Wednesday 19 June 2019

Hero garda who died doing what he loved is laid to rest

The coffin, draped in the tricolour, is carried into Our Lady, Star of the Sea Church in Duncannon
The coffin, draped in the tricolour, is carried into Our Lady, Star of the Sea Church in Duncannon

David Looby

The bravery, humility and brilliant sense of humour of Garda David (Dave) Hearne was recalled at his funeral in Duncannon.

Late of Innyard, Fethard-on-Sea and Johnshill, Waterford Dave died on May 25 while doing what he loved most - deep sea diving.

An accomplished diver who had achieved the highest certificate in diving, Dave (47) died while out with a team of five scuba divers 15km off Hook Head in their Hook 250 boat late on Saturday morning.

It is understood that he had been diving to a wreck some 70m deep and was returning to the surface when he lost consciousness.

Two fellow divers from his beloved Hook Sub Aqua Club brought him to the surface where attempts were made to resuscitate him on the dive boat. The emergency services were contacted and plans were made for an Irish Coast Guard helicopter to airlift him to a decompression unit in Galway; however, Dave died and was pronounced dead on board the dive boat. His body was airlifted to Waterford Airport and then transferred to University Hospital Waterford.

Reared in a house where the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre and VHF radio was always on in the kitchen; into a family who knew tragedy at sea and all about the importance of recovering bodies for loved ones, it was therefore not all that surprising that Dave went on to become a lifesaver in his own right, saving nine people from drowning. Dave worked with the Garda Sub Aqua Unit in Santry prior to moving to Waterford, where he was attached to the Waterford Divisional Traffic Corps operating out of Waterford Garda station in Ballybricken. Even after he retired from the Garda Sub Aqua Unit he volunteered in recovery searches for bodies, being acutely aware of the importance of getting the body back to the family as his father Declan's family lost several men to the sea down through the generations.

For his bravery Dave was a recipient of a National Bravery Award in October 2016 for saving two people from drowning in separate incidents ten days apart in Waterford city and Dungarvan in 2014. He had previously awarded a medal for Marine Gallantry at the Marine Meritorious Awards for the double rescue of two people from the River Suir centre on the same day in April 2007.

Known as the 'golden retriever' at his station such was his talent at rescuing people, Dave took the plaudits in his stride, often commenting that he was only doing his job.

Gardaí in Waterford and Wexford stood as guards of honour on the crest of Duncannon hill as Dave's remains arrived in a hearse behind several Garda traffic corp vehicles. Among the high ranking gardaí in attendance were assistant garda commissioners David Sheahan, Fintan Fanning and Michael Finn, while Capt Shane Flood attended representing President Michael D Higgins.

Inside the church grounds his friends from Hook Sub Aqua Club - who had diving equipment slung over their shoulders - lined the narrow pathways up to the church as his remains were carried through the church door, his wife Barbara wife; children Dylan, Toby, Noah and Libby; parents Declan and Gemma and sisters Bríd and Maeve and brother Declan leading the funeral cortège on a beautiful summer's day which seemed at odds with the tragic scenes and tear stained faces gathered on Duncannon hill. Dave was carried through the door he passed 15 years previously when he married the love of his life Barbara Molloy from the village below. The former parish priest of Ramsgrange, Fr Don Kenny, who married them was in attendance, with Duncannon PP Fr John Nolan officiating.

Fr Nolan said: 'News of his death on Saturday came as a devastating shock to his family and friends and to the communities of Duncannon, Fethard-on-Sea and to all his colleagues. Dave's life has been cut short. It's a tragedy which has allowed us to see the remarkable impact Dave has made on so many lives.'

Describing Dave's death as a power cut within the community, he said: 'We all feel numb and wonder why this could happen to Dave and such a good family. We all hope to live to old age but that doesn't always happen.'

He said tragedies like Dave's death remind everyone of how fragile and precarious life is.

Dave's colleague Garda John Duggan paid a warm tribute to his late friend, describing him as an incredible character and fantastic people person. 'Everyone here, without exception, has a particular memory of David. The stories are legion; some we can tell, some we can't due to a statute of limitations. He was like a big young fella. He would drive you mad.'

He said Dave loved being a guard. 'He was very professional and courteous and then he could turn around and do something off the wall. He did a lot of good stuff too.'

Garda Duggan said the huge crowd in attendance reflected the great man Dave was and spoke of the deep love his late friend had for his wife Barbara and four children Dylan (13), Toby (11), Noah (9) and Libby (7), describing how Dave had a picture of Barbara proudly hung on his locker for all to see. He said when not with his family Dave was happiest spending hours underwater, adding that in a way he died the way he would have wanted to. He recalled Dave's bravery: 'The pure decency and generosity of him, jumping into a river to save someone; it didn't matter who it was. His Dad was known for his lifesaving also and he always spoke so highly of his parents and brother and sisters. You could never get enough of him. I won't see his likes again and I haven't seen his like before this.'

Noel Furlong of Hook Sub Aqua Club said both he and everyone at Hook Sub Aqua Club will miss Dave's cheeky smile as the divers headed out to sea for dives.

'He had an incredible sense of humour and would leave everyone with a smile on their face,' he said.

One of the club leaders, Dave always ensured everyone was looked after on dives, Noel said, adding that the club was like a second family for Dave, who snuck off for a dive every chance he got.

Hilarious stories of Dave's time as a trainee garda were shared, as were little anecdotes about how loving and fun a Dad he was, making up puppet shows with his puppet Garda Murty.

His professionalism was highlighted, one garda describing how 'once the dive suit was on, he flicked into professional mode'.

'He has left us with a truckload of warm memories we will forever treasure. If Dave could have chosen the habitat in which he would depart this life it would surely have been the sea.'

Family members told mourners of Dave's humility, describing him as a fun-loving, energetic, good natured man who was great at impersonating senior gardaí and enjoyed playing practical jokes.

He was a man who enjoyed music and loved spending time with his family who were told that although there is a massive void in their lives now that Dave has passed on from this world, when they look out to the Irish Sea from the Hook they can think of him and forever be proud of what he achieved during his short life.

Dave's younger brother Declan said the family have been overwhelmed by the support they have received, adding that he wished he had more time to make new memories with Dave. 'If I have learnt anything this past weekend it is that time is short.'

He said as long as the family hold Dave dear in their memories he will live on.

Barbara addressed her children individually from the altar, telling them how much their father loved them in their own unique ways, earning a sustained ovation from the mourners inside and outside of the church. Family members thanked Dave's Hook Sub Aqua Club friends who tried to resuscitate him and the crew of the Rescue 117, the LE Orla, the RNLI crews and local boat owners were all thanked for their efforts trying to save Dave's life and for their support. Dave was laid to rest afterwards in Duncannon Cemetery.

New Ross Standard