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Monday 24 April 2017

51 years later, Anne meets hero who saved her from drowning

Rescue Reunion on St. Stephen's Green Pond. Martin Coffey and Anne Byrne.
Rescue Reunion on St. Stephen's Green Pond. Martin Coffey and Anne Byrne.
Martin Coffey a couple of hours before he jumped in to the pond

A little girl who almost drowned in St Stephen's Green has been reunited with the hero that saved her - 51 years later.

Anne Byrne from Sheriff Street was just three-years-old when she and her siblings took a trip to the Dublin park in July, 1966.

Getting too close to the edge of the duck pond Anne fell into the water and floated out beyond reach.

Luckily, 15-year-old Martin Coffey from Cabra West noticed the commotion and immediately jumped into the water to where the toddler was floating face down. Speaking to the Herald, Martin, now 64, recalled the details of the day she almost lost her life.

Suede

"I went into town that morning with some friends to buy some clothes in Woolworths. I was as proud as anything in my new suede boots, cord trousers, black shirt and white tie. Little did I know they would soon be destroyed," he said.

Martin and his pals then headed to St Stephen's Green, a popular hippy hangout at the time.

"We decided to have a bit of craic with the hippies around the park, but as we were walking along I heard this woman screaming at the top of her voice: "He's dead, he's dead".

"In the corner of my eye I noticed a little child, who I thought was a boy, faced down in the water. I immediately jumped into the pond not even knowing how to swim, but luckily I wasn't out of my depth.

"The child was quite far out and when I picked her up I was certain she was dead."

As the brave 15-year-old carried Anne back to safety a large crowd assembled around the water's edge.

"Just as I reached the bank I slipped and smashed my forehead on the concrete slope beneath the water. I was literally covered head to foot in mud, slush and blood.

A man then took the child from Martin's hands and held her upside down in a desperate attempt to drain the water from her lungs.

Failing to work, Martin then gave Anne the kiss of life, a skill which he picked up in the technical school in Cabra.

"Within a few moments, this child suddenly started bawling at the top of her voice," he said.

"I then knew she was okay and handed her back to who I thought was her mother.

"After I sat down to drain the water from my shoes, I turned around to see how the child was doing, but they were gone."

This was the last time that Martin had ever seen Anne again, but the memory of the day has stayed with him ever since. Despite her young age, Anne told the Herald that she still remembers her near-death experience.

"I remember we were seeing how far we could get to the water's edge. I was holding onto the grass leaning forward and just fell in," she said.

"After that I can't remember anything, but I've grown up being forever grateful to this person who saved me even though I had no idea who he was.

Anne's mum and her sister went into Herald' office on Middle Abbey Street at the time wishing to broadcast their gratitude to the man who saved her life.

Informed

However, up until this week the two never heard from each other, until Anne was informed about a Facebook post about the incident in the "I Grew up in Cabra" Facebook page.

After contacting each other through social media the two were finally reunited in Stephen's Green 51 years later, with the Herald there to capture the moment.

"It's such an amazing story and I'm so happy that I'm finally being given the chance to thank him in person," said Anne.

"What's so funny is that our lives have criss-crossed throughout the years. His cousins are great friends of ours and someone I know is his next door neighbour."

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