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Buncrana pier tragedy hero Davitt Walsh honoured for bravery

By Allan Preston

The man who saved a baby girl during the Buncrana pier tragedy that claimed the lives of five family members from Londonderry has been honoured for his courage.

Davitt Walsh (30) was recognised on Saturday at the RTE People of the Year awards for rescuing four-month-old Rioghnach-Ann.

In March Derry woman Louise James was left devastated after she lost her two sons Mark (12) and Evan McGrotty (8), partner Sean McGrotty (49), 14-year-old sister Jodie Lee Daniels and mother Ruth Daniels (57).

Their car had slid from the pier in Buncrana into Lough Swilly.

As he was presented with the award, host Grainne Seoige told an emotional Mr Walsh: "I really get the feeling that this does not sit easy on your shoulders."

He replied: "It doesn't. I do try and take the silver lining out of it, but it's very difficult for me. At the end of the day five people lost their lives.

"I still live with that, day to day is still very difficult.

"I started to realise I did do my best but it wasn't enough, really."

In an interview played before he accepted his award, Donegal man Davitt recalled the tragedy.

"It was probably the first real day of spring, it was a beautiful, shining day and me and my girlfriend Stephanie decided to go for a drive," he explained.

"There was a few guys on the pier, couple of guys fishing. Stephanie shouted: 'Davitt, there's a car in the water'. That's when we realised it wasn't normal and something's going on and I just looked at the car and dived into the water and started swimming."

As he approached the car in which the family were trapped, Mr Walsh recalled: "Sean looked round at me and handed me the baby. I took the baby then the water started to rush in the car and within seconds it was sucked in.

"Then he said 'save my baby', and the car disappeared. It was gone then. I just remember making sure I kept Rioghnach-Ann above the water as high as I could, talking to her - probably just keeping myself right - saying 'don't worry, we're going to get back safe'."

He added: "I try to take that as a silver lining, that I was able to save the baby at least. I saved a kid and I was able to give Louise a reason to live on."

Donegal All-Ireland wining GAA manager Jim McGuinness, who coached Davitt years ago, said he felt "compelled" to be there to honour him.

"I think the most important thing is there's a person on the planet that wouldn't be on the planet other than for this person here, and I think that's a very special thing, and those two people will be bonded for the rest of their life," he said.

In a recorded message for the show, former Ireland rugby star Ronan O'Gara called Mr Walsh a "real hero".

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