Belfast Telegraph

Family mourns 'amazing father' who died after fall on Lourdes pilgrimage

By Nevin Farrell

A 70-year-old man who died in tragic circumstances during a pilgrimage to Lourdes has been described as "an amazing husband and father".

The family of Liam McSwine from Londonderry were this week making arrangements to repatriate his remains after he was killed in a freak accident while visiting the religious site in southern France.

Patricia Logue, a Sinn Fein councillor for the Brandywell area where Mr McSwine lived, said his remains may arrive home today and his funeral could be held on Saturday. The shrine town of Lourdes is regarded as sacred by Catholics and thousands of people from Ireland, north and south, fly to France seeking cures for ailments every year. Others just go for the religious aspect of the trip.

Mr McSwine was on a pilgrimage with his wife Margaret and other relatives when he fell.

It is understood the grandfather had just arrived in Lourdes and went for dinner followed by a stroll, a well-worn routine of his at home. However, as he returned in the dark along an unfamiliar path he slipped and fell into a river just 100 yards from his destination.

Initial searches by frantic family members failed to locate him but his body was discovered the following day. It is understood he was found by local council cleaners.

Mr McSwine was a father of 10 and had 14 grandchildren.

A family statement said: "It is devastating, absolutely devastating. He was a gentleman, anybody that knew him would tell you the same.

"He was an amazing husband and an amazing father. We are all very close and we adored him. He was the head honcho in our house."

Friends in Derry said the tragedy was even more poignant as it happened at a place held in such high regard by many people in the city.

Councillor Logue said: "It is a tragedy the way Mr McSwine died, a tragic accident. He had only been in Lourdes two hours and it is heartbreaking for his family and for the whole community."

Another councillor for the Brandywell area, Jim Clifford of the SDLP, said: "I knew him to see but didn't know him personally but there is a lot of shock that a man going to Lourdes has died after he fell and hit his head. It is very sad."

Lourdes has long been a popular pilgrimage site because of the belief the Virgin Mary appeared there before Bernadette Soubirous on 18 occasions.

Subsequently, it has become a major place of Catholic pilgrimage and of miraculous healings. The 150th anniversary of the first apparition took place on February 11, 2008 with an outdoor Mass attended by approximately 45,000 pilgrims.

Today, Lourdes has a population of around 15,000, but it is able to take in some five million pilgrims and tourists every season, a large number of them from Ireland.

Quotes

"It is devastating, absolutely devastating. He was a gentleman, anybody that knew him would tell you the same.

"He was an amazing husband and an amazing father. We are all very close and we adored him. He was the head honcho in our house."

Statement from the family of Liam McSwine

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