Brother fought in vain to keep hold of inflatable in gust
The brother of a young boy who tragically drowned on Lough Mask fought desperately to keep a hold on the inflatable dinghy that swept him away.
The body of Ben Duffy (5), the youngest of five children of Alan and Tracey Duffy, from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, was recovered from the lake after a widescale search yesterday morning.
Ben had been playing with his three brothers and sister in a secluded and shallow area of the lake close to Treen, in Tourmakeady, on bank holiday Monday.
Shortly after 6pm, a sudden gust of wind caught the dinghy, described by an emergency service source as an inflatable canoe, causing it to drift into open water.
Ben's eldest brother fought desperately to reach him but the current and the wind propelled Ben further away from him by the second.
It is understood that within minutes of reaching open water Ben stood up in the boat, which caused it to capsize.
Local Parish priest, Fr John Kenny, said the community had been devastated by the tragedy.
"They are a beautiful family and he was a beautiful boy with the biggest, brightest eyes you have ever seen," he said.
"Everyone constantly commented on his eyes. He was just gorgeous."
Fr Kenny wept as he recalled the last time he saw Ben.
"His mother and I took part in a charity dance a few months ago and he said, 'Mammy, why are you dancing with him?'.
"It was like he thought he should be the only one dancing with his mammy.
"The children were in a spot regarded as safe. It is secluded and shallow.
"The wind picked up and he drifted and it all happened within a matter of minutes. We have to pray for them all and pray for his beautiful soul."
A local person described the scene of panic in the area as the emergency unfolded.
"It was about 6pm," they said.
"We saw the helicopter coming. We realised there was a panic happening in front of our eyes.
"We ran down to the shoreline and, at that stage, the coast guard were there, the local fishermen, people out on jet skis and that kind of thing all converged on the area, all trying to help.
"The helicopter arrived then from Sligo and began to search the area.
"All the boats pulled back to let it do its job as it (the helicopter) had a heat sensor.
"Then it ran out of fuel. While we were waiting for the second helicopter, the local people continued the search.
"Then the second helicopter arrived and searched again and then it too had to pull out.
"By that time the garda dive team had arrived and it was getting dark, but they and the Grainne Uaile Sub Aqua Unit combed the area for hours.
"Then this morning, close on 8.30am, they found him.
"The local community were at hand through the night feeding everyone and bringing cups of tea.
"Everyone is heartbroken. Utterly devastated.
"The only comfort in all of this horror is if this (the search) went into days or weeks it would have been awful.
"They have him home and he's not lost out there."
Christy McDonagh, of the Grainne Uaile Sub Aqua and Search and Recovery Unit, was among the team which recovered Ben's body.
"We are happy that we were able to recover the young fellow for his family," he said.
"But it is a terrible tragedy for the community of Tourmakeady and Lough Mask.
"They [the children] were quite obviously in quite shallow water and it [the dinghy] carried him out into deeper water.
"He fell over and at age five he had little or no chance.
"It's heart-rending for us and everybody involved to see a five-year-old like that.
"I have grandchildren around the same age and it is unspeakably sad.
"We have recovered many bodies but it is particularly tragic when you are recovering the body of a little boy.
"We like to treat the whole recovery procedure with the utmost dignity and I think we succeeded in doing that."
Local councillor Michael Burke said the community would come together to help and support the family in the weeks and months ahead as they tried to come to terms with the tragedy of their horrific bank holiday.
"There must have been 80 boats out there [on the lake] this morning trying to find him," he said.
"The community here is strong and supportive and we will come together for them.
"It is horrendous. People are devastated. We all think we have been through tough times with the coronavirus, but that fades into insignificance when you see a young child being taken away like this.
"We will gather around the family because there are going to be dark times."