The Knock on the Door

by Fintan Dunne, rta0 Founder

If the police had knocked just a little longer or harder on our front door at 7a.m., then my mother, my two younger brothers and I might have got to see John Dunne, father of our small family -before he died.

But we four lay in our beds asleep while he lay just miles away on his back on a frosty January road. John had an early morning contract to distribute Irish Independent newspapers to outlets across South Dublin. Occupationally not seat-belted, his van had skidded across the Bray Road in Dublin to collide head-on with an oncoming truck.

Deceased at 51, he left a widowed spouse, a youngest son at 12, another at 16 and I, the eldest, at 21.  The trauma was life defining.

On our way to Loughlinstown hospital that morning after a vague 7:50a.m. phone call, we drove past the mangled remains of the Independent van . My mother quietly said “My, God.” She knew then.  Later she knew for sure.

We had been a close-knit, artistic family of five. Now we were four.

The Echo

It’s twenty years later. I’m running a software development firm. All around me are banks of computers, servers and communications paraphernalia. Already, by 10am, it’s hotter than hell, because the equipment is pumping out heat.

The phone rings.

“I’m looking for Fintan Dunne.” A laconic, slow drawl of a voice.

“Yes, …. speaking.”

“Sergeant O’Rourke here, Fintan, in Enniskerry.” A long, silent pause.

Days ago, Joe- my youngest brother had phoned to say that our middle sibling, Declan had come home with pants wet up to the knee and was days previously in the early a.m. found in the hills above the Dundrum family home.

“You know why I’m calling you…., don’t you?,” said the sergeant.

Ah…no…. Ah, Jesus, no.

“Yeah……..,” I whisper. The fans whine, trying to shift hot air.

He breaks the silence. “Can you meet me at the station?”

When I get to Enniskerry and meet the Sergeant, he is a breath of fresh air. Down to earth. Which is just what I need. He is so matter of fact, you would swear we were going for a burger and not to the mountain roads above Enniskerry village to collect the car in which Declan had taken his own life.

It has a flat battery, because with the lights being on, they drained the battery after the petrol ran out. These are the mundane aspects of a suicide. We view the gorse-fringed clearing where Declan had taken his own life.

His suicide was multi-factorial, but in truth the trauma of those events a score of years earlier had left their mark. The accident had reached out to echo across time and claim it’s second fatality.

That’s the way of it. Ask others bereaved by the trauma of road accidents or suicide. I’ve known both. For countless families, the knock on the door is answered to devastating news. The suddenness of loss detonates shock waves lasting decades. People live on, never the same. Direct your empathy to my late mother -who lost more than I can comprehend.

We had been a close-knit family of four. Now we were three.

Ending the Carnage

“Are you sure you will be able to drive it?” inquires the Sergeant. The car reeks incredibly of carbon monoxide fumes. He and I have it running.

“Yeah….” I answer casually with a wave of my hand. I sit in and belt up. There is a part of me tough as a Vietnam vet; a war landscape most of my life.

From Enniskerry, I drove down to identify my brother Declan’s remains in the same Loughlinstown mortuary which had held my father twenty years earlier. One event, two entwined consequences.

I’ve touched the carnage and it’s touched me. I have skin in this game. During a late 1990’s surge in suicides, I established Men’s Aid to do anti-suicide radio advertising and outreach. Suicide and road deaths are twin mass killers. Issues constantly close to my heart.

Sentiment however, won’t prevent tomorrow’s road tragedies. Determination and human ingenuity will. So here’s good news for those who want to see an end to destroyed lives and fractured families.

I became an Apple ‘tech’ pioneer in 1981. Reinvention via human factors technology is the blood in my veins.

Over the last two years, I’ve overcome all technical obstacles to invent a smartphone app called Alice, which prevents road accidents.

Smartphones are today in widespread use. So while we await a new generation of intelligent cars, drivers can team up with Alice on their smartphone and avail of a road-savvy artificial intelligence, always alert for danger.  You can learn more about Alice on our website homepage.

It’s taken time until smartphones got sufficiently widespread, reliable and globally cheap to make the Alice system possible.  That time is now.

My mother Mary instilled in all of us a powerful meme: “Anything worth doing,” she would say, “is worth doing well.” Well, it isn’t only tragedy which knocks. Opportunity knocks also. We have a historic opportunity.  Let’s do it well.

I’ve outlined a deployment timeline below:


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5 Replies to “The Knock on the Door”

  1. Oh my God Fintan, I remember both your dad and Declan so well. Two beautiful people, so sad.
    I never knew you went through all that.
    What a fantastic person you are to invent a app that could help so much.
    I will definaltly see how we can use this over in Sweden. I work together with Volvo. Best of lucka, Eric..

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Eric and please get in touch via the contact page as that Volvo connection sounds great. Swedes appreciate that it’s important HOW you use things – so we could use folks with that kind of focus on the detail 😉

  2. Hi Fintan,I remember my mother talking about your dad and how much of a lovely man he was .i met Declan years later and always thought what a nice bloke he was I’ve see Joe over the years not as much now living in Killarney.your mum was such a wonderful spiritual of luck with The app such a great piece of innovate work.

  3. I am so sorry Fintan to hear what you have been through. Your Dad and Brother were both very handsome young men. Such an awful loss for you and your family.

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