A Londonderry priest has described the emotional meeting between the mother who lost five members of her immediate family in the Buncrana pier tragedy and the hero who saved her baby daughter.
Fr Paddy O’Kane said the two people brought together in such tragic circumstances hugged after a time.
He was speaking after facilitating the meeting at the Holy Family Church Parochial House in Ballymagroarty on Tuesday night.
Louise James lost her husband Sean, sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), mother Ruth Daniels and her 14-year-old sister Jodie-Lee after the car they were in slid into the waters off the slipway at Buncrana Pier on Sunday during a family trip.
Her daughter Baby Rioghnach-Ann was the sole survivor from the tragic accident following the heroic intervention of Kerrykeel man Davitt Walsh, who jumped into the water from the pier and swam out to the sinking car before bringing the baby back to shore.
The meeting also gave Mr Walsh and his girlfriend, who had also helped with the baby at the scene, the chance to meet up with baby Rioghnach-Ann for the first time since he saw her in the hospital shortly after they both were conveyed there last Sunday.
Speaking about the meeting, Fr O’Kane said the meeting came about following a request from Davitt as he thought going to the house would be too heartbreaking.
“I was happy to provide tea and coffee for Davitt, his girlfriend and his family and Louise and her brothers, and it was a very emotional meeting and it ended up with Davitt holding little Rioghnach-Ann, who provided such joy to the whole situation by opening her eyes and smiling and yawning and you could see Louise’s face light up when she looked into her little daughter’s eyes. She is giving her such strength at the moment, strength from this little baby.
“Louise was crying, Davitt was crying, we were all crying. It was one of those moments that come once in a life-time.
“Louise said to Davitt ‘I am so, so grateful to you for saving the life of my little daughter. I will be eternally grateful to you and you will have a bond with my little daughter for the rest of your life’. And then, ‘Would you like to hold her?’”
He said that Davitt then took the little baby girl in her arms, and told the baby how he had last seen her in Buncrana, and kept saying to the baby ‘hold on there, we’ll get there yet, we’ll get there yet’ as he struggled, exhausted, to make it back to the pier last Sunday.
Davitt also said he was sorry he couldn’t have saved more of those in the car and Louise reassured him that he did everything he could before they hugged and “cried in each other’s arms”.
Today (Thursday) the funeral procession for all five is expected to move off from St Eithne’s Park in Hazelbank for a 2pm funeral service in the Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty.
Their burials will take place afterwards in the City Cemetery.