Housekeeper tells of 3-day crash ordeal

Click to follow
An Irish housekeeper who cared for a priest for 38 years yesterday described their three- day ordeal trapped in an over-turned car, which ended in tragedy when he died before rescuers reached them.

Nancy Gallagher, 67, and Father Ambrose Woods, 83, from Carlingford in Co Louth, drove to their favourite beauty spot, to view the Mourne mountains where Ms Gallagher grew up. But on their journey home last Monday, the car plunged down a 30ft bank.

As it overturned, Fr Ambrose was thrown through the sun-roof, and was trapped from the waist down, while Ms Gallagher fell into the boot area and was also unable to move. They shouted themselves hoarse but their calls were not heard from the remote spot. Without food and water, Fr Ambrose gradually became weaker. Ms Gallagher said: "On Tuesday he told me he was on his way out. I told him not to talk bull - that's one of my favourite phrases - then he said 'No Nancy, I'm really going'. He knew I couldn't reach him, so I put my hand on his shoulder and we said a prayer." After praying to the Holy Spirit, and 20 hours into their ordeal, Fr Ambrose died.

Ms Gallagher said she was determined to survive alone because she was anxious to ensure he had a fitting funeral for a priest. Yesterday, her voice still hoarse from shouting, she said: "After we prayed I knew he was gone. It was so frustrating, not be able to do anything for him. For the first time in 38 years I wasn't able to help him and look after him." Ms Gallagher first went to work for Fr Ambrose in 1959. As a young woman, she had hoped to travel to England to live but, after an illness, her brother-in-law suggested she went to work for Fr Ambrose, who was looking for a housekeeper. She said: "We were great friends, the best of friends. I used to argue and shout at him, and he used to raise his eyebrows, laugh and move into the next room and let me get on with it. He always said I had a tempery tongue, because I tend to swear."

The accident last week happened when Fr Ambrose sensed the car behind him was eager to overtake on the steep mountain road. He decided to pull over, but instead of braking, Fr Ambrose put his foot on the accelerator and the Nissan car fell down the overgrown embankment and landed beside a tree stump.

Ms Gallagher said: "There was no water in the car, nothing. I did think of having a cigarette, because I do sometimes, but I was worried about the petrol in the car. The main thing we did in the hours before the Father died was praying. Then I dozed off two or three times, and then at last I heard someone saying my name."

Eventually Ms Gallagher's cries were heard, at 6am on Thursday, by Tom Boyle, a local odd-job man who worked for Fr Ambrose. He raised the alarm when the couple went missing, and helped with the police search.

Ms Gallagher was taken to hospital in Dundalk suffering from dehydration. But she returned home this weekend to carry out her wish that Fr Ambrose, who will be buried today, should have the funeral he deserved.

Despite her sadness at Fr Ambrose's death, Ms Gallagher said: "Since I started working for him, I always prayed he would go first. I didn't want him left on his own, with no one to look after him."