Belfast Telegraph

Buncrana recalls pier tragedy familes one year after horror deaths

Heart-breaking memories of the drownings of five members of one Northern Irish family at Buncrana pier will be recalled at a first anniversary Mass this evening.

Some of those who played significant roles as the tragic accident unfolded in the Co Donegal seaside town spoke of their sadness with great sensitivity one year later.

"At the pier that night, there was a communal sense of grief and shock. A silence descended on the town that lasted several days," said local priest Fr John Walsh (68), who anointed the victims.

The victims drowned in the family car after the vehicle accidentally began an irreversible slide on slimy algae down the slipway into the harbour waters.

Louise James, the only family member who did not travel on the outing from their home in Derry, lost her partner Sean McGrotty (49), their sons Evan (8) and Mark (12), her mother Ruth Daniels (57) and her sister Jodie Lee Daniels (14).

Seconds before the car sank below the waters of Lough Swilly, Mr McGrotty desperately succeeded in passing the couple's baby daughter Rioghnach through the car window to a young man, Davitt Walsh, who bravely swam out to the sinking car.

Although he received several awards for his life-saving courage, Mr Walsh remained an extremely modest hero.

In a statement, the family said they were "deeply grateful for the prayers and support over the last year".

Today's anniversary Mass will be offered in the Holy Family Church, Ballymagroarty, in Londonderry at 7.15pm.

They said a walk "in memory of all five members of the family" will take place on Friday next in Derry.

Funds raised will go to muscular dystrophy research, as Evan had the disease.

The family outing to Buncrana had included a meal in the popular seaside town and they may have parked on the slipway to watch the sunset after enjoying a beautiful spring day.

Local couple Francis Crawford (67) and his wife Kay heard the shouts for help from the driver, Sean McGrotty, as the vehicle began to slide into the water.

Francis called the emergency services.

When contacted, they said they remembered the victims "with sore hearts" and paid tribute to the emergency services.

"It seems a short year since the tragedy but we feel it will take a long time for the wounds to heal," said Francis.

Local priest Fr Walsh said he arrived at the pier that night and was immediately asked to administer the Last Rites as four of the bodies retrieved from the waters lay on the pier.

"I had just finished anointed the four when they brought the body of the teenage girl. I found her the hardest because they had just taken her out of the water. She was very beautiful," he said.

"It was a dark night. There was a floodlight from a helicopter beaming down when I was anointing. I just whispered the prayer.

"The saving of the baby was a little miracle. Consciousness of the courage of Davitt Walsh has been with me all year," he said.

Lough Swilly lifeboat service volunteers John McCarter and Joe Joyce said their team went into action immediately, using three boats.

"The multiple deaths made it "our worst day ever," said Mr McCarter.

Mr Joyce said: "We train and prepare for different scenarios, but you never think of something like this.

Everyone's thoughts are with the family."

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