Buncrana pier tragedy: Mum Louise James says she ‘just has to get on with it' after family loss
THE mother who buried five members of her family after the Buncrana pier tragedy has spoken publicly for the first time, saying she is determined to "get on with it" to honour her partner who sacrificed himself for the others.
Partner Sean McGrotty, sons Michael (12) and Evan, her mother Ruth Daniels and sister Jodie-Lee all perished after their Audi Q7 plunged into the sea off a slipway during a day out in the Co Donegal town.
Four-and-a-half-month-old daughter Rionaghach-Ann was the sole survivor after being passed by her father to a rescuer who jumped into the icy water to help the family.
Louise James says it was the first time she had left her young family for more than a few hours, but had been urged to accept the invitation to a friend's hen party by her children who told her: "You need a break".
However, the 35-year-old from Derry said she had a premonition something was wrong even before the news could be broken to her.
"I just knew... I got a feeling at 7.30pm," she told the Irish Mail on Sunday.
"I knew something was wrong. I rang them back but their phones were off. My brother rang, but I just knew. My friends rang.
"The police couldn't give names. Then it was on the news. The police were on the phone to me. The police were at my mum's house with my brother.
"I'm not usually intuitive but I just knew."
Ms James said she had spoken to her family just before the tragedy, to tell them her flight had been delayed.
"I was only talking to them on the phone five minutes before the accident. Evan came on, he said `When are you coming home?' I said `I'll be home. Have a bath, you've got school in the morning. I'll be home, don't worry'."
The eight-year-old promised his mother "a tight squeezy hug".
She spoke movingly of the little boy, who was due to be measured for a new wheelchair as "intuitive".
"He knew I was having a baby girl before I got pregnant... He told us about the pregnancy. There were a few things like that."
Ms James believes both her elder son Mark and his father would have chosen to stay with the family rather than save themselves.
Mark, she says, could swim, but "would have refused to get out of the car".
"Seán wouldn't have got out either. No way," she said.
"Even if the boys had got out and my mother was there he would have stayed. He went down with them, that was him."
Ms James has met Davitt Walsh, the 29-year-old footballer who rescued her "special baby".
He told her how Rionaghach-Ann's father managed to pass his daughter to him through the car window and the tiny little girl helped save herself.
"She arched her back and put her head back and he was able to get a good grip of her.
"He said she kept looking down at him as if to say `Here, you'."
Mr Walsh has been traumatised at not being able to save more of the family, but Ms James told him "Don't blame yourself that you did not do more. We are so grateful for what you did. It could easily have been seven deaths not five."
Ms James is struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of their loss.
"It's difficult. We lost our sister not long ago," she said.
"Now this. She was meant to be."
She says her priority will be teaching Rionaghach-Ann to swim and she has taken comfort from the "lovely service" which thousands attended to pay their respects and parish priest Fr Paddy O'Kane who said: "Be patient, you're just going to have to wait a little longer until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan."
"I just have to get on with it," she said.
"As my Sean would say, you take your lumps."