Tonya McEvoy (34) ‘You’ve got to get home. Tonya’s been in an accident’
Tonya McEvoy (34) from Rathfarnham in Dublin died on February 12th, 2017, following a collision with a vehicle in Rathcoffey, in Co Kildare, during a trip with a dozen other cyclists.
When Tonya McEvoy signed up to the bike- to- work scheme she knew very little about cycling. She had recently started a new job as a childminder and was fed up waiting for the bus and sitting in rush hour traffic. When a friend at a gym class suggested she join a cycle club called Orwell Wheelers, Tonya turned to her best friend Jennifer Mulligan-Rabbitt for advice.
“She had been quite self-conscious for a number of years but then got really into exercises and nutrition and her confidence started to grow,” says Jennifer, speaking on the phone from her apartment in London. “She also wanted to find Mr Right and we joked that there were lots of men in cycling clubs. But then she got really passionate about cycling. It gave her a new lease of life.”
Tonya’s younger brother Keith McEvoy also noticed a change in his sister’s demeanour after she joined the club in 2016. “She invested so much time in it and did lots of classes on anything related to cycling. She bought two bikes, one for work and the proper racer bike to do the spins with her cycling club.”
On Sunday, February 12th, 2017, the 34- year- old set out on one of her usual Orwell Wheelers morning cycles from Dundrum. She and Jennifer had been texting back and forth the night before while Tonya spent the evening baking with her mother. Tonya had lived with her parents since moving home from Australia in 2008 but was saving for a deposit to buy a home.
“She was usually really social but had a nice night in with her mum and they made buns,” says Jennifer. “She texted [ to say] she was going on a cycle the next day. I wrote back the following morning but it never delivered.”
Keith was in his ex- girlfriend’s apartment in Sandyford when the phone rang on Sunday morning. His five- year- old daughter Hannah was in his parents’ house and he was expecting her to call. Instead, he heard the panicked voice of his mother Patricia. “She said ‘ you’ve got to get home, Tonya’s been in an accident’. My whole body froze but then I thought, she’s gonna be okay. Her friend had fallen off her bike a few weeks before and hurt her knee, and Tonya waited with her for the ambulance to arrive. I thought it was that sort of scenario.”
Keith’s split second of relief was quickly shattered. “Mam said ‘ we think she’s dead’. I was in a panic. I had to get home because I knew it was just Hannah and my mam there by themselves.”
Shortly before Keith spoke to his mother, two representatives from Orwell Wheelers had called to the family home in Rathfarnham. They explained that Tonya had been in an accident and drove Tonya’s father Brian and sister Ciara to the village of Rathcoffey in Co Kildare. They were met by gardaí and were told to drive on to Naas hospital where they discovered Tonya had died.
In London, Jennifer had been waiting all morning for Tonya to reply to her message. “Tonya was reliable as clockwork, she would always write back. I checked my phone a couple of times and said to my husband ‘that’s a bit weird’.
“By 4pm I knew there was something wrong so I sent her a Facebook message but heard nothing back.”
When Jennifer saw a text appear from Tonya’s sister asking that she call she felt sick to her stomach. “Poor Ciara had to break the news to me. I just kind of sat there for a long time. Then I just started booking flights.”
Jennifer and her now- husband Ciarán flew to Dublin the following day. “I remember the airport was horrific. People were going away on holidays and here was I going home to a funeral. It felt confusing and weird.”
That same morning, Keith was tasked with the job of covering his dad’s milkman shift. “He’s self- employed so he couldn’t call in sick and needed to deliver to shops and restaurants. I’ll never forget it, everyone kept asking ‘ where’s your dad?’ and I had to explain to every customer what had happened. It became harder and harder each time. I went into one shop and saw her photo on the front of the Herald. I started shaking and just turned away and walked back to the milk van. I wanted to burst out crying but I thought it’s not my character, men are meant to be tough. So I just bottled it in.”
Keith was not able to hide these emotions at Tonya’s funeral two days later. “Myself, my brother, my dad, my two uncles and my sister’s partner carried the coffin. It was a massive turnout and the Orwell Wheelers did a guard of honour in their cycling jerseys. I was asked to say a prayer but when I stood up I just broke.”
Less than four months later, Jennifer stood at the altar of a church in the west of Ireland and said her marriage vows to her husband. “We kept the bridal party as it was, there was no replacement bridesmaid for Tonya. We had a candle lit for her all morning but nothing can replace someone’s laugh or smile. All I could think about was she would love this and should be here with me.”
More than 14 months on from her death, Keith is finding his sister’s absence increasingly difficult. “I know people say it gets easier as time goes on but to be honest it’s been the opposite for me. The longer it goes on the harder it gets. “Sometimes I get angry, why would they take her away from me? It still doesn’t feel real.”
Jennifer also struggles to accept that her best friend is no longer a phone call away. “There’s no real logic to it. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and in a split second, she was gone. She had all these plans; she was going to buy a house, she wanted to meet a man and travel again. We had so many good times ahead of us.”
“She was a lesson to everybody, she paved her own way and for me she was an inspiration. She did things in her own way and loved life.”