KBRT reaches poignant milestone of 100 repatriations

October 5, 2015

The Newry-based Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust (KBRT) reached a poignant milestone last week, having helped to bring home the remains of 100 people who have died in tragic circumstances abroad.

The KBRT was set up by Colin and Eithne Bell in June 2013, following the death of their own son Kevin in a hit and run accident in New York.  Kevin had been a champion Irish dancer and a popular member of his local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club, and in the aftermath of his death, friends and supporters in Newry and abroad rallied round to raise funds to repatriate his body.  Within days the fund grew to £150,000 and when Kevin’s American employers agreed to cover the cost of transporting his body home, the Bells decided to use the money raised to help other families who were visited with the same tragedy – and so, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust was born.

The Bell family could not have envisaged just how much their assistance would be needed and, with every family that has availed of the Trust’s help in the 27 months since Kevin’s death, the profile of KBRT has increased and amazing feats of generosity have been reflected back into the Trust from families it has helped.

The charity has now become a vital lifeline for people throughout Ireland and is now the first call made by many people hit by tragedy abroad. To date the KBRT has arranged repatriations to almost every county in Ireland.

Some of the families the charity has helped in its two short years spoke last week of their unending gratitude to KBRT for reuniting them with the remains of their loved ones.

The father of Newtownabbey man, Alan Drennan, who died in August whilst on holiday with 10 friends in Ibiza, has been particularly vociferous in his support for the charity.  Alan Snr called on everyone in Ireland to support the Newry Trust through continued donations and fundraising and said he would not have received his precious son home without Colin Bell’s unfaltering assistance. Mr Drennan said Colin had stepped in “full of love, full of calm and able to handle the authorities and cut through all the confusion and deal with the paperwork and permissions needed.”

“When Alan died we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know who to turn to and it was only that a friend had heard about the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust that we got on the right road,” he said.

“But what we’ve learned is that these tragedies are happening all the time. In the nine weeks since Alan died more than 30 people have been brought home to the island of Ireland by the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust.”

As with all families who have received assistance, Alan has now become involved in fundraising for the charity and is set to donate the proceeds of a raffle for a signed Manchester United shirt and a signed Celtic FC shirt to the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust.

Michael Douglas, from the Greater Shankill area of Belfast, was also among those who needed emergency financial assistance from the Trust after his 30-year-old sister Heather died suddenly in the USA.

Beset by red tape and an immediate bill of £7,000 to be paid before American authorities would release his sister’s body, Michael turned to Colin Bell.  Never having spoken to Mr Bell before, Michael said “literally a phone call and he sorted it. It took a lot of pressure off me”.

Another grateful recipient of the fund’s expertise, Karen Wallace from Mullingar, had not heard of the Trust until her 24-year-old brother, Brendan Devenney, died suddenly while travelling around Asia last December.

Karen is full of admiration for the Bell family for the work they do. She said the repatriation of her beloved brother was sorted after just “one phone call” and his remains brought home within a week.

“I couldn’t admire them enough or thank them enough for what they have done for us,” she said.

“I just think of what they went through themselves – they went through a tragedy themselves and it’s still quite raw for them, and for them to be able to do this for other families, I think it’s amazing.”

Last week, as a 27 year old Wexford man became the 100th person to be repatriated by the charity.

Colin Bell said it was “gratifying” to hear the support from people the trust has helped.

Speaking on UTV Live on Thursday about the work of the KBRT, Colin said,

“It gives a meaning to a senseless death. When Kevin was killed the people of Newry gave us such support and enabled us to set up this Trust and we said it was his legacy and it’s proving to be quite a big legacy that he’s leaving.

“All the families that we’ve had to deal with – they’re fantastic families and they have just been visited with the same tragedy as we have and we know what they’re going through and they know that we’ve gone through it so I suppose it helps them as well.”

The retired teacher now spends his days on the phone and online to destinations in all corners of the world, helping grieving families with the financial and administrative burdens that arise when someone dies far from home. It is a commitment that takes up most of his time, with the Trust founder often attending funerals in person and taking part in fundraising events across Ireland.

The KBRT is very much a family run organisation.  Kevin was one of seven children and all his brothers and sisters are involved in the charity in some way. Mr Bell vowed that the work of the charity would continue.

“There’s is hardly a weekend that there’s not some fundraiser in some part of Ireland. We’re getting amazing support from the people and we’re very grateful for it,” he said.

“Whenever I can’t do it anymore, my sons and my daughters will take over and look after it.  This is for the long-term.”