, looked bored or in any way seemed like they were not taking this ceremony seriously, Dara would be on your case right away and she had a scathing look that she reserved for such offenders! Donkeys were the animal that held the most special place in Dara’s heart. She had an affection for these gentle (and stubborn) creatures and by adopting a donkey (called Lorcan) she supported the Donkey Sanctuary in Cork and did her bit to help with the rescue of animals in need.

In sport Dara showed similar kindness even when she was supposed to be competing. One day Dara won a rosette in a competition but her friend didn’t. So, having discovered that her pal was upset at not having won a prize, the following week Dara brought her own rosette back and gave it to her friend so that she could have one for her wall. This was vintage Dara, soft as butter and always wanting to know that others were ok.

Her career brought out the steelier traits in Dara however. Characteristics like ambition, determination, persistence, courage. She had always been interested in business and economics so after school she signed up to study in this area, but soon realised that this was not for her. Having been given a half hour lesson on a helicopter Dara fell in love and she had the courage to call a halt to the business route and follow her dream of being a pilot. After much hard work and persistence Dara qualified as the first female commercial helicopter pilot in Ireland and she set about working in this field. She was a striking sight hopping into the Enstrom helicopter with her long red hair and her brown leather flying jacket!

dara 2

 

In 1992 Dara began her career as a Search and Rescue pilot with the Irish Coast Guard. This is a male dominated area and it was not an easy route for a woman to take. It is testament to Dara’s determination, resilience and professionalism that she became the success in this field that she did. It is a testament to her personality that she made great friends in this field; in particular she loved and was loved by the rescue helicopter crews that she worked with over the years. Based first in Shannon with Rescue 115 and then in Waterford with Rescue 117, she worked her way through the ranks to become Chief Pilot. Dara made great friends in Waterford and two of her closest female friends are girls that she met during her time there. She bought a house in Waterford and this was her home for the ten years that she was based with Rescue 117. Dara always knew that she wanted to adopt a child and in 2013 she moved to the Dublin base to fly with Rescue 116, with the view to having her family nearby when she did adopt.

In the Summer of 2014 Dara adopted Fionn and from the moment she set eyes on him he was the light of her life. Dara was born to be a mother, herself and Fionn instantly became a unit and a little family. She raised Fionn to be an affectionate, loving and considerate little boy who was learning to be kind to others and to himself too. Dara was so family orientated when it came to Fionn and she encouraged us all to be closely involved in his life. So, from the start he was used to being minded by his aunties or grandmother, or being shown the animals on the farm by his uncle or grandfather, or being taught the rules of rugby by his godfather and he has always been so connected to his family. He is now the light of our lives.

When Dara lost her life on that fateful night of March 14th 2017, all of our lives changed forever as we lost this beautiful girl who we had lived with, laughed with, cried with, shared with for 45 years. Dara fought so hard to live that night, to get out of that helicopter and get back to Fionn, to her family, her friends and her colleagues in the CHC family. She would give anything to have her life back but sadly that cannot happen. We have our lives however and the best way to honour Dara is to live our best life. To have the courage to dream and to believe that it is possible to achieve that dream. To find ways around obstacles. To persist in the face of setbacks. To support yourself and to support others. To never let perceived barriers stand in your way. I call this “Do A Dara”. It is about bringing some of her characteristics into our own lives to help us live our best life, and remembering and honouring Dara in the process. We may never be able to speak to Dara in person again, or hug her, or share adventures with her like we always did, but this way we can keep her memory alive in our hearts forever.

 

Niamh Fitzpatrick   June 2017

 

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