Irish President Michael D. Higgins honored the five Irish students and one Irish-American girl who tragically lost their lives in a balcony collapse in Berkeley this summer, thanking the city of Berkeley and its people for the support they showed the victims’ families and Ireland during this difficult time.
Meeting with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, public safety workers, health-care providers and area residents during his 8-day trip to the US West Coast, President Higgins shoveled dirt around a pair of strawberry tree saplings planted in a Berkeley City park near the site of the accident, a tribute to the six young victims and the seven other Irish students seriously injured during the balcony collapse.
"We were told and witnessed from afar your quick and unwavering support for our students and their families," he said.
Five Irish students and one Irish-American student lost their lives in the early hours of July 16 as a balcony broke from the Library Garden complex at 2020 Kittredge Street in Berkeley. The victims were named as Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; Niccolai Schuster, 21; Eimear Walsh, 21; and Irish-American Ashley Donohue, aged 22.
Two of the victims, Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohue, were cousins.
Seven other Irish students, Hannah Waters, Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn, all aged between 20 and 22, were also severely injured during the accident, the last of whom returned to Ireland just last month.
It has since come to light through a Berkeley City investigation that the wooden beams supporting the balcony were weakened due to rot caused by water damage despite previous inspections clearing the building.
The investigation is still deciding whether criminal charges are warranted.
President Higgins visited Berkeley as part of his US visit following a stop in Seattle, a visit to Google's headquarters and a speech on world hunger at the University of California, Berkeley.
While speaking in the University of California, the President announced a $40,000 grant to establish an Irish Studies program at the University.
Speaking at the university’s Morrison Library, President Higgins remarked that such programs were essential for international relations, especially in Irish America, enabling “further deepening of relations between University of California Berkeley and Ireland.”
“I’m hoping this small grant that comes from Ireland joining with others, will enable students, faculty and alumni from the large number of departments on the Berkeley campus to commit themselves to the investigation of society, culture science and economic relations in and with Ireland,” he said.