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Opinion: Unbearable tragedy in Ballycastle

A woman has died in a swimming accident at Ballycastle beach, Co Antrim.

The tragedy that unfolded in Ballycastle yesterday has caused a deep sense of mourning and profound disbelief in the north coast town and the surrounding area.

Warm tributes have been paid to Deirdre McShane, a mother-of-two and a community midwife, who lost her life after getting into difficulty while taking an early morning swim in the sea.

A second woman was taken to Causeway Hospital where it is understood she was being treated for the effects of hypothermia. Her condition is said to be stable.

Ms McShane, aged 58, was a regular sea swimmer and described as someone who was 'most cautious' and would never take unnecessary risks.

It is believed a group of women would often go for a dip in the sea in the area, which is a well known beauty spot.

According to an Ambulance Service spokesman, four women had gone to the beach yesterday but two decided not to go in.

''Unfortunately, one of the ladies, on entering the water, got into difficulty and her colleague got out to raise the alarm,'' said Joe McCaughern.

Aine Paterson, who was walking her dog, told the BBC how she helped to pull one woman from the sea who, even in her exhausted state, was thinking only of her friend who was still in the water.

The alarm was raised but despite being given first aid by a man at the beach and the swift attendance of the emergency services, Ms McShane was pronounced dead at the scene by Air Ambulance paramedics.

It is not clear what went so badly wrong yesterday on what was a dry and bright winter's morning.

However, local people pointed out that rip tides are notorious in the bay. The Coastguard has also suggested that cold water shock may have been to blame.

Whatever the reason - and hopefully that will be quickly determined - this is a desperately sad occurrence that has left a family in grief and a community in shock.

Every sympathy will go to Deirdre McShane's loved ones who received the unbearable and distressing news yesterday.

Tribute must also be paid to all those who assisted in any way during this traumatic incident.

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