Eerie calm after storm as Deirdre McShane's grieving friends gather at water's edge to pray
Bathed in the shimmering winter sunlight on Ballycastle beach, with rugged Rathlin Island out to sea on one side and towering Fair Head on the other, six forlorn women cut a poignant sight yesterday as they knelt in solemn remembrance of their friend Deirdre McShane.
It was the eerie calm after the storm as they gathered in stunned silence just yards away from the cruel sea that had claimed the life of the 58-year-old community midwife just a few hours earlier.
Her friends had arrived separately for their joint act of prayer and reflection and it was clear they were struggling to comprehend what had happened to Mrs McShane and why.
For at least 10 minutes, the women stood staring out to sea, lost in their thoughts.
They occasionally hugged each other in the hope of taking strength from each other before going down on their knees and bowing their heads in unified grief.
As they left the beach afterwards, the women declined to talk apart from saying that they just wanted to get away as quickly as possible and, one imagined, as far away as possible.
Earlier a group of relatives of the drowned woman arrived to see the exact spot where she died doing what she loved - swimming with her friends off the beach that she loved.
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One man said the family had held a short prayer service before departing, some of them in tears.
Across the road from the Marine Hotel, a group of three women and one man looked shell-shocked as they huddled together to talk about Mrs McShane and to attempt to explain the inexplicable nature of her passing.
"We're members of her swimming group, too," said one woman.
"But we don't want to say anything. It's all too raw. We're horrified."
On the beach itself there was nothing to indicate that anything untoward had happened at one of Northern Ireland's most popular and most idyllic beauty spots.
In the distance, however, officers from HM Coastguard and the PSNI maintained a presence on the road overlooking the beach where the odd dog walker still followed their daily rituals.
One man who knew Deirdre McShane said she and her fellow cold water swimmers were well-known and seen in Ballycastle every morning.
He added: "They're a great bunch of people. They mostly work in the health service or are carers.
"You'd always see them on the beach from 8am on before they go to work.
"I regularly tell them that I'm going to join them one day, but it's always too cold for me."
All over Ballycastle yesterday, election posters were still hanging, urging voters to back the drowned woman's relative Cara McShane, who is fighting the North Antrim seat for Sinn Fein in Thursday's Westminster contest.
The favourite to win the election, Ian Paisley of the DUP, visited Ballycastle and said his prayers with the McShane family. He said he had been involved in separate rescues of two boys from the sea off the Causeway Coast down the years.
One of them lived.
One of them died.
"What has happened in Ballycastle is an absolute tragedy," he added.