Northern Ireland news

Buncrana pier tragedy: Funeral hears Evan McGrotty (8) told mum: ‘I'm going to give you the biggest, tightest hug when I see you again'

David Young and Ed Carty, Press Association
24 March, 2016 11:36

A BOY who drowned with four members of his family when their car plunged off a pier in Ireland had told his mother on the phone minutes earlier that he wanted to hug her.

Evan McGrotty, aged eight, died alongside his 12-year-old brother Mark, his father Sean (46) grandmother Ruth Daniels (57) and her 14-year-old daughter, Jodie Lee Daniels, when their SUV sank after sliding off a slipway in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

A priest at their funeral on Thursday revealed that the little boy, who had muscular dystrophy, had been on the phone to his mother, Louise James, minutes before their deaths as the family watched the sun set.

"Mammy, I miss you so much," he told her.

"I am going to give you the biggest, tightest hug you ever got, when I see you again."

The only survivor of Sunday night's accident in Lough Swilly was the couple's four-month-old baby daughter, Rioghnach-Ann.

Ms James, who had been away for the weekend, said the baby is her only reason to go on living, having lost her partner, two sons, her mother and sister.

Mourners at the Holy Family Church, near the family home in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry, were asked to salute the bravery of former footballer Davitt Walsh who swam out into the harbour in an effort to save the six occupants of the Audi Q7.

It is understood the vehicle lost grip on a thick blanket of algae coating the slipway and slid into the water.

Mr McGrotty handed his baby to Mr Walsh through the broken driver's side window just moments before the vehicle sank.

Father Paddy O'Kane told the funeral service: "Davitt, today we salute you as our hero."

The priest also revealed Ms James's words to Mr Walsh and his girlfriend, Stephanie Knox, who stripped the infant and warmed her at the shore, when they met at the parochial house on Tuesday.

"Don't blame yourself that you did not do more - we are so grateful for what you did," the priest said Ms James told the couple.

"It could easily have been seven deaths, not five."

Video: heartbreaking scenes at the funeral

Fr O'Kane revealed that when the grieving mother also gave Mr Walsh her baby to hold at the meeting, she opened her blue eyes, smiled up at him and gave a big yawn.

The priest also praised those who raised the alarm and the emergency services who, he said, did all they could.

Mourners heard that the family has suffered other losses with another of Ms James's sons, Joshua, only living for 17 hours and Mr McGrotty's younger sister, Ann, dying from cancer last July.

"You are just going to have to wait a little longer until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan," Fr O'Kane told Ms James.

Mourners also heard that the mother had raised £16,000 for a charity which helps people with muscular dystrophy, including doing a tandem parachute jump from 14,000ft (4,267m).

Investigations into the cause of the tragedy are continuing, with the pier shut to vehicles.

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown told the service that love and life are stronger than death and the bitterest tragedy.

"These have been sombre days, not only in this city but right across this island," he said.

"The banks of daffodils seemed to wave naively in the face of the horror that happened in a few minutes on an apparently harmless pier at Buncrana. And the news of the awful events in Brussels underlined just how fragile life can be."

Bishop McKeown also praised the response of the community in Derry.

The service was also attended by Church of Ireland Bishop Ken Good, Commandant Louise Conlon, representing Irish President Michael D Higgins, Kieran Carey, representing Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Earlier he met the family with Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster.

24 March, 2016 11:36 Northern Ireland news