Niamh Dolan on life after Enda and how the foundation set up in his memory brings her family some comfort
It is now three-and-a-half years since Co Tyrone student Enda Dolan was knocked down and killed in Belfast, but the pain hasn't lessened for his grieving family. Here, his mother Niamh tells Gail Bell how the foundation set up in his memory helps bring some comfort
OF ALL the cherished memories she has banked of her beloved eldest son, it is the whimsy of his haircut that temporarily illuminates Niamh Dolan’s face in a surprising, sunny smile.
It is a bittersweet smile, but still brings flashes of the person she used to be; a happy, carefree mother unburdened by the relentless ache of grief.
"Enda did spend quite a lot of time on his hair,” reflects the mother-of-five from Killyclogher, Co Tyrone, referring to the ‘Run for Enda’ logo, appropriately framed by an artful interpretation of her son’s trademark feathery hairdo.
"I am delighted with the logo, but Enda’s hair parting was on the other side. But, then again, that’s the sort of thing that only a mother would notice."
She still doesn't sleep and her pain, three and-a-half years after the popular 18-year-old architecture student was knocked down and killed by a drunk driver is palpable, but the focus now is on the Enda Dolan Foundation set up in his memory.
It promotes running and guitar workshops – two of Enda's great passions – and is a family affair, with Niamh’s husband Peter receiving recognition for ‘Overcoming Diversity’ on behalf of the foundation in this year's Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards held recently in Belfast.
"The foundation received official charity status over a month ago,” Niamh says, "so it has been a busy time, particularly with the Killyclogher run coming up at the end of May and preparations in place for this year's guitar workshop on July 30.
"Away from the running and music, we are kept busy in other directions too – we donated a defibrillator to our local community in Killyclogher and set up a bursary at Queen’s University for the best first year architecture student."
There is also an important third strand to the foundation – campaigning for changes to the law, particularly in relation to sentencing and how families of victims are treated in court.
But, while the running programmes and guitar workshops have become hugely successful, Niamh admits the campaign to bring about legal improvements is barely out of the starting blocks.
"Our experience of the court system left me disgusted and made me determined to help bring about change for other families," she stresses.
"The lack of respect for the family of the victim I found shocking – everything from the low priority given to victim impact statements to things like having to share toilet facilities with defendants and their families."
A radiographer by profession, Niamh stayed at home to bring up her growing family – Enda was the eldest, followed by Dervla (19), Ben (16), Andrew (12) and nine-year-old Adam – and is now grateful for the precious time it allowed to be a full-time mother.
“I am so glad that I had that quality time,” she says, "whether it was ferrying Enda to school or to part-time jobs – or sitting in the passenger seat while he learned to drive himself.
"I was the one who took Enda out on driving lessons as Peter didn't really have the patience. I love that we did that together, although around nearly every corner of the local roads there are heartbreaking memories.
"I remember the place that he did his first three-point turn, the exact spot where he learned to reverse…"
Although he went on to pass his driving test on the first attempt, Enda was a pedestrian when he was killed in the early hours of October 15 2014 – fatefully, the day of his sister Dervla's 16th birthday.
He had been walking to student accommodation on Belfast's Malone Road when a van driven by David Lee Stewart ploughed into him from behind, continuing on for several hundred metres with the teenager still on the roof.
Stewart (31) had taken drugs and up to 13 drinks before getting behind the wheel. He was eventually sentenced to nine years – four and-a-half in jail and the same period on licence – for causing death by dangerous driving.
"We were in deep shock at the time, but someone – we don't know who – wrote to the PPS, complaining the original sentence of three years was unduly lenient,” Niamh explains.
"The maximum period for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years but, for some unknown reason, that has never been handed down in Northern Ireland.
"Also, I believe a driving ban should be for life if you kill someone but, in another farce, whatever the time period, the ban is activated on the day of sentencing; driving bans don’t really serve their purpose if someone is in prison."
Such revelations have exacerbated Niamh's trauma over losing Enda, who had just started his first term at Queen's and wanted to be an architect like his dad.
He had always been a high-achieving student, artistically as well as academically – and a stunning charcoal painting in the family living room is a visual reminder of a talent tragically cut short.
It is a self-portrait, painted by Enda for his GCSE art exam (for which he gained full marks) and depicts a young man playing guitar, head bowed in concentration, face partly hidden by a shock of dark hair.
"I think he would be delighted with the guitar workshops we have set up to encourage young musicians," Niamh says. "He loved all types of music, rock in particular, and six months before his death, in a weird conversation, he chose the songs for his funeral – Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N' Roses and Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"He also idolised The Hootin' Annies, older boys who had gone to the same school in Omagh, and they played in the graveyard at his funeral in what was the saddest of concerts."
The foundation was formed "not as any grand master plan", but following a casual conversation among friends and neighbours about the Omagh half-marathon – and doing it in memory of Enda, who enjoyed running and taking part in a few events.
It "snowballed" from there and led to the launch of Couch to 5K running programmes – the latest of which has just started – to help people prepare mentally and physically for the challenge ahead.
Due to back problems, Niamh doesn't run herself, but comforts come from the smallest of things: snatches of a half-remembered joke, images of coffee and chats over the kitchen table, a mischievous comment about what not to wear…
"We had a brilliant relationship," she reveals. "Enda worked in Next in Omagh, so sometimes would pass on style advice, telling me, 'You're not wearing that– it's far too old for you’.
"We would have a laugh and he would confide in me – not about everything, of course – but we had a relaxed relationship for mother and son. He loved family time and was sensible, but I know he had a fun, mad side too."
He would be pleased, she believes, with the work at hand.
"The guitar workshops are my baby and I especially feel his presence there," she adds. "I look at it all and say, 'Enda, you would have loved this'.
"These are all positives, but the biggest legacy will be changes to the law to help other families. This is all I can do for him now and I don't care how long it takes."
:: Visit The Enda Dolan Foundation on Facebook for updates.