Freak winds blamed for tragic death of Sr Jean
Freak winds are believed to have blown a school principal into a river where she drowned, despite her desperate efforts to reach the safety of the bank.
The revelation came as a Cork coroner's inquest returned an open verdict into the death of respected Ursuline Convent principal, Sr Jean Browne, in Cork earlier this year.
Sr Browne (53) is feared to have been the victim of freak weather conditions as she enjoyed an early morning walk on January 15 last along the banks of the River Lee by Cork's upper harbour.
Winds that day were gusting to almost 85kph.
Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane was told by Garda Paul Radley that, despite extensive investigations, they could find no evidence as to precisely where the nun had tumbled into the river.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster performed a post-mortem examination and found that Sr Jean died from drowning.
Dr Bolster also noted injuries on her body consistent with Sr Jean having fought to reach the safety of the riverbank.
Dr Cullinane said she was returning an open verdict.
"The weather conditions were very blustery on the morning. While there is no evidence as to what happened, she could have accidentally fallen into this fast flowing, threatening body of water and attempted to get out," she said.
The alarm was raised when Sr Jean failed to show up for classes.
Sr Mary McDaid, a close friend of the principal, said they had been watching TV together the previous evening.
The duo had been chatting about the forthcoming summer and had been discussing various holiday options.
Sr McDaid said they went to bed around 10pm and, when she woke up the following morning, she discovered the main door unlocked.
"Jean was a wonderful person and a hugely effective member of our community. She was a home economics and religion teacher before she took over from me as principal a few years ago," Sr McDaid said.
"I was surprised that day when the assistant principal rang me at 9am to say that Jean was not in school and was she okay?"
Her remains were recovered from the Marina not far from Blackrock Castle in Cork harbour after it was spotted by shocked teenagers.