Belfast Telegraph

Donegal pier deaths bouquets spelled out the grief. One read simply 'Mark was my best friend'

By Nicola Anderson

"It was harrowing. It was harrowing to see the bodies laid out on the ground. It was hard to see the gardai crying and they with young children of their own. To see the five hearses pulling up there to take away the bodies."

Mark Barnett, coxswain with the RNLI stood at the pier in Buncrana and tried to force back his own tears as he recalled the traumatic horror of what had happened here less than 24 hours ago.

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At one point, ambulance workers were performing CPR simultaneously on four of the bodies taken from the cold grey waters of Lough Swilly on the quayside.

At one stage, someone had to race to the local Supervalu to get another defibrillator because they simply didn't have enough equipment.

"How could they have had?" Mark asked simply.

Nobody could have ever prepared for such a thing. No training could ever suffice.

It had been a beautiful sunny day amid the majestically jutting and swooping coastline of the Inishowen peninsula.

The RNLI had been taking part in a helicopter exercise on Lough Swilly and the volunteers had just wound up a tough but satisfactory day's work.

Mark had hopped into his car for the short two-mile journey home but had only gone out of the road when his pager pinged.

The message was terse.

A car had gone off the pier in Buncrana, it said. Children and adults in the water.

"It must've happened seconds after I left," said Mark, explaining that in normal circumstances, volunteers would have been able to devise a plan en route to an accident.

This time, there was no time to plan for what they would have to deal with.

He struggled to describe what they had seen, the light behind Lough Swilly fading, as eyewitnesses on the pier screamed that there were people still in the car that had disappeared under the surface, 12 metres deep.

The baby, little Rioghnach-Ann had just been taken from the car.

A crew member had dived down.

The doors of the car were locked but the boot was open. He was able to extract two children - one of the boys and Jodi-Lee (15).

"It was harrowing. To have a family, so many people, gone like that over a very simple thing to go wrong.

"I feel for the poor mother and what road she has ahead of her," he said.

All day long yesterday, a pilgrimage of people - including many young mothers from Derry, - sorrowfully wound their way down to the pier at Buncrana to gaze silently, amid questioning anguish, into the waters.

One young mother, Sarah Harper, had come to pay her respects while Susan Kelly and Brigid Doorley, also from Derry, spoke in hushed tones of the disaster.

Susan said she was a "far-out relation" of the family, through her great-grandmother.

All Derry people come to Buncrana, she said, explaining why it had been a natural day out for Sean McGrotty, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels, sister-in-law Jodi-Lee (15) and his own children, Mark (12), Evan (8) and baby Rioghnach-Ann.

"This'd be our first stop. This is Donegal to us," said Susan.

"It's barely a 10 minute drive and when the weather is fine, it's as good as going foreign," declared Susan.

Bouquets had been left at three separate points along the pier, bearing messages of heartrending grief.

"You were my best friend," said one left for Mark McGrotty (12).

A wreath had also been left by their "family and friends at Top of the Hill Celtic", their local football club in Derry.

In a devastatingly poignant tribute to the three children whose lives had been snuffed out during their Easter holidays, a little blue tin of sweets in the shape of a bunny rabbit had been placed at the closest point to where the tragedy had happened.

The frantically skidding tyre marks of Sean McGrotty's Audi Q7 were still plainly and tragically visible on the green algae of the slipway, as he wrestled with the car in the helpless battle to save his family.

This was not the first time Buncrana has been plunged into mourning. More than 30 years ago musician Phil Coulter's sister Cyd, a social worker, was killed along with a man she was attempting to counsel when he drove them both off the same pier.

"A lot of sadness has happened around here," said Jim Quinn, a local suicide counsellor.

Once before, he saw a similar accident when a woman was reversing her car and almost slipped in at Buncrana pier but was rescued.

"These things can just happen," he said simply.

Source Irish Independent

Irish Independent

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