Thursday 23 February 2017

Ex-GAA star dies in double drowning tragedy off island

Bodies of former footballer and friend found in harbour

Brian McDonald

THE bodies of a former GAA star and his businessman friend were recovered from Inishbofin harbour early yesterday.

Two investigations into the tragic drowning are now under way.

The men were identified locally as former Mayo footballer, Ger Feeney, and businessman, Donal McEllin, both from Castlebar.

The men, who were both in their 50s, had travelled by motor cruiser from Rosmoney, outside Westport, and arrived in Inishbofin, just off the north Galway coast, on Saturday.

They berthed in the bay and later that evening travelled by RIB the short distance on to the island, where they spent a number of hours socialising.

Both were well known on Inishbofin and had visited the island for many years.

It is understood that they had planned to travel on to Galway city and berth at the city harbour yesterday.

They left to travel back to their motor cruiser some time after midnight and are both thought to have been wearing lifejackets when they set out on the RIB.

At some stage during the return journey the men got into difficulties. It is thought that one of them may have fallen overboard and the other may have tried to rescue him.

A fisherman made the grim discovery of one of the bodies shortly after 11am at a beach in the inner harbour yesterday. He raised the alarm and an immediate search was launched for the second man.

His body was found, some time afterwards, close to the motor cruiser.



Outstanding

Mr Feeney was an outstanding player for Mayo since first pulling on the county jersey as a minor in 1970.

An attacking wing-back, he won a minor All-Ireland title in 1971 and an U21 winners medal in 1974. He played for more than a decade with the Mayo senior team and was an All Star replacement at the height of his career. His home club was Ballintubber and he later became associated with Castlebar.

Ironically, both these clubs will contest the Mayo county football final next Sunday.

Two of Mr Feeney's sons, Richie and Alan, are due to line out for Castlebar in the decider. His nephew, John, is the captain of Ballintubber.

Mr Feeney's brother, Sean, is the Mayo County Board secretary and was in New York yesterday for the final of the FBD Connacht football league between Mayo and New York.

Mr McEllin was a well-known businessman in the Castlebar area. He played a major role in developing Castlebar Airport and was a director of the airport company.

He and Mr Feeney had been friends for many years.

The double tragedy shocked locals on the popular holiday island.

Renowned as an unspoilt destination for environmentalists and visitors seeking a quiet break, the last tragedy on Inishbofin was when three sisters died in a house fire in July 1999.

A man from Northern Ireland was subsequently jailed for 14 years for their manslaughter.

Local councillor Eileen Mannion said that the tragedy had come as a great shock to everybody in the tightly knit island community.

Yesterday, she was trying to travel to the island to express her support for all involved in the tragedy.

She said: "This has come as a huge shock to everybody on Inishbofin. Our thoughts are first and foremost with the families of the two men who have lost their lives".

The bodies of both men were removed from the island by helicopter yesterday.

They were flown to Galway Airport and transferred to the mortuary at Galway University Hospital where post-mortem examinations were due to take place.

Gardai from Clifden travelled to Inishbofin and launched a full investigation into the tragedy. A second investigation is also to be carried out by officers of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

Irish Independent

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