Ballycastle tragedy: Sombre mood as picture-perfect seaside town mourns one of its own

There was a sombre silence in Ballycastle today, broken only by the thunderous sound of crushing waves breaking on the shore.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 9th December 2019, 8:19 pm
Deirdre McShane died after going for an early morning swim at Ballycastle
Deirdre McShane died after going for an early morning swim at Ballycastle

The picture-perfect town was in mourning after the death of a much-loved and active member of the local community, 58-year-old midwife Deirdre McShane.

No stranger to the unforgiving Atlantic water, Ms McShane was a regular member of an informal women’s swimming group.

She arrived with three other women for a morning swim, just hours after an overnight storm had blown through Ballycastle.

Emergency services workers at Ballycastle beach

Two of the group stayed ashore, while the two that decided to brave the cold and choppy sea found themselves in difficulty.

One is in hospital, while Ms McShane sadly lost her life.

Her death has shocked the quiet seaside town.

There was a sense of quiet sadness all around the seaside town as news of the tragedy began to filter through.

In the morning, the arrival of news vans and reporters presented a curious sight.

By the afternoon, overheard conversations in cafes and on the street centred on the terrible tragedy.

Tom Irvine and Stephen Convery were well wrapped up as they braved the Atlantic wind amid bright winter sunshine.

“It is a shock and it is very sad,” Mr Irvine told the News Letter.

“It is taking a while to sink in because I’ve only just heard the news.”

The identity of the woman who lost her life was not yet known when the two men stopped to talk.

Both were clearly worried about who had lost their life earlier that day, and showed obvious concern, too, for the family of a second woman who was rushed to hospital after being pulled from the water by a passer-by.

The swimming group was a regular sight, the men explained, and a “mixed bunch” of “hardy souls” prepared to face the harsh, cold water.

All around the quiet seaside town, there were sombre looks and sad conversations.

In the afternoon, a group of half-a-dozen women made their way to the beach, flanked by signs erected by the RNLI warning of large surf, strong currents, fast tides and deep water.

There were powerful emotions on display as the group of six stopped together in the sand, and knelt.

They remained that way – in a line of six, deep in prayer, thought or reflection – for some time and stared straight ahead as the deafening roar of the powerful waves reverberated around.

The poignant moment was broken as they embraced and walked away.

In a small town like Ballycastle, a single death is felt by a great many people.

Even the local group commander of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, Andy Deelan, said in an interview with a BBC reporter at the scene that most of those involved in the rescue operation would have known the women and their families.

Christopher McCaughan, a former councillor for the area, said: “I’m doing my best to get an inshore lifeboat for Ballycastle. Ballycastle is very busy with people swimming, deep-sea diving, windsurfing and all sorts using the water.”

He continued: “But we all need to be reminded that the sea is not your friend. It has to be respected. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have with the water, this is something that can happen. The sea is rough.

“I’ve been boating in Ballycastle for around 50 years and you are learning all the time. The town is broken hearted. We all knew her.”