Apart from Dublin and Munterconnaught (and a pre-natal stint in London), the only place Sean ever lived was Cavan town, half an hour north-west of us.
I have never spent much time there, except for the 2006–7 rugby season when Sean played under-16 rugby for Cavan and I helped out with the coaching. I don’t know the town very well.
In his first year at Cavan Institute, a third-level college (2008–9), Sean studied Multimedia Production … a FETAC level 5 course. He was always good with computers, and the course suited him well. We used to drop him to Virginia each morning, and he would catch the bus to Cavan. The course was largely project-based, and his results for the year were excellent … he gained a distinction or a merit in every subject.
Sean decided to take the next level of the same course in 2009–10. He wanted to live in Cavan so that he wouldn’t have to commute, and his mum and I went along with this. He and another young man rented a fourth-floor apartment at the ridiculously named Hampton Court (nothing like the palace), a few metres from the college. Sean moved in there in September 2009.
Academically, the year was something of a fiasco, as Sean put his social life first. He made a lot of friends, as usual … many of them visited our house in the days following his death.
From correspondence with his tutors, it became clear to us in April or so that Sean would not get his qualification for the year due to poor attendance. (It ought to be said that the tutors, who also visited us, still thought very highly of him.)
Pauline and I went up to Cavan to discuss the situation with him. It was an emotional meeting … Sean felt very bad about, as he saw it, letting us down. (At the start of the current academic year he was advising new students against making the same mistakes.) We knew it wasn’t the end of the world … I had done something similar at the same age.
We weren’t angry with Sean, although we were disappointed that the year would have been a waste, academically speaking. He was still very young, after all … only 18. We are glad now that he concentrated on enjoying himself.
Sean moved out of his apartment, and in with us again, at the end of May. He went up and down to Cavan to see his friends from time to time. He also did some training in bar work there, and in August he worked as a barman at the Breffni Inn during the All-Ireland Fleadh … tough and enjoyable work for him. I was very proud of my son when I watched him behind the bar in the crowded pub. He carried himself well, and was popular with his boss, colleagues and drinkers alike.
Soon after Sean moved into Hampton Court, he started to communicate with a young woman he could see through the college window across the way (in photo), by holding up notes (I think one said ‘Are you a nurse? Can you heal me?’). This was Clio, a nursing student at the time, and she became the love of Sean’s life. Pauline and I are extremely glad that they met and had such a wonderful year together, even though Clio, like us, is heartbroken. We now see her as a member of our family.