Tuesday 27 June 2017

'It'll take a long time to heal' - tributes to five killed in Buncrana pier tragedy

Tributes at the pier in Buncrana, Co Donegal. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Tributes at the pier in Buncrana, Co Donegal. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Alan O'Keeffe

Heart-breaking memories of the drownings of five members of one family at Buncrana pier will be recalled at a first anniversary Mass this evening.

Some of those who played significant roles as the tragic accident unfolded in the Co Donegal seaside town spoke of their sadness with great sensitivity one year later.

"At the pier that night, there was a communal sense of grief and shock," local priest Fr John Walsh (68), who anointed the victims, said.

"A silence descended on the town that lasted several days."

The victims drowned in the family car after the vehicle accidentally began an irreversible slide on algae down the slipway into the harbour waters.

Louise James, the only family member who did not travel on the outing from their home in Derry, lost her partner Sean McGrotty (49), their sons Evan (8) and Mark (12), her mother Ruth Daniels (57) and her sister Jodie Lee Daniels (14).

Sean McGrotty with his partner Louise holding their baby Rioghnach, who survived, and sons Mark (12) and Evan (8)
Sean McGrotty with his partner Louise holding their baby Rioghnach, who survived, and sons Mark (12) and Evan (8)
Jodie Lee Daniels (15) who died in the tragedy
Grandmother Ruth Daniels (57) who died in the tragedy

Seconds before the car sank below the waters of Lough Swilly, Mr McGrotty in desperation managed to pass the couple's baby daughter Rioghnach through the car window to young man Davitt Walsh, who bravely swam out to the sinking car.

Although he received several awards for life-saving courage, Mr Walsh has remained an extremely modest hero.

In a statement, the family said they were "deeply grateful for the prayers and support over the last year".

Today's anniversary Mass will be offered in the Holy Family Church, Ballymagroarty, Co Derry, at 7.15pm.

They said a walk "in memory of all five members of the family" will take place on Friday in Co Derry. Funds raised will go to muscular dystrophy research as Evan had the disease.

Outing

The family outing to Buncrana had included a meal in the popular seaside town and they may have parked on the slipway to watch the sunset after enjoying a beautiful spring day.

Local couple Francis Crawford (67) and his wife Kay heard the shouts for help from the driver Mr McGrotty as the vehicle began to slide into the water. Mr Crawford called emergency services.

When contacted, they said they remembered the victims "with sore hearts" and paid tribute to the emergency services.

"It seems a short year since the tragedy, but we feel it will take a long time for the wounds to heal," Mr Crawford said.

Fr Walsh said he arrived at the pier that night and was immediately asked to administer the Last Rites as four of the bodies retrieved from the waters lay on the pier.

He spoke about how heartbreaking the experience had been.

"It was a dark night. There was a floodlight from a helicopter beaming down when I was anointing. I just whispered the prayer.

"The saving of the baby was a little miracle. Consciousness of the courage of Davitt Walsh has been with me all year," he said.

Lough Swilly lifeboat service volunteers John McCarter and Joe Joyce said their team went into action immediately, using three boats.

"The multiple deaths made it our worst day ever," Mr McCarter said.

Mr Joyce said: "We train and prepare for different scenarios but you never think of something like this. Everyone's thoughts are with the family."

Irish Independent

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