Wednesday 19 December 2018

'His zest for living was ended too soon' - poignant farewell to second Mayo river tragedy victim

Church of the Holy Family in the coastal village of Killeen, David Davitt (inset)
Church of the Holy Family in the coastal village of Killeen, David Davitt (inset)
Declan Davitt, 26, died with his friend Martin Needham after being swept away in a river in Co Mayo (Family handout/PA)
Declan Davitt

John Fallon

A storm blew in from the Atlantic as a small rural community in west Mayo, grieving since Christmas Day, bade farewell to the second young farmer who lost his life in a drowning tragedy.

Declan Davitt (26) from Curradavitt, Louisburgh, was laid to rest after his funeral mass at the Church of the Holy Family in the coastal village of Killeen.

On Thursday his best friend Martin Needham (27) was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery. The pair of them died when their 4x4 vehicle was swept away as they drove across the normally shallow Carrowniskey River in the early hours of Christmas Day.

The bodies of the two men were recovered in the afternoon on Christmas Day after a frantic search involving neighbours, friends and the emergency services.

Declan Davitt
Declan Davitt

Another local man, 19-year old Tom McGrail, managed to escape from the jeep and raise the alarm.

The funeral cortege, like that of his friend Martin Needham the previous day, was led by four tractors from the family home to the packed church where hundreds again braved the elements outside.

Parish priest Fr Martin Long said that the community was mourning for both families and he said it was particularly difficult for the Davitt family as Declan’s sister had died seven years ago.

“Declan’s young life with so much potential and energy and zest for living was ended too soon by a cruel, random, mischance. To say farewell to one so young is never easy. We do realise it is especially difficult for you in that it has been just seven short years since you lost your beloved Kathleen, a burden you have carried bravely with dignity and with faith.

“All who knew Declan or who have spoken of him these past few days always mentioned the close friendship he had with Martin. Without any co-ordination between the families, they both decided on almost identical symbols to be brought to the altar to represent aspects of their lives, the things that mattered to them,” he said.

Items included a model tractor, a mobile phone, his darts, a sheep shears and a Kiwi symbol in recognition of his time in New Zealand.

The young farmer had spent four years living and working in New Zealand as an agricultural contractor but had decided to return home to be with his family.

He was active in many organisations and in the community, including the Macra na Feirme tractor run to raise money for charity, while Fr Long noted that he regularly helped his father Walter to erect the crib each Christmas in the church where his funeral mass took place.

Fr Long said that not only had mourners travelled from all over Ireland, some had come from Scotland even some friends had travelled from New Zealand to attend the funeral and pay their respects.

“They have come to acknowledge a man who was a loyal friend, a friend whose phone was always at hand so that he could be contacted if needed.”

Fr Long said that he kept in close contact with his family when he was in New Zealand and that some of the calls involved receiving cooking lessons from his mother Mary-B.

“Declan must surely have the record of being the first person to be taught how to bake soda cake over an international from Ireland to New Zealand!

“When he returned to live in Ireland, he gave Walter and Mary-B a huge surprise by just walking in unannounced. He knew what it would mean to them and he wanted that occasion to be as special as it could. And it was. Sweet tears of joy were shed that day in the Davitt household, sadly his homecoming this Christmas has brought bitter tears of sorrow and anguish.”

Fr Long said that even in the midst of their grief, the family had asked him to again thank the emergency services who responded on Christmas Day.

“In the midst of the harsh reality of death and loss the Davitt family have requested that it again be acknowledged today all that was done by so many last Monday, the people of Carrowniskey and Roonith who responded in the dark in very poor weather conditions and went to see what help they could render.

“All those on a Christmas morning who abandoned all of their own plans, without hesitation opened their homes to facilitate the Davitt and Needham families, to provide food and shelter for all those involved in the emergency operation.

“Also, of course, our Gardai, Coast Guard, Mayo Fire and Rescue service, our own Order of Malta volunteer and the many, many other people who assisted in whatever way they could on that long and dark day.

“The response by everyone is testament to genuine concern for a friend, a neighbour or stranger. It is a very human response,” said Fr Long.

Declan Davitt is survived by his parents Walter and Mary-B, brother Christopher and sisters Mary and Patricia. He was laid to rest in Killeen New Cemetery.

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