Tears as pier victims’ bodies return home

The cortege of hearses bringing the victims home to Londonderry
The cortege of hearses bringing the victims home to Londonderry

People going about their business across Londonderry stopped to weep as five hearses carrying the Buncrana pier victims made their way back home.

Five members of one family died after their car went off Buncrana Pier in Co Donegal on Sunday night.

Sean McGrotty, 46, died along with his two sons Mark, 12, and Evan, eight, their grandmother Ruth Daniels, 57, and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie-Lee Daniels.

Books of condolence have opened in the city.

Parish priest Fr Patrick O’Kane described scenes of unbearable grief at the family home at St Eithne’s Park in the Ballymagroarty area of the city.

He spent his day preparing his homily for tomorrow’s funeral service for the five victims as well as comforting Louise James, mother of the two boys who died and the rescued baby Rionaghac-Ann.

“The family is obviously devastated,” Fr O’Kane told the News Letter. “They are just trying to find meaning in it all.

“People are coming to the house and they are just hugging Louise and shaking their heads. There are very few words being spoken.

“There are five coffins sitting in the room.

“People are coming in the door and breaking down. People are just asking how this can happen to one family?”

Ms James was in Liverpool at a hen party when the five members of her family drowned.

Ms James told the priest she was “destroyed” and felt “lost” since the tragedy.

Fr O’Kane said the only “little sliver of hope” was the survival of baby Rionaghac-Ann.

She is said to be in a stable condition at Letterkenny University Hospital.

The five coffins passsed in procession through the city yesterday – with a police escort – from the funeral directors to the family home, he said.

“People were just standing still all along the route as it passed by, blessing themselves and crying.”

It was a 20-minute journey with five hearses. Two of the coffins were small and white.

Up to 30 cars followed the procession as it passed through the city to the family home, he said.

Hero rescuer Davitt Walsh swam out into Buncrana harbour in north Co Donegal on Sunday night in an effort to reach the six people trapped in the car that had slid off the slipway into Lough Swilly.

Mr McGrotty handed him baby Rionaghac-Ann out of the broken driver’s side window just moments before the Audi Q7 sank.

Mr Walsh told BBC Radio Foyle that he had been reunited with the child at Letterkenny General Hospital.

“I’ve cried all day, I’ve no more tears left, to be honest,” he said yesterday.

There will be a joint funeral for all five victims at 2pm tomorrow afternoon at Holy Family Church in Londonderry. The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Elisha McCallion, has opened a Book of Condolence at St Joseph’s Church in Galliagh.

A second book has also been opened at Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty.

Acting taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday that the magnitude of the horror – which took place in the Republic – put everything else in perspective.

“Our hearts go out to them and what is a devastating impact on the lives of the extended family,” he said.

“We all know in our own lives the numbing grief that comes with the loss of a loved one.

“In these circumstances, however, this is a particular and deepest grief, that the tranquillity and beauty of a sunny spring Sunday was shattered by this tragedy.”

Mr Kenny added: “I will recall – as many people will – forever the words of (eyewitness) Francis Crawford in his description of what happened.

“And I admire the courage of Davitt Walsh, who rescued and saved the life of baby Rionaghac-Ann.

“When you try to consider the horrendous impact of what was happening as that vehicle skidded towards the water...

“A father handing his own baby to the rescuer – to say ‘save our baby’ – this puts things into perspective and in context.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin described it as an unspeakable tragedy.

“The nation is truly shocked at the scale of that tragedy and its wider impact on the communities of Donegal and Derry,” he said.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the thoughts and prayers of everyone are with the family.