Belfast Telegraph

Drowning victim Ruth Maguire called fiance twice before tragedy .. but phone was in work

Sister of Ruth Maguire tells how family is struggling to deal with pain of young mum-of-three's loss in Carlingford Lough drowning incident

Ruth Maguire (right) with her sister Rachel Wilkinson
Ruth Maguire (right) with her sister Rachel Wilkinson
Ruth Maguire with her sister Rachel Wilkinson after taking part in Belfast City Marathon
Lisa Stitt, Rachel and Ruth at Rachel’s wedding
Ruth and brother Ryan.
The couple with children Tyler, Lydia and Oliver
Family and friends carry Ruth’s coffin at her funeral in St Vincent de Paul Church in north Belfast
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

The grief-stricken fiance of a young mother who tragically drowned in Carlingford Lough missed two phone calls from her asking for a lift home on the night she died.

James Griffin didn't realise Ruth Maguire, his partner of 12 years, had been calling until a fortnight after her funeral because she had dialled his work phone, which he had mistakenly left at the office.

The couple, who have three children - Tyler (10), Lydia (7) and Oliver (5) - were due to marry this August, but that was before the 30-year-old nurse assistant lost her life during a terrible accident on a friend's hen night in Co Louth.

She went missing after 11.30pm on Saturday, March 16 after becoming separated from her friends. Her lifeless body was later recovered in the water between Carlingford and Greenore on March 18 - one month ago today.

Heartbreakingly, Ruth, who lived in Newcastle, was buried in the wedding dress she never got to wear on March 29 following a funeral Mass at St Vincent de Paul's Church, close to her mother's home in north Belfast.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Ruth's older sister Rachel Wilkinson said her family is still trying to cope with the pain of her death, and she told of James's devastation after missing his wife-to-be's calls that night.

"Everybody is just trying to work through their grieving in different ways," Rachel said.

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Much to the bewilderment of her sister, Ruth had put out a short video with no sound on Instagram at 12.12am the Sunday she disappeared.

It showed an image of a doorway to a small cottage across the road from the entrance to the pier. It was the last time she used her phone, and it is what is thought to have triggered the search in the lough.

"The thing that I couldn't work out initially, after Ruth went missing, was that she'd been on her phone but I didn't know what she was doing," Rachel said.

Ruth and her mum Geraldine Worthington
Ruth and her mum Geraldine Worthington

"Then, when Jim went back to work two weeks after the funeral, he turned on his work phone and saw that Ruth had called him twice at 12.06am, so it all makes sense now.

"She had told her friends earlier that night that she wanted to go home and I now know she was ringing Jim in the hope that he would pick her up... but she'd obviously rang his work number instead of his personal phone by accident.

"Jim told me that he had to pull over in the car when he saw the missed calls... he was devastated... but in a way it's comforting for us to know that she was trying to get home to her family before she died."

Ruth preparing for her sister’s wedding
Ruth preparing for her sister’s wedding

In his distress at having missed Ruth's attempts to make contact, accounts assistant Rachel, who is in her 30s, said she told Jim not to dwell on what could have been.

"There was a possibility that he might have been the one to find her in the lough... we don't know why she fell in," she said.

"Even if he'd answered, she still could have fallen in and then he could have found her, which would have been horrendous, especially with three kids in the car."

Ruth with her fiance James
Ruth with her fiance James

Speaking from a family holiday in Lanzarote with husband Ben (40) and their boys Louis (7) and Oscar (3), which she booked before Ruth went missing, Rachel said her sister's death had left a void that can't ever be filled.

"Sometimes it doesn't feel real... you forget she's not there anymore," she said.

"We talked every day. I would always ring her and even though she was younger she would always give me advice." She also revealed how losing Ruth, a strong swimmer, in a drowning accident has left her terrified of the sea.

"The water has become a bit of an issue for me," she added.

"The other day, down by the beach, I was an absolute mess, I just couldn't relax. Every time the kids went near the water I panicked... the sea was quite unsettled, the current was strong and it was horrendous.

"I've always been a bit funny when it comes to kids around a swimming pool and I know you always need to keep an eye on children near water, but my reactions are 10 times exaggerated now.

"It was scared. I kept making the kids play in the sand, rather than go near the water.

"I told Louis that mummy is really nervous because of what happened to Auntie Ruth and he said he understood, but he's a seven-year-old boy and he just wants to have fun and play in the water and obviously I'm stopping him."

She added: "At one point I just went to the shops so they could play without me pestering them to get away from the water all the time. At least they got half-an-hour playing with their dad, who's a lot more relaxed than me."

Rachel said her parents - Geraldine Worthington and Malachy Maguire, who lives in London - are "struggling" with the loss of their youngest child. So, too, are her brothers Raymond Worthington (32) and Ryan Maguire (46).

"You never think of these things. I certainly didn't. I thought Ruth would be looking after me when I got older," she said.

Returning to work a week after the funeral was easier than staying at home for Rachel "because sitting around the house made it even worse".

"Rather than sit and look at four walls, I just went back," she added.

"The longer you put it off, the more insurmountable dealing with your grief seems."

Rachel said that Jim (35), a gas engineer, has been strong for his children as he tackles the challenges of being a single parent head on.

"He's trying to look after the kids and he's got a lot to work out... like how he's going to get them all to their various classes, such as gymnastics," she said. "He has decided to stay in Newcastle. My mum is going to go down a couple of days a week to help out with everything, and his family will also be there for him.

"Tyler, Lydia and Oliver are really settled down there. Tyler is in Year 6 so he's going to have his transfer test soon so Jim doesn't want to uproot the whole family at this time."

She added: "As my mum keeps saying, everything happened in Belfast - the wake was at mum's house, the funeral left from mum's house - but their house in Newcastle is still their wee happy home, although, of course, Ruth's not there..."

The mum-of-two said her family have reconciled themselves to the fact the Ruth had a freak accident that came about partly because there are no barriers in the area near the lough where she is thought to have fallen in.

And that is why she is now spearheading a campaign for one to be erected in the area as soon as possible.

She also said it was ironic that, in the end, Ruth's body was discovered where ferries frequently sail from Co Louth to Co Down, considering there had been talk of her sister wanting to do just that on the night she died.

"Ruth was actually found in Greenore about 5km from where she fell in - which is where you get the ferry to Greencastle. She had wanted to get the ferry home and that's where she ended up," she said.

"Her bag washed up on Kilkeel beach a week after that but the only thing that was in it was her medical card. Her purse was gone and so was her phone.

"She had an over-the-shoulder bag wrapped over her. She didn't like big handbags. They still haven't found her phone."

Looking back to Mother's Day on Sunday, March 31, Rachel said it was very hard for Ruth's children, especially Tyler, her eldest, and she told how she tried to shield her nephews and niece from any pain that day.

"Poor Jim had to go to a funeral because his dad's partner was getting buried," she said.

"The children stayed with us. We were going to have a Sunday roast dinner but Tyler said he'd prefer a barbecue so we decided to do that instead. I didn't put up any Mother's Day cards in the house because I didn't want to draw attention to the day. The kids had made cards at school but I just put them away in a drawer."

She added: "I just felt it was all simply too close to it all happening."

Ruth had everything planned for her nuptials on August 8, according to Rachel, who was going to be maid of honour, while the children - hers, Rachel's, and Ryan's little girl Nyla (8) - were going to be flower girls and page boys.

Instead, the mother-of-three was buried in her wedding dress in a closed coffin following advice from the undertakers.

Rachel said her family's grief was all the more intense because "none of us got to see Ruth before she was buried".

"I'm not a big fan of wakes but I felt I needed to see Ruth before the funeral," she said.

"But the funeral directors recommended that we didn't because she'd been in the water for 36 hours, which meant she was very discoloured, and of course she'd had an autopsy.

"They also told us she had a gash above her eye, which is in keeping with her stumbling, falling and hitting her head."

She added: "I sent Jim pictures of the wedding dress but he didn't actually see her in it ... so he'll probably never get to see Ruth in her dress."

Rachel revealed that one photograph was taken by Tyler of her wearing her bridesmaid's dress alongside Ruth dressed in her wedding robe - but she added that only Ruth had that image on her mobile.

She added: "If we ever retrieve Ruth's lost phone from the ocean, or wherever it is now, only then Jim will finally get his wish to see his beautiful bride in her lovely dress."

Rachel said the family hope to erect a plaque on one of the benches along the pier in Carlingford as a memorial to Ruth, who worked in Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.

"Ruth was a great swimmer... we can only think she stumbled or tripped, then fell into the water and was knocked unconscious," Rachel said.

"It was probably slightly more peaceful for Ruth if she hit her head and became unconscious... it wouldn't have been as horrendous as the alternative."

A fundraiser for Newcastle RNLI is also planned next month to raise awareness for the volunteers because "they're the ones who found her".

"Ruth wasn't a party girl on a hen night who ended up in the lough," her big sister said.

"Ruth lived for her children, she was a lovely family person, a great mum and a fantastic human being."

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