herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

'I'm afraid I will break down at funerals', says pier deaths hero Davitt

Davitt Walsh (NW Newspix)
Davitt Walsh (NW Newspix)

The hero who saved the tiny baby from the Buncrana pier tragedy has had an emotional meeting with the child's mother ahead of today's funeral for the five victims.

Davitt Walsh (28) jumped into Lough Swilly last Sunday evening to rescue four-month-old Rioghnach-Ann.

The baby's mother, Louise James, lost her partner, two sons, mother and sister in the tragedy.

Mr Walsh will attend the funeral this afternoon of Sean McGrotty (46), his sons Mark (12) and eight-year-old Evan, the boys' grandmother Ruth Daniels (59) and her daughter, 14-year-old Jodie-Lee.

Slid

All five died when Mr McGrotty's Audi SUV slid on algae on the slipway and went into the water.

The victims will be laid to rest in two graves at Derry's City Cemetery after the service in Ballymagroarty.

Mr McGrotty will be buried with his sons in one grave while Ms Daniels will be laid to rest with her daughter.

Speaking to the Herald last night, Mr Walsh said he was anxious that he might break down during today's service.

"I'm feeling very anxious, afraid, nervous and upset," he said.

"There are just so many emotions. I'm afraid in case I break down after seeing the coffins or the families knowing I could have maybe done more."

Mr Walsh and his girlfriend, Stephanie Knox, met Ms James in Derry after a request from the family.

Ms Knox, who helped keep the baby warm after Mr Walsh brought her ashore, said the meeting had helped them all as they try to come to terms with the appalling tragedy.

"My biggest admiration goes out to Louise, the Daniels family and the McGrotty family," said Ms Knox after the meeting.

"They're amazing, strong people. Meeting them helped me and Davitt so much and my thoughts and prayers are with the family."

Mr Walsh hopes that attending the funeral will give him a sense of closure.

"Maybe we may get some ease or closure seeing them going to a happier place and being together as a family," he said.

Yesterday's meeting was arranged by Mr Daniels' parish priest, Fr Paddy O'Kane, who said the encounter had been "emotional" and that Mr Walsh had expressed his regret at being unable to save more people from the sinking vehicle.

"Louise assured him of her enormous gratitude at saving baby Rioghnach," Fr O'Kane said yesterday.

"She told Davitt that he had saved her precious baby and she would be forever grateful for what he did."

Classmates of the three young victims will lead the tributes at the funeral.

Choirs from their schools will lead musical tributes during the service.

Catholic Primate, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the former Bishop of Derry, visited the family home in St Eithne's Park last night.

Devastating

"At a time like this, I realise that any words of mine are totally inadequate," said Dr Martin.

Premiership footballers Wayne Rooney and James McClean, who is from Derry, both tweeted messages of support. Manchester United captain Rooney specifically mentioned that Mark and Evan were fans of the club.

"Devastating news about young Mark, Evan & family from Derry. Your support hasn't gone unnoticed. Prayers with family," he wrote.

Ms James is expected to attend a vigil for her family in Buncrana this Sunday. Hundreds of people will gather at the quayside at 7pm.

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