No words can describe mother's heartbreak, mourners are told

Heartbreaking scenes at the funerals of Buncrana pier victims as Louise James carries the coffin of one of her sons. Picture by Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press.
Seamus McKinney

A WOMAN lost her partner, sons, mother and sister when their car plunged off a pier in Donegal, paid tribute to the man who rescued her baby daughter from the tragedy.

As a devastated Louise James spoke at the funerals in Derry on Thursday, she offered thanked to Davitt Walsh for his heroic efforts in saving four month-old Rioghnach-Ann.

Ruth Daniels (57) her daughter Jodie Lee (14) Sean McGrotty (49) and his sons Mark (12) and Evan, eight, died when their car left Buncrana pier after sliding on algae.

The only survivor was her baby girl who Mr McGrotty frantically passed to Davitt Walsh as the rest of the stricken family were trapped in the sinking car.

Fighting back tears she said: "We will be eternally grateful to Davitt Walsh and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox. For without fear for his own life and safety, he entered Lough Swilly to save my Rioghnach-Ann. and I will be forever grateful to you. Thank you, so, so much."

She also expressed a deep gratitude to Francis Crawford, the man who had raised the alarm, and the emergency services who battled to resuscitate her family members on the pier-side.

Reading from a poem she had composed in the days since the tragedy she said her heart was broken beyond repair as she recalled how her loved ones had gone to the pier to watch the sun set.

Thousands of people packed the church and grounds while more lined the two-mile route to Derry city cemetery where all five victims were later laid to rest.

Parish priest Fr Paddy O’Kane said mourners struggled to find words to “speak the unspeakable.”

“This is a desert experience, barren of any comfort, as we search for an oasis of hope in this bleak landscape and as we struggle to find there any refreshing words of life and healing.”

But he said hope had been found with the rescue of the sole survivor, little Rioghnach-Ann.

He praised the "altruism in the bravery" of Davitt Walsh, who dived into the lough in a bid to help the stricken family.

"Davitt, today we salute you as our hero," Fr O'Kane said.

Heartbreaking scenes at the funeral:


Among those in attendance were Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Foyle MP Mark Durkan and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, as well as Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan.

Earlier the first and deputy first ministers had met Ms James at the family home and later signed a book of condolence.

Mr McGuinness said it was "incredible" to meet Ms James who had shown incredible strength while DUP leader Arlene Foster: "This is an unspeakable tragedy, yet somehow, from somewhere, she is finding the strength to be so composed, to speak with us, to tell us how she'd spoken to the children just before they died."

Earlier mourners heard how little Evan had spoken to his mother on the phone minutes before the car plunged into the water.

Ms James, who had been away on a hen weekend, spoke to her family as they watched the sun set over Buncrana pier.

Fr O'Kane said little Evan told his mum: “Mammy I miss you so much. I am going to give you the biggest, tightest hug you ever got when I see you again.”

Now, he said, his mum would have to wait a little longer to get that “tight hug” promised by little Evan.


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