Thursday 30 March 2017

Islander urged tragic duo not to use boat in dark

Brian McDonald and Tom Shiel

THE two men who drowned off the island of Inishbofin in the early hours of Sunday morning had been strongly advised not to undertake their final, fateful journey.

Former Mayo footballer, Ger Feeney (56) and businessman, Donal McEllin (63) from Castlebar lost their lives within seconds of arriving back at their motor cruiser in Inishbofin harbour after socialising on the island.

Mr McEllin's body was discovered by a fisherman on the beach at the inner harbour on Sunday morning, while Mr Feeney's body was recovered under the overturned dinghy in which the men had travelled back to the cruiser.

Yesterday it emerged that the men had left the island some time after 2am, having spent the evening socialising.

Because of the lateness of the hour and the darkness, the men were offered accommodation on the island and urged by at least one local to stay on the island, rather than attempt to travel the 150 metres over open water back to the cruiser.

But both men insisted they would be safe and were wearing life jackets. They set out in the dinghy to where the cruiser was berthed in the harbour.

One islander was so concerned about their safety that he got into his car and aimed the headlights on to the harbour to light their way and satisfy himself that they were okay.

All appeared in order as the dinghy pulled up alongside the cruiser and it was presumed that they were out of danger.

Gardai acknowledge it may never be possible to discover exactly what happened next, but it is presumed at least one of the men got into difficulties boarding the cruiser.

Yesterday the manager of the Inishbofin Development Company, Simon Murray, said that the double-drowning had caused huge upset and sadness on the island.

"I'm at a loss to understand how this happened. The people here are very put out. It's the first time in living memory that non-islanders have been lost in what is really a very safe harbour.

"The people of Bofin have unfortunately experienced drownings before and know only too well what both families are now going through. We offer them our sincere sympathy", Mr Murray said.

Contrary to earlier reports, it was confirmed yesterday that the men had not been socialising at Day's Hotel on Inishbofin.

Mr Feeney is survived by his wife, Kathleen, sons Richie, Alan and Dara and daughter, Claire. Mr McEllin was not married and is survived by his brother, John, and sisters Margaret and Fiona.

Trip

As both families were yesterday attempting to come to terms with their shattering loss, two friends revealed that they had also been due to travel on the pleasure trip to Inishbofin.

Pat Doherty and Michael Gavin had both initially intended to join Mr Feeney and Mr McEllin on the latter's 41-foot cruiser, Quo Vadis. Pat Doherty said: "The trip was planned two weeks ago and it was to be a social trip. Donal was the kind of guy who loved to have a load of friends on his boat. But he was meticulous when heading out to sea.

"I had a few drinks with him on Friday night, but I was a bit ropey on Saturday morning so I told him I would meet up with them in Galway on Sunday and travel back on the boat. I agreed to bring the food with me for the barbecue we were going to have.

"A friend rang me and told me the news. I just couldn't believe it. I then met Willie Joe Padden who had played football with Ger and was his best friend. He was in tears".

Mr Doherty recalled that Ger Feeney -- an outstanding Mayo footballer of the 1970s and 1980s -- had always joked while travelling in a car with friends that if they crashed and were killed the headline would read "One All-Star and four unknowns die in collision".

Another friend, Michael Gavin, said his heart was broken as a result of the double loss.

"I was supposed to have been on that boat with them. I just couldn't give Donal an answer on the Friday night when he asked me if I was coming," Mr Gavin said.

A spokesman for the Feeney family said yesterday that they were too upset to speak about their immense loss. But they wished to express their thanks to the people of Inishbofin and to the gardai and RNLI members who had helped recover the bodies.

Mr Feeney's funeral will take place tomorrow, while Mr McEllin's funeral will be held on Thursday.

Post-mortems carried out in Galway confirmed that both men had died as a result of drowning. Investigators from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and gardai from Clifden are continuing their investigations into the tragedy.

Irish Independent

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