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Long Island native Grace McDermott dies in Ireland house fire

Grace McDermott is seen a few minutes after

Grace McDermott is seen a few minutes after her fiance Colin O'Neill proposed to her on Christmas Eve 2016, in East Islip. McDermott died in a house fire in Limerick, Ireland, May 1, 2017. She was studying in Dublin. Photo Credit: Family Photo

Grace McDermott lived as if she packed “three lifetimes” into her 26 years, her mother said days after the doctoral student died in a house fire in Ireland.

McDermott, originally from East Islip, was in the process of earning her third degree in Ireland. She had worked on three continents and had traveled to 40 countries, her parents said.

“She attacked life,” her father, Robert McDermott, said. “And she was courageous. Far more courageous than her father.”

McDermott lived in Dublin, where she was a doctoral student at Dublin City University School of Media and Communications. She had traveled to Limerick to participate in a road race over the weekend, her father said.

The home, in Annacotty, a small town outside of Limerick, caught fire about 3 a.m. Monday, local police said.

McDermott, a graduate of East Islip High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from SUNY New Paltz in 2011 and later graduated with a master’s degree in international tourism from the University of Limerick.

After working in marketing in Australia, where she met her fiance, McDermott returned to Ireland to pursue her doctorate.

Though she traveled extensively, she never lost sight of where she was from and shared a strong connection with her parents, three younger siblings and large extended family in New York, said her mother, Leslie McDermott.

While lecturing at the University of Limerick, she’d introduce herself by projecting an image of Ireland for the class to see.

“She’d say, ‘This is your island.’ And then she’d put a photo up of Long Island and say, ‘And this is my island,’ ” her mother said.

Robert McDermott, an attorney, remembered his oldest child as the “only one I ever feared in oral arguments,” he said.

Grace McDermott was a brilliant communicator who had “tremendous energy,” which she channeled into advocating for “whatever she thought was right,” her father said.

McDermott was also a passionate supporter of gender equality. Last May, she started a blog, Women are Boring, which spotlights the research of women in academia.

“Standing up for the underdog” and speaking out on gender equality issues came naturally to McDermott, who even as a young child rose to the defense of classmates who were being bullied, said her mother, Leslie McDermott.

Grace McDermott was also deeply in love with her fiance, Colin O’Neill, 32, of Dublin, who proposed to her outside her parents’ East Islip home on Christmas Eve, Robert McDermott said.

The couple were to marry in Ireland in July 2018.

“When we were planning the wedding, she told me, ‘I don’t care if the dress is off the rack and the flowers are from the garden, as long as at the end of the day I get to be married to Colin,’ ” Leslie McDermott said. “He was her greatest love.”

The family is planning to hold a funeral for McDermott in Dublin, and will hold another service next week at Sayville United Methodist Church, McDermott’s parents said.

With Ellen Yan

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