'Mammy, I miss you so much' - little Evan McGrotty's final words before Buncrana tragedy struck
The youngest of the five family members who drowned in the Buncrana pier tragedy at the weekend spoke on the telephone to his mother just minutes before his father's car slipped into Lough Swilly, his funeral heard yesterday.
Eight-year-old Evan McGrotty, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, told Louise McGrotty who was in England at a hen party: "Mammy, I miss you so much. I am going to give you the biggest tightest hug you ever got, when I see you again."
The reunion never happened because his father Sean McGrotty's car plunged into the water in a freak accident as his family watched the sunset in picturesque Buncrana.
At the funeral in the Holy Family church in Ballymagroarty, thousands of mourners applauded Donegal man Davitt Walsh who saved the life of Louise and Sean's four-month-old baby Rioghnach-Ann by diving into the icy water to take her from her father who died when he went back into his car in a vain bid to rescue the rest of his family.
Louise yesterday publicly thanked Mr Walsh to whom she had extended her gratitude privately in an emotional meeting in Derry.
After reading a poem to mourners about the tragedy, Louise fought back tears as she said: "We will be eternally grateful to Davitt and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox because without fear for his own life and safety he entered Lough Swilly to save my Rioghnach. I will be forever grateful to you. Thank you so, so much."
Louise also thanked the emergency services who tried to save her family and to Francis Crawford who raised the alarm and told Sean McGrotty that help was on the way for him, his two sons Mark and Evan, and Louise's mother Ruth and sister Jodi-Lee Daniels.
School friends of the three children who died formed a massive guard of honour as their coffins arrived at the church and Derry City footballers, led by their manager Kenny Shiels, were also outside to show their solidarity with the club's player Joshua Daniels, whose mother and sister died in Buncrana.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood were also in the huge congregation for the service which was broadcast live on BBC Radio Foyle.
Earlier in the day, Mr McGuinness had accompanied the First Minister Arlene Foster on a private visit to the McGrotty home.
The DUP leader was in the city for the last meeting of the Executive before the May elections but it was adjourned, overshadowed by what politicians said was the unspeakable tragedy in Buncrana. Mrs Foster said the visit to the grief-stricken home had been extremely distressing.
"It's very difficult to go into a home and to look at five coffins. I always find the deaths of children very difficult and when you look at those two little boys it is very difficult to take in."
Mr McGuinness said that Louise McGrotty's strength and dignity since the deaths of three generations of her family had been "inspirational".
Parish priest Fr Patrick O'Kane offered his condolences to Mr McGrotty's other two surviving children, telling them during the service: "Shannon and Patrick, you have lost a dad."
He revealed that Louise had been engaged in a fundraising campaign for her son Evan and his muscular dystrophy charities, raising £16,000 from a number of activities including a parachute jump from 14,000 feet.
The priest also disclosed that he had broken down in tears when he visited a funeral home and saw the five members of the McGrotty and Daniels families in their coffins.
He told Louise: "There is nothing I can say to alleviate your pain and sense of loss."
Fr O'Kane said that he baptised little Rioghnach-Ann at the font in the Holy Family Church on January 23 and he'd been present when Evan made his First Communion just two weeks ago. He also revealed that Sean McGrotty's sister Ann died from cancer last July.
Tributes to the three youngest victims of the Buncrana horror were paid by their school principals with Evan described as a bright and bubbly little boy who added a great deal to all the lives he touched.
Mark was said to have been a teacher's dream who excelled at art and Jodi-Lee was described as a beautiful girl on the surface whose inner beauty had packed a lifetime of love in her 14 short years.
Sean McGrotty's brother Jim revealed that his sibling's love for his family was proved by his selfless actions on Sunday evening, adding: "A lot of people may not know this but our Sean couldn't swim."
Footballer Joshua Daniels said his mother Ruth was a "perfect human being" and promised: "Everything we achieve will be for her and everything that I become will be because of her."
The five victims of the disaster were buried after a service in the City Cemetery attended only by the remaining members of their families.