Northern Ireland news

Buncrana man suffers flashbacks one year after pier tragedy

A year on from the Buncrana pier tragedy which claimed five members of one family, Seamus McKinney speaks to the man who raised the alarm that fateful day

Francis and Kay Crawford, who witnessed the Buncrana pier tragedy. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

BUNCRANA man Francis Crawford still suffers flashbacks a year on from the tragedy which claimed the lives of five members of one family.

Mr Crawford and his wife Kay were visiting the town's pier on the evening of March 20 last year as Sean McGrotty had stopped with his children and relatives to watch the spectacular sunset over Lough Swilly.

The pensioner was first to react when he heard the Derry man call for help as his car slid from the pier into the water.

The retired salesman immediately called the emergency services. He also asked another passer-by, Davitt Walsh, if he could swim out to the sinking car.

Mr Walsh, from Kerrykeel, managed to reach the family in time to save Mr McGrotty's baby daughter, Ríoghnach.

Moments before the car slid under the waves, the Derry man handed the four-month-old girl through a window to Mr Walsh and, almost with his last earthly words, pleaded with him to save her.

The car then disappeared, taking the lives of Sean (48), his sons Evan (8) and Mark (12), their grandmother Ruth Daniels (58) and their young aunt, Jodie-Lee (14).

It meant that Sean's partner Louise James, from Ballymagroarty in Derry, who was in England at the time, had lost five members of her family.

Mr Crawford can recall every moment of that night in vivid detail. The time – 7.12pm – is etched on his memory.

When contacted by the Irish News last week, he was extremely reticent about talking about the tragedy or his or his wife’s role but acknowledged that the magnitude of what happened meant that people wanted to commemorate it.

“It’s such a sensitive thing. We don’t want to add to any pain Louise, the McGrottys or the Daniels are suffering at this time. We know we’re not important in this story,” he said.

Louise James has issued an appeal for privacy to deal with the painful first anniversary. She intends marking the anniversary with Mass at Holy Family Church tonight at 7.15pm, the church from which her family was buried.

There will also be a walk in Derry on Friday (6pm) to raise funds for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which her son, Evan, suffered from.

Mr Crawford said there’s not a day that passes that he and Kay do not pray for Ms James, baby Ríoghnach and the McGrotty and Daniels families.

“It really is with sore hearts that we remember Sean, Ruth, Jodie-Lee, Evan and Mark."

He said he and his wife have struggled at times to cope with the emotions evoked by their memory of the tragedy.

“The doctors at the Medical Centre in Buncrana and the people in the Health Service Executive have worked very hard and been very good behind the scenes. They’ve always been available with advice and any help they could give."

The Donegal man said the events of that night changed his and his wife’s lives for ever.

“It is all still very fresh in our minds and we’ll never forget it. They say time’s a great healer but this is a very deep thing. We still have flashbacks; it’s an ongoing thing," he said.

“We always think of everyone who was there that night of the tragedy but the real hero – if there are heroes in such a thing – is Louise and the McGrotty and Daniels families.

“Louise has shown herself to be a woman of great courage and dignity. The way she had conducted herself and protected her baby is an inspiration to everyone."

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