Seamus Duke recalls the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago this week

‘No one even dared to comment. What we were looking at was beyond words’

Twenty years ago, on the 11th of September 2001, I was on holidays in Portugal with my wife and young family. We were out visiting a pet farm where the kids could see some exotic animals. It was a beautiful September day.

As we drove back towards our apartment I became aware that something major was happening in New York. The radio stations in the rented car were not broadcasting in English, but the words ‘New York’ and ‘World Trade Centre’ were coming up in every few sentences. I said to my wife Teresa ‘There’s something serious going on in New York’.

There was no TV in our apartment but there was a bar in the complex which had SKY News. When I rushed in to find out what was happening, there were several people already there, all staring at the screen open-mouthed and in silence. The footage of the planes crashing into the twin towers was being repeated over and over. It was hard to take in what we were looking at. Just truly terrifying. No one even dared to comment. What we were looking at was beyond words.

Even worse was the sight of the towers crumbling like a house of cards might when you remove one from the bottom. The only difference was that these were 110-storey buildings which were full of people.

No one really knew what was happening over those first couple of days. There were suggestions that there could be 50,000 people dead, that it was the start of a World War, that everyone everywhere was now in danger.

The 9/11 attacks happened on a Tuesday and we were due home on the Thursday. We spent the intervening day and a half in our apartment counting the hours until we could go home. In fact for the first day we were not sure if we would be able to leave at all.

We went to the airport on the Thursday morning. There were security personnel everywhere. We were searched about a mile from the airport and again when we got there.

Eventually, we got on the plane to Dublin. The two-hour journey was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. There wasn’t a sound on the packed plane. We just wanted to get our family home safely. Everyone else on the plane was of a similar mindset.

When the aircraft touched down at Dublin Airport, there was a big round of applause from the passengers. The relief was palpable. We were home. We drove down to Roscommon, relieved and so happy to be safe and sound. But the world would never be the same place again.

The 11th of September 2001 is a day that few people will ever forget. There are so many who lost loved ones and whose lives were cruelly changed as a result. We remember them all this weekend.