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Heroes rescue four people swept away by strong currents

Passers-by and a dog pull three children and man from river

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David Dunne and Mike Bolger

David Dunne and Mike Bolger

Mike Bolger’s dog, Clyde, who took part in the rescue

Mike Bolger’s dog, Clyde, who took part in the rescue

Craig Dunne from Graignamanagh and Mike Bolger from Tinnahinch, with his dog Clyde, pointing to the furthest point the rescue happened down river

Craig Dunne from Graignamanagh and Mike Bolger from Tinnahinch, with his dog Clyde, pointing to the furthest point the rescue happened down river

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David Dunne and Mike Bolger

Four people are alive today thanks to the selfless actions of two men and a dog who jumped into the Barrow river and - battling strong currents at a swimming blackspot - pulled three children and a man out, near the bridge in Graiguenamanagh.

Two young children, a boy and a girl from New Ross, were playing in the water with their father and a cousin from Graiguenamanagh when they got into difficulty.

David Dunne (30) and Mike Bolger (30) happened to be walking along the riverbank with some female friends at the time. Mike said: 'There was a family playing on the inside of the weir. The water is shallow there. Suddenly they all started yelling for help. The girls were screaming. They were all spread out in the water; I don't now if they got swept out. Me and my friend David jumped in and tried to save them.'

Meanwhile, further down the river and on the opposite riverbank, crowds were enjoying the bank holiday Monday sunshine completely unaware of the drama that was unfolding. The children had wandered from the sediment near Graiguenamanagh bridge into the water.

'They were drowning and one child with them who was safe on the riverbank called out for someone to help them. We both didn't know what to think; it happened so quick. Once we realised what was happening we just jumped in.'

The man and the boy from New Ross were nearby and David got to them, but one of the girls had drifted downstream. 'She was far away and was going under the water. We were in the inside of the weir. It took about one or two minutes to swim to her. The water was so rapid I got caught in a whirlpool with her. My shoes were on so I was weighed down a bit and I got stuck in the water.'

It was at this point that his dog Clyde, a Staffordshire Terrier, jumped in to come to the aid of his owner. 'I noticed Clyde was on the other side of the girl. When I pushed her towards the weir she grabbed on to him around his neck and held on. I had been swimming with one hand, with her in the other, so with two free hands I was able to get out of that whirlpool. That split second moment was crucial.'

By now David had gotten the children to the weir and ran over, grabbing Mike's hand just as he was going under from exhaustion. 'He grabbed my hand at the last second. I was swallowing water the whole time. I had her on my back trying to swim at first and then I started to push her towards the weir. He reached out and grabbed her hand and lifted her out. By the time it was all over, there were a lot of people looking on from the other side of the river.'

Both Mike and David ended up across the river on the weir. 'Me, him and two of the girls were just laying there exhausted and when we got back to our feet, we walked up the weir to the shallow part. Their father grabbed them and they got out. It was hectic at that stage. David and I were both shook up and exhausted. It could all have ended up very differently if Clyde hadn't come to our rescue. He gave me a breather.'

Mike warned people never to swim at the weir. 'You wouldn't swim at the weir because the water is so unpredictable. One minute the water is up to your knees and the next it's 8ft. I'm not the best swimmer.'

David said: 'We both just jumped in. The father couldn't swim. He was struggling to hold onto one of the children who was the youngest and was going under water. I grabbed the boy and then the father latched onto me too. I tried to reach him and he said he couldn't swim so I told him "kick your legs" and he came with me. He told me to go back in as there was a girl. She was holding onto a partially submerged fallen tree. I dropped him at the near side and swam back to the weir.

'She was screaming but I could only hear her when I got closer. She said her legs were real tired and she couldn't kick them anymore. She was calm [when I reached her].'

David said the girl was 30ft out in the middle of the river, about 12ft from the weir.

'It was the roughest part of the water. I reached for the wall but missed it but I was able to hang on with my fingernails and got her up on the wall. I got up and ran down the weir and reached in and got the other girl [from Mike].'

David and Mike's friends helped the father and one of the girls out of the water. Meanwhile David went back to the far side for Mike.

'It all happened in the space of around five minutes. We were unbelievably exhausted after. I carried the children across on my back. I am sure the father was very distressed. It was crazy how it happened. We didn't have too much time to do anything about it. Our heads were racing afterwards. We obviously got a lot of luck; the girl was clever enough to hold onto the branch in the water which gave her time. It was all just madness.'

The heroes have been inundated with messages of praise and thanks ever since the rescue. 'When we walk down town a lot of people have been stopping us. We are just grateful that everyone is OK. It's all very overwhelming. The family of the girl in Graig wrote to us to thank us, saying they didn't know how they could thank us for what we did.'

He urged all parents to never consider swimming at that section of the river, which is accessed through popular walkway down to the Hub area.

'The sandy area beyond the diving board has a shallow area designated for kids.'

It isn't the first time David rescued someone from a river, having come to the aid of a man in distress near the Barrow many years ago.

He said the whole experience has made him much more respectful of the water. 'I think they got swept up in the current when they went too far in. You are only one or two steps from safety in the river. One of the parents called and said they haven't had a chance to process what's happened yet. She was so grateful to Mike and me.'

The New Ross children's mother told this newspaper: 'It was a shock. I wasn't there, they were with their Dad. The kids don't really want to talk about it now, but we were so lucky that those chaps were there to save them. [If not] it could have been a different story today. People need to be very careful with kids around water they don't know. We are so grateful to them. It's all unreal. To think if they hadn't of been there and to risk their own lives. They are heroes and I owe them my life. I don't know how I'm going to thank them.'

The children's grandmother took to social media to write: 'David and Mike we don't know you, but you are deeply in our appreciation for taking your own lives in your hands to save our children who got into difficulties as they went swimming with their Dad.

'Only that you acted as you did things would be very different today. We cannot thank you enough for your courageous act.'

As for Clyde, a lady who owns a pet food company contacted Mike through Instagram and is sending him a goodie bag for the hero dog.

New Ross Standard