Northern Ireland

Widow describes six-year battle for justice following sudden death of husband (42) in Spain

A WIDOW has spoken of her six-year battle for justice following the sudden death of her husband abroad. Health Correspondent Seanín Graham reports.

Bronagh Boyle (centre) with her children Orla and Connor in their Dunmurry home. Picture by Hugh Russell
Bronagh Boyle (centre) with her children Orla and Connor in their Dunmurry home. Picture by Hugh Russell

ORLA Boyle's last memory of her father is being wakened by him tickling her feet in a Spanish apartment.

Laughing as he said goodbye to the teenager, Co Antrim man Ronan Boyle and his family were just a few days into a summer holiday and planning an eleventh birthday party for their youngest son in July 2014.

"He was always torturing us and having fun. My feet were dangling off a sofa bed that me and my friend were sharing. He bent down and tickled me. I pretended to give him a dirty look as he walked out the door," she said.

With hours, Orla and her two brothers, Chris and Connor, were summoned to a nearby A&E medical centre where they watched on in horror as their mother Bronagh desperately tried to get information on her husband's deteriorating condition.

The high-profile businessman and fanatical O'Donovan Rossa GAA coach had become unwell with chest pains as the couple were having lunch.

By mid-afternoon, the 42-year-old was pronounced dead after suffering a heart attack. He was fit with no underlying health conditions.

“I started screaming as I couldn’t cope with the thought of losing my daddy, I just fell to my knees. In the days afterwards, it was like an alternate universe," said Orla.

As the sixth anniversary of his death approaches, so too does the successful conclusion of an extraordinary battle by Bronagh Boyle (47) against the Spanish health system.

Read More: Lawyers praise Co Antrim's widow's courage in taking on Spanish health system - and winning

Bronagh and Ronan Boyle were together for 24 years after meeting as teenagers
Bronagh and Ronan Boyle were together for 24 years after meeting as teenagers

While she says the action will never bring back her husband, she felt she had to act due to a litany of failings in treating what was later determined a "mild and survivable" heart attack.

Clinic staff delayed calling an ambulance until the Belfast woman paid them €144 - but it later turned out they called the wrong ambulance. By the time the emergency crew arrived, it was too late.

Medics also said vital ECG tests showed no signs of heart attack, which was later disproven.

"We thought we were so lucky as the centre was opposite our apartment and we would get Ronan the right treatment. We thought he couldn't be in a better place," she said.

"As soon as we got to the reception I knew that something wasn't right... at one point a staff member told him 'You're getting on like a bambino', they were so rude to him."

Mrs Boyle said she instinctively knew her husband was having a heart attack because her mother had survived one months earlier.

"He was a grey colour, holding his left arm and sweating. I was afraid to leave him - but they said they needed the E11. I couldn't find it and they were then asking for private medical insurance. I went to the apartment to find the forms.

"When I went back Ronan was sitting on bed and then walking over to a bin trying to be sick. I asked a male nurse why they weren't doing anything - but he said said not until payment was made.

"I had to leave again to get a credit card. I kept looking to see where the emergency ambulance was. They were ignoring him.

"We were there for 90 minutes, it went over that golden hour. I knew he was being left too long but I didn't think for one minute he would die."

The mother-of-three contacted her husband's friend, Donal Kennedy - who was also on holiday with them along with other family - and he came to the centre.

"Donal and me were struggling to get answers from staff and then we heard a massive bang in the clinic. Ronan had fallen forward out of a bed and collapsed. They wouldn't let me into the room and I began screaming. I forced my way in and he was lying on the floor."

Within a short time of being told her husband was dead, Mrs Boyle contacted police.

"I knew I had witnessed something that should never have happened. I rang the police, requested his medical notes, ambulance logs and asked for a translator. I later organised a private autopsy. It's what Ronan would have wanted me to do," she said.

The distraught mother said her most painful memory was seeing her children's faces.

"It was totally and utterly horrendous. They adored their daddy. My wee boy Connor, who hadn't seen him that morning, kept saying to me 'But he was so happy last night'. I organised a birthday party three days later with balloons and go-karting.

"You can’t describe the shock. The worst thing was knowing he wasn’t there and it was the most heartbreaking time in my life."

The couple met as teenagers while working in the Eglantine Inn bar in Belfast in the early 1990s and were together for 24 years.

"We were just very connected, we saw each other every night and we never looked back. He was this big, generous, down-to-earth personality who everyone loved," she said.

"He played for O'Donovan Rossa and then coached the youngest team. He was also the biggest Antrim GAA fan and we all followed them up and down the country. He worked really hard and loved to spoil us, our holidays with the kids were sacred.

"We had also got to the stage where we were going places on our own, we were beginning to enjoy our time together."

Sitting in her Dunmurry home with a copy of the landmark 'medical negligence' verdict delivered by a Spanish magistrate last month, this is the second time in the past two years I have met Bronagh.

In April 2018, she was given assurances the courts would make a decision "within 30 days" of a legal hearing the previous month which the family attended in Spain.

Armed with a bulging folder of medical notes and legal correspondence during our first encounter, she cuts a very different figure from the fragile woman back then who lost her motor skills and developed a stammer in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"I lost total function, I couldn't write my name, my motor skills just went," she said.

"I was just so shocked and lost - to be without someone who has been with you for most of your life. My biggest fear was I couldn't look after three kids. Their daddy was the popular one. I was petrified to stay in the house on my own. It's a vulnerability you don't know you have.

"We were very lucky had so much support, the house never stopped. My children were very active within the GAA, while different family and friends stayed with us each week."

Today, she is flanked by Orla (21) and Connor (16) - her eldest son Chris (25) recently moved to London and is in constant contact - who she says are her closest friends as well as her children.

Mountain bikes stacked in their hall were a 'Covid' purchase, with the four of them going out on cycles together during the lockdown.

Beautiful black-and-white family photographs hang on every wall, while a neat pile of training equipment is in the corner of the living room - Orla is an active member of the Rossa senior camogie and football team while Connor plays for Rossa and Antrim minors. Connor was also a successful Rossa senior player.

Orla and Connor say their mother's fight for justice is all the more remarkable as many law firms wouldn't take on the case in 2015 - telling her the chances of winning were so slim.

"I was only 15 when my daddy died but I'm so proud of what my mummy has done and he would be too. We used to joke he was always right and he was the one with the answers - but she did it," said Orla.

"She lost her soul mate and through all her fight she was the best mother and went above and beyond for us. The four of us are very close."

Two years ago, Spanish health authorities offered Mrs Boyle a compensation settlement with a gagging order but she wouldn't accept it.

"The case had such an unbelievable hold on my life. Every single day I thought about it. There were walls up every time because of the Spanish legal system and the amount of red tape," she said.

"But the idea of money never entered my head. It was about getting justice and I was doing this for Ronan. I had to be his voice, I felt I had to do this for my best friend. I knew he would be proud of me.

"Throughout it all the most important people have been my children. They have been amazing and I have been very careful about what they've been exposed to... we have a very special bond.

"We have so many laughs together and talk about Ronan all the time, we believe he is still with us."