Bond between Buncrana tragedy hero Davitt Walsh and baby he saved will be for ever, says mum Louise McGrotty after emotional meeting
Mourning Louise McGrotty yesterday threw her arms around the man who saved her four-month-old daughter, the sole survivor of the Buncrana drowning that claimed five lives last Sunday.
There were emotional scenes at the meeting at the parochial house of the Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty, where Davitt Walsh, from Kerrykeel, Co Donegal, was reunited with Rionaghac-Ann.
Despite her incredible grief at the loss of her husband, two sons, mother and sister, Louise thanked Davitt and told him the bond between him and baby Rionaghac-Ann would last forever.
Fr Paddy O'Kane, who organised the meeting, said it was a moment of hope. "Davitt wanted to meet Louise but thought the house would be too heartbreaking for him," he added.
"The meeting ended with Davitt holding baby Rionaghac-Ann, who brought joy into the situation by opening her eyes, yawning and giving Davitt a big smile.
"Louise's face lit up when she looked at the baby, who is her source of strength at this time.
"Davitt cried and told Louise he was so sorry he couldn't save her boys, but she told him if it wasn't for his brave actions there would be seven coffins and not five, because she could not have continued if the baby had been lost.
"We were all in tears. Davitt was crying, Louise was crying and I was crying, all of us together."
Mr Walsh's girlfriend Stephanie Knox also met Louise in Derry. The Altnagelvin cardiologist, who helped keep the baby warm after Davitt saved her, said the meeting helped her and her partner come to terms with the tragedy.
"My biggest admiration goes out to Louise, the Daniels family and the McGrotty family," she added. "They are amazing, strong people. Meeting them helped me and Davitt, and my thoughts and prayers are with the family."
Louise will return to the Holy Family Church today for the funerals of partner Sean (49), sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), her 59-year-old mother Ruth Daniels and her sister Jodi-Lee (14).
Since last Sunday, when the five perished after their car went into Lough Swilly from the pier in Buncrana, an outpouring of support for the McGrotty and Daniels families has swept across the north west. In Derry a candlelight vigil will be held in the Guildhall Square on Sunday at 7pm, which will be mirrored by a vigil at Buncrana.
Fundraising pages have been set up by people deeply affected by the unspeakable tragedy.
Martin McGranaghan from Derry set up a fund which he hoped would reach £5,000. The amount so far is more than £34,000, and it is still rising.
"I am totally overwhelmed at the level of support everyone has showed to the families," he said. "They are overwhelmed by the support at this heartbreaking time. Please keep them in your thoughts."
Derry-born footballer James McClean offered his condolences to the families through social media. The West Bromwich Albion player tweeted: "Tragic events back home, may God bless them and their family at this time."
Derry City and Strabane Council cancelled the monthly meeting scheduled to take place this afternoon to allow councillors to attend the funerals at 2pm.
The Guildhall clock in Derry has also been turned red and white - the colours of Derry City and Manchester United Football Clubs - to reflect Mark and Evan's love of football and in respect of Ruth's son Josh, who plays for The Candystripes.
Derry mayor Elisha McCallion said turning the Guildhall clock red and white and the council premises red was a symbolic gesture of support that reflected the huge outpouring of grief from the local community.
She added: "I spoke to Louise at the wake and she spoke about Evan and how he was obsessed with red - it was his favourite colour. He loved red clothes and all the things in his room are red. It's a tribute to their memory to have the lights on the council offices and the Alley Theatre turned red as a mark of respect."