Buncrana pier tragedy: Mother meets hero who saved baby's life
THE heartbroken Derry woman who lost her partner, two sons, younger sister and mother in the Buncrana pier tragedy has held an emotional meeting with the man who saved her baby daughter.
Louise James met Davitt Walsh for around an hour at Holy Family parochial house in Ballymagroarty on Tuesday.
It came as preparations began for the funerals of Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (57) and her daughter Jodie-Lee (14).
Four-month-old Rionagh-Ann was the only survivor of the devastating tragedy when Mr McGrotty's car slid into Lough Swilly from an algae-covered slipway during a day out on Sunday.
Parish priest Fr Paddy O’Kane said the meeting with Mr Walsh, who bravely swam to the aid of the stricken family, was hugely poignant.
The Donegal man's parents Billy and Siobhan and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox also met Ms James and members of her family as well as Sean McGrotty’s brothers.
“It was very emotional. Everyone in the room was in tears,” Fr O’Kane said.
The Derry priest, who is preparing to bury the five victims, said Ms James thanked Mr Walsh for everything he did.
“She told him she would always be grateful to him for saving her daughter’s life.”
The mother also told Mr Walsh there was nothing more he could have done after he revealed he had tried desperately to drag one of her sons to safety as water rushed into the car.
He has described how Mr McGrotty took the desperate decision to remain with his family as the car sank into the waters of Lough Swilly.
The father was half way out of the vehicle as it started to sink.
Mr Walsh said: “He just looked at me and said ‘Save the baby’ and he went back into his family and the car went straight down.”
The former Irish League and League of Ireland footballer, from Kerrykeel, said he was within seconds of saving one of the two boys.
Holding the baby in one hand, he had one of the children by the arm but had to let go as the car slipped under the water.
He later visited Rionagh-Ann in Letterkenny hospital.
Tuesday’s meeting took place after heart-breaking scenes as five hearses carrying the coffins of Ms James' family arrived at her family home.
The cortege passed St Ethne’s School where Evan was a P4 pupil. Staff and friends formed a small guard of honour as the hearses passed by.
Along the route to the family’s St Ethne’s Park home, people wept openly.
As tributes continue to pour in for the victims, Derry City Football Club chairman Philip O’Doherty said it would do everything it could to help player Josh Daniels, a brother of Ms James, cope with the deaths of his mother and other sister.
The five victims will be buried following Requiem Mass at Holy Family Church at 2pm on Thursday.
A scheduled meeting of Derry city council has been postponed to allow councillors and staff to attend the funeral.
Books of condolences have been opened at Holy Family Church and St Joseph's Church in Galliagh.