Belfast Telegraph

Donegal pier deaths mum Louise McGrotty says baby is only reason to go on

Family comforting mum-of-three who lost partner, sons, mother and sister in pier tragedy as it emerges she phoned children half an hour before accident

By Donna Deeney and Greg Harkin

A grief-stricken mother who lost her two sons, partner, mother and sister in the Buncrana tragedy has said her baby daughter is her sole reason to go on.

Louise McGrotty was away at a hen party when five members of her family died when their car slid into the ice cold waters of Lough Swilly from a slipway in Buncrana, Co Donegal, on Sunday night.

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A witness has described hearing the last desperate screams of Sean McGrotty (49), his two sons Mark (12), Evan (8) and the boys’ grandmother Ruth Daniels (59).

Mrs Daniels’ daughter — 14-year-old Jodi-Lee — also died when the family’s Audi four-wheel drive slid on algae on the slipway and went crashing into the sea.

Bystander Davitt Walsh, who had gone to the pier with his girlfriend for a walk, has been hailed a hero after he swam out and rescued Ms James’ and Mr McGrotty’s four-month-old daughter Rioghnach-Ann.

The baby was rushed to Letterkenny General hospital where she was treated but has since been returned to her mother.

It’s emerged that Louise rang her children and spoke to them a short time before they died.

She is being comforted by other family members and friends at her home in St Eithne’s Park, in Derry from where preparations for all five funerals are being finalised.

Fr Paddy O’Kane told the Belfast Telegraph Louise’s only reason to carry on living is her infant daughter.

He said: “Louise is struggling as anyone could imagine. The baby is what she is focusing on. She said that is her sole reason for living right now.

“Louise said to me, ‘I have lost everyone, except little Rioghnach-Ann’. She said ‘Rioghnach-Ann is my reason to go on’.

“There are no words of comfort that will help. It is not a time for pious platitudes. We can only be present with the family and let them know we care and we will do whatever it takes to help them.

“As a community we will come together on Thursday which will be a day of enormous grief for everyone.” Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited Louise at her home where the local community has been left “stunned”.

“She actually spoke to her children around 7pm last night in a park in Buncrana and half an hour later they were gone,” he said.

“To meet with her this morning was just a scene of utter devastation in the house. She is obviously surrounded by close family members, all of whom are just distraught.

“It is just one of the most heartbreaking scenes that you could ever envisage.

“The young woman that I met has to live with this for the rest of her life. How do you live with this?”

A statement from the two families said: “Our families have been devastated by the tragic events in which five members of our family died in a terrible accident.

“The family has been inundated with support and sympathy from the local community and further afield and this is deeply appreciated.”

The McGrotty family home was spilling over with people from right across Derry gathering to offer condolences.

These included the Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown and his counterpart from the Church of Ireland Bishop Ken Good.

Mr McGuinness also travelled to Buncrana to meet the volunteers from the RNLI who assisted at the scene on Sunday.

He said: “There are no words to sum up the heartbreak of the young woman who has lost her partner, two sons, her mother and her sister. It is a very, very sad house full of other relatives, hugely supportive at this difficult time. It is truly heartbreaking, mind numbing, shocking beyond belief.

“I have come to Buncrana to meet emergency services and to thank them for the work they did.”

Garda Superintendent Colm Nevin described the tragedy as one of the worst to ever hit Donegal.

He thanked the emergency crews who attended the callout and the members of the public who assisted, in particular, Mr Walsh who “displayed exceptional bravery”.

Condolences were also offered to the families from the Lough Swilly RNLI.

Its Lifeboat Operations Manager John McCarter said: “Our volunteer lifeboat crew were one of the first emergency services on scene and recovered the five casualties from the water.

“We were devastated to learn subsequently that those five people, including young children, had lost their lives.

“We wish to commend the actions of the member of the public who selflessly entered the water and rescued the baby and we wish them both a full recovery.”

Derry Mayor Elisha McCallion said: “This tragedy has affected the entire community in Derry and Donegal and left all of us feeling distraught.

“My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy, especially to Louise.

“I can’t imagine what she is going through right now, it is just unthinkable and every mother’s nightmare.

“This tragedy really captures the heart of every person and it’s important that we provide a forum for which people can express their condolences.”

The schools where Jodi-Lee, Mark and Evan were pupils, St Mary’s College, St Joseph’s College and St Eithne’s Primary School, have all laid on counselling services for their friends and class mates.

The Education Minister, John O’Dowd said: “I offer my deepest sympathies to the families, friends and school communities who are all trying to come to terms with this terrible tragedy.”

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