Belfast Telegraph

Donegal drowning horror a tragedy made more difficult to understand by its randomness

By Malachi O'Doherty

One of the shocking things about the Buncrana pier tragedy, the element of the whole horror that appals everyone and that makes it unforgettable, is the ghastly fluke at the heart of it.

Most of us have heard of nothing like it, though many of us have taken cars on to Donegal piers and wondered for a moment how bad things could get on the simplest miscalculation.

Many of us have sat during an evening in the car looking out across the water on a peaceful scene and can feel, in imagination, the gulf between the contentment of a placid moment, watching the sunset, and the sudden terror.

None of us want to put ourselves in imagination into that car in the moments when a slip turned into a catastrophe, when something that shouldn't happen did. This has been a week of tragedies, including the death and funeral of prison officer Adrian Ismay and the slaughter in Brussels, but even against such a dark backdrop the Buncrana accident seems distinctive by its meaninglessness.

There was no malice behind it, nor forethought given to it; it was random; could have been any of us, on any other night.

The McGrotty and Daniels families have to cope with a grief that came out of the blue on a scale that is unsustainable.

Even the one marvellous part of the story, the heroic intervention by Davitt Walsh that saved baby Rioghnach-Ann, seems tainted by his own doubts.

Meeting the child's mother on Tuesday, to hear her gratitude, he appeared to be worrying over his inability to save others in the family. By a cruel irony, the heroism that the whole country applauds has turned not into pride, but self doubt.

Louise assured him: "No, you did what you had to do. You did the right thing."

As mourners heard yesterday, he told her: "I needed to hear that from you."

In the days after the accident we learnt that it was not entirely the freakish and inconceivable event that it had seemed, and stories emerged on social media and in the news of others who had come close to the same horror, lost their grip on that incline - it is actually called a 'slipway'.

What seemed a cruel chance, a mischief of the fortunes, now appears to be something that could have been predicted and prevented by better maintenance of the pier, by clear warnings, by measures that will now look like simple common sense, but which before last Sunday were more bother than they seemed to be worth.

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