Wednesday 21 March 2018

'I went to fetch a lifebuoy to save Caolan, but it wasn't there'

Caolan Webster, inset, who died after getting into difficulty swimming on a stretch of the Shannon river near the Athlone Sub Aqua clubhouse
Caolan Webster, inset, who died after getting into difficulty swimming on a stretch of the Shannon river near the Athlone Sub Aqua clubhouse

Louise Roseingrave

Friends of a 15-year-old boy who drowned in the River Shannon desperately tried to save the teenager after he began to struggle, an inquest heard.

Caolan Seoige Webster, of St Patrick's Terrace, Athlone, Co Westmeath, died on June 11, 2015.

A happy, sensitive teenager who adored football, Caolan had been swimming with friends in the River Shannon at a location known as Jim's Field, close to the Athlone Sub Aqua Club, when he got into difficulty.


His mother Bernadette Seoige told Dublin Coroner's Court he left home with a friend at around 4pm on June 10, 2015.

"He was heading off to play football but they met with other people and ended up swimming. He never went swimming," Ms Seoige said.

She said her son could swim but was not a strong swimmer. He was interested in fitness and did press-ups at home, the inquest heard.

"He'd no swimming gear with him because he hadn't planned to go, he would always say where he was going," Ms Seoige said.

The teenagers went for fast food, where they met others and at around 5pm the group decided to go swimming. It was a beautiful sunny day but it was early summer and the water temperature was 11C, the court heard.

Friend David Ward Quinn said the group decided to swim to a dock 10 metres from the shore but Caolan never made it.

Darren Quinn, who was not present in court, said in his deposition that Caolan was halfway to the dock when he began to struggle. He and another teen, Bernie McDonagh, went to help.

"We both tried to hold Caolan up and swim to shore with him but we were not moving," Darren said.

"I turned and looked back and couldn't see Caolan, I saw Bernie trying to pull him up from under, that was my last vision," David said.


Bernie went for the lifebuoy on the shore but it was missing. Garda Jonathan Noone said this was common along the Shannon due to vandalism.

Athlone Sub Aqua Club divers Derry McMahon and Sergejs Cuetkous located the body along the river bed in three metres of water. It was not clear how long the boy had been submerged.

"Cold water can cause muscle problems if you are not used to that temperature," Mr McMahon said. There was a strong current "that would not have helped as he'd have to swim across it", he added.

"He was taken out of the water in cardiac arrest," paramedic George Williams said.

The ambulance team began life support immediately. The ambulance left Jim's Field at 6.45pm and arrived at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe 12 minutes later.

On arrival at the hospital, Caolan's temperature was 26C. He was transferred to Temple Street Hospital that evening and pronounced dead the following day.

The cause of death was severe brain damage due to drowning. Speaking after the inquest, the family extended thanks to all first responders at the scene.

Coroner Dr Crona Gallagher adjourned the inquest to next February as the family wishes to hear from a further witness.

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