Tuesday 17 July 2018

'Numbing sadness, shock and disbelief' following tragic deaths of lifelong friends on Christmas Day, funeral told

Martin Needham (inset left) and Declan Davitt (inset right) lost their lives on Christmas morning in Mayo
Martin Needham (inset left) and Declan Davitt (inset right) lost their lives on Christmas morning in Mayo

John Fallon

A tight-knit rural community has been plunged into "a numbing sadness, shock, disbelief and anger" following the tragic deaths of two lifelong friends on Christmas Day, mourners heard today.

Declan Davitt (26) and Martin Needham (27) drowned after the 4x4 they were in entered the Carrowniskey River in Co Mayo in the early hours of Christmas morning.

Louisburgh parish priest Fr Martin Long told mourners at Martin's funeral today at the Church of the Holy Family in Killeen that recovering their bodies just as light was fading on Christmas Day brought "a tiny glimmer of relief" to their heartbroken families.

Fr Long said: “We all know that the sound of a telephone ringing in the small hours of the morning any day of the year is rarely the bringer of good news but when our phones rang early on Christmas morning we knew instinctively it couldn’t be good news.

“Sadly, for the Needham family and the Davitt family, it brought the worst possible news. As phones rang throughout the parish that morning as the word spread, a light was extinguished.

“We again walked in darkness and we entered a period of desperate waiting, waiting for news of Martin and Declan.”

Fr Long paid tribute to emergency services, neighbours and friends, who immediately went to the scene in the early hours of Christmas morning to see if they could help.

The two men lost their lives when their 4x4 vehicle became submerged as they tried to cross the Carrowniskey River between Louisburgh and their home.

Martin Needham (left) and Declan Davitt - friends who died after SUV was swept away in Mayo
Martin Needham (left) and Declan Davitt - friends who died after SUV was swept away in Mayo

A 19-year old friend managed to escape and raise the alarm around 3am on Christmas morning and the bodies of the two men were found at 4pm that afternoon after an extensive search.

Read More: Mayo river tragedy: Young man went back into water in desperate attempt to rescue Declan and Martin

“It is difficult for us to grasp any straw of comfort from such a tragic situation but as Christmas Day wore on and just as hopes were fading as fast as the daylight, everyone fearing another long night of waiting, first Martin was found and then shortly after that his lifelong friend Declan.

“It brought the tiniest of a tiny glimmer of relief. At least the wait was done, you could begin to grieve.

“Last Monday morning, Christmas Day, there were people who did all that was humanly possible to help. The people of Carrowniskey and Roonagh, who immediately responded and went to see what they could do.

"The emergency services, our Gardai, Coast Guard, our Order of Malta ambulance volunteers, and then the neighbours and friends and all others who volunteered and assisted in so many ways throughout that long and difficult day.

“The professional and dignified care which was given to Martin and to Declan when they were recovered, the compassion shown to their families can serve to remind us just how precious each person is,” added Fr Long.

The local community organised the traffic flow and car parks in the small Killeen townland for the funeral, with volunteers supplying food and drink at the community centre across the road from the church.

Martin Needham, 27, died after being swept away in a river on Christmas Day (Family handout/PA)
Martin Needham, 27, died after being swept away in a river on Christmas Day (Family handout/PA)

A guard of honour was formed by neighbours and friends as Mr Needham’s coffin arrived at the church from his home, led by four tractors including his own one.

The tiny church was packed to overflowing almost an hour before his mass began, with loudspeakers mounted outside to the hundreds who braved the biting wind coming in from the nearby Atlantic.

The two friends had worked in New Zealand for a time but had returned to their coastal homeland where they were sheep farmers and involved in the local community.

“People have spoken a lot of how obliging Martin was when called upon to do a job but he had a passion for machinery so it was never a job for him,” added Fr Long.

Read More: 'An unbelievably numbing day, losing these fine men': Friends die in horrific Christmas accident as vehicle swept away by river

“His passion for work led him to go to New Zealand for a couple of harvest-times, that led him to pipe-laying and other work in western Australia but even though he was far from home, he never forgot home and was in frequent contact.

“Martin’s love of family, which was also seen in the great relationship he had with his nephews and nieces, was the deciding factor in his decision to return home even though he has established himself successfully in New Zealand.

“Although very competent with every form of social media, with every form of communication, he felt he was missing out too much by not being present for family occasions.

“The terrible reality of the extent of the tragedy has left us with nothing but our raw human emotions, a numbing sadness, shock, disbelief and anger, helplessness and tears, so many tears,” he added.

Martin Needham - who is survived by his parents Pat Joe and Breege, sisters Olivia, Patricia, Catriona and Elaine - was laid to rest in Killeen Old Cemetery, a short distance from his home.

Mr Davitt's funeral mass will also take place at the Church of the Holy Family in Killeen on Saturday at 12 noon.

He will be laid to rest in Killeen New Cemetery.

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