A former Lurgan woman, who is at the helm of a major Australian charity, has been working tirelessly these past two weeks helping to repatriate the bodies of a number of Irish men, including Craigavon man Alan Haughey.
Joan Ross (nee Larkin) is president of the Claddagh Association, a charity set up to help Irish people and their families in the Western Australia area.
Joan, who emigrated to Australia 20 years ago, admits it has been a very tough week as three young men from Northern Ireland died suddenly in tragic circumstances.
She works full time as a senior project manager with the Australian government’s Department of Health and works voluntarily with the Claddagh Association.
It is an organisation she helped found almost 20 years ago after police in Perth found a homeless man with an Irish passport in his pocket.
Joan explained that the police contacted the Irish Club in Perth and the Irish community rallied round and raised funds to bury him.
“That is the way it is out her, Irish people rally round each other and help each other out,” she explained.
Joan said that they realised there was a need for a support network and they decided to form a welfare group.
“When I came back to Australia in 1995 we did see a need for support,” she said.
“Over the years with the influx of Irish people with the downturn in the economy we were inundated with people who needed help,” she said.
However, she explained that the biggest job they do is to help repatriate the remains of Irish people who have died in the Western Australia area.
Over the past week, they have been working to repatriate the bodies of five people from Ireland.
The Claddagh Association works in partnership with the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust which has helped many families here cope with the loss of loved ones abroad.
Joan is often on the telephone at unusual hours dealing with family members who are in distress and in need of support.
“I know what procedures to go through here, who to speak to in the Coroner’s office, what undertakers to speak to and travel agents to organise flights.
“It’s been a very busy two weeks
Nine Irish people have died in the Perth area in the last number of weeks.
Joan said that it is important that friends of those who died in Australia are also supported, that they have a place to meet and share with friends.
“We have a large Irish population here. When someone dies, we organise a Mass, we have counsellors for those who are friends of those two boys who died at the building site and there will be group counselling offered as well. We want to make sure they are not dwelling on things particularly if they are homesick. It is very important that there is help and we want to make that they all look after each other.
She explained that if they have a Mass for a loved one in Australia they Skype the Mass so that family and friends at home can feel part of the service.
“The chapel is always packed and the Irish club is nearby so people can meet afterward,” she said.
Although she works tirelessly, the 63-year-old tries to return to Lurgan every year to visit her father Jackie.
Originally from Allenhill Park, she has five brothers and two sisters, Rosemary Haughian who owns Icons Coffee Shop in Lurgan, Joseph Larkin who owns the Shoe Repair shop in Church Place, Jim Larkin who trains horses at Scarva Castle, Leo and Paul Larkin live in Portadown while her other brother Alan lives in Aghagallon and her sister Collete in Lake Street.
“I Skype with them all the time so when I come home, it’s like I haven’t been away,” she said.
She offered her sincere condolences to the family of Alan Haughey. “It is very hard for everyone at this time,” she said.
The Claddagh Association is a not for profit organisation and relies heavily on the support of the Irish community in Perth and WA to help continue their work.
“We receive a grant from the Emigrant Support Program (From Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland) for administrative costs, so 100% of our donations go directly to help our clients. We are grateful for all the support we receive.
“The Claddagh Association Inc. has assisted Irish people during times of crisis and trauma since 1997 throughout Western Australia.
“Their aim is to assist where possible the entire Irish community in Western Australia in times of crisis, ensuring both the young and older Irish community have access to appropriate and valued support services. “We provide a safety net to assist people in crisis situations where all other avenues have been exhausted.
We are a voluntary non-profit organisation with Gift Recipient Status. Our committee is made of a small group of volunteers whom all hold fulltime jobs while assisting the Claddagh.”