Saturday 24 March 2018

Talented Irish rower dies six days after fall in Poland

Ailish Sheehan celebrates winning a bronze medal in the world university rowing championships in Poznan, Poland
Ailish Sheehan celebrates winning a bronze medal in the world university rowing championships in Poznan, Poland

David Raleigh

One of Ireland's brightest hopes in rowing has tragically died six days after sustaining critical head injuries in a fall in Poland.

Ailish Sheehan (23), from Kildimo, Co Limerick, suffered catastrophic injuries after she slipped and fell, only hours after winning a bronze medal at the FISU World University Rowing Championships, in Poznan.

Last Sunday, Ailish and the rest of her team mates, Rebecca Edwards, Annie Withers and Gillian Cooper, came third for Great Britain in the Women's Senior Coxed Fours. The rising sports star had rowed for both Ireland and Britain as she had dual citizenship.

Irish Olympian Sinead Jennings, a former team mate of Sheehan's, has described the Limerick athlete as "one of the most talented I've ever met".

"It's absolutely awful. I rowed with Ailish in 2013 when we won the senior (pairs) together. She was an amazing girl," Jennings said. "She had such a future ahead of her. She was such a lovely girl."

Ms Sheehan's heartbroken family, including her parents John and Catherine, and sisters Niamh and Aine, had been keeping a vigil for six days at her hospital bedside.

Ailish Sheehan
Ailish Sheehan

Her father John, a native of Bandon, is well known in both athletic and GAA circles. He played minor hurling with Cork and St Mary's in London in the 1970s and previously trained the Limerick senior hurling squad. He was a PE teacher at St Clement's Secondary School, Limerick, and is also a trainer with Kildimo GAA Club. Ailish's mother Catherine is a nurse, and her sister Niamh recently qualified as a speech therapist.

It is the second major tragedy to strike the Sheehan family. John's brother Jim was left paralysed following a crash about 20 years ago, which claimed the life of his wife, who was a sister of Catherine.

Family friends and neighbours in Bruff - where the Sheehans raised their three daughters and their nephew Conor - said they were "devastated" as news of Ailish's passing filtered through from Poland.

Sheehan, who rowed for both Ireland and Britain, had been a member of St Michael's Rowing a Club, Limerick; Dooneen Athletics Club, Co Limerick, and most recently with University of London Rowing Club.

President Michael D Higgins issued a statement extending his sympathy to her family and friends.

"It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the death of Ailish Sheehan," he said. "A talented rower and student of design, her loss will be felt acutely by her team mates and colleagues. This is a cruel blow for all those who were so were impressed by her rowing success."

The British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) stated it is "deeply saddened to report the death of Ailish Sheehan".

Irish Independent

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