As the county continues to come to grip with the drowning that unfolded in Ballybunion last Thursday when two siblings lost their lives, there very well could have been another unthinkable tragedy at Com Dhíneol Beach in West Kerry that very same day were it not for the quick thinking and heroism of Niall Deegan who, along with the help of two others, helped save the life a young boy who had gotten into severe difficulty in the water.
Niall, a Garda based in Tipperary, was on holiday in the Dingle area with his family last week and was swimming at Com Dhíneol with his son last Thursday afternoon when he first noticed the boy getting into difficulty.
Speaking to The Kerryman about the near-fatal incident, Niall said that, although he would not classify himself as a great swimmer, he said that, as a father himself, he said he could stand by and watch as the situation unfolded and so, did not hesitate to dive into action when he heard the cries for help.
"I was there in the water with one of my young fellas and I was just keeping an eye on him. Next thing, all I could hear was this lady screaming 'help, help, help!' and so I just looked over and I could see her trying to make her way out to a young fella who I could see was having difficulty in the water. The current was literally just taking him out to sea,” he said.
“Now, I'm not the strongest of swimmers but I couldn't just stand by and do nothing. I've two boys myself and as this was somebody's son, I knew I had to get out to him to help him. So, I set off and the only way I can describe it is that it was like I was sprinting through the water to get to him. I'm doing the front crawl as fast as I can and when I got to him, the lady who had swum out with me, she was telling me to 'take him, take him',” Niall continued.
When he reached the boy, Niall said that a rip-tide, along with sheer exhaustion, prevented him from trying to make his way back to the beach and so, all he could do was to try to keep the boy – who was still panicking quite badly – above the water.
"I was absolutely knackered from swimming against the current trying to get out to him and he was pushing me down under the water and he was clamouring to keep himself up. I had the idea then that I was going to push him along and that we'd make for the rocks and try and get up that way because there was no way I would have been able to swim back in, I was too exhausted,” he said.
“But as luck would have it, a surfer came over and told me to put the boy up on the board. I don't know how but I just grabbed him by his wetsuit and just with one arm, plonked him up on board and I told him 'look, you're safe, you're okay and we're going to get you in’,” Niall continued.
After hitching a lift back to shore on the surfer's board, Niall, after making sure the boy was okay, located the boy's father.
"I could barely speak to him. I didn't know whether I was going to start crying or what. I'm a Garda so I'm used to dealing with tragedy but this, the emotion of it was overwhelming. Even now, a few days later, just talking about it, it's scary thinking about what could have happened. For the last couple of days, I've been thinking about it non-stop." he said, his voice breaking.
"When I did get to speak to his dad, I don't think it actually resonated with his father. I told him that only for our intervention, his child was going to drown, it was simple as that. I don't know whether that hit home or he was just in shock but he literally just said 'thanks very much' and he was gone soon after,” he continued.
Now, with another spell of sunny weather on the way for the next few days, Niall wants to use this recent experience to warn others to be extra vigilant and careful when it comes to the sea.
"I just want people to take extra care when it comes to the sea, especially with the warm weather coming up over the next few days. People can sometimes get a bit blasé when it comes to the sea and the dangers of it but you have to be so careful and so vigilant," he said.
"The boy's father said he had only looked away for a minute or two but in those two minutes, his son was nearly swept out to sea and almost drowned. That's all it took, those two minutes. You could be looking at a phone or reading a book or whatever. The message I want to get across is you have to be so vigilant and careful. If you're there at the beach, any beach, with your kids, get in the water with them and keep an eye on them at all times," he finished.