Thursday 20 September 2018

'I knew my family was dead, I saw it', teen tells freak-wave inquest

Barry John Ryan (Photo courtesy of M. Zaman)
Barry John Ryan (Photo courtesy of M. Zaman)

A teenage girl watched in horror as her father, brother and brother's girlfriend drowned after a freak wave turned a summer fishing trip into a tragedy.

A Cork coroner's inquest heard that Charlotte Davis Ryan (13) was soaking wet and in deep shock as she told three stunned Welsh tourists out for a hill walk that her family had just drowned.

"I know they are dead - I saw their heads go down," the traumatised teen told the tourists as she raised the alarm.

"My family have drowned. I know they have," she said.

The tourists were informed by the trembling teen that her brother, Barry Davis Ryan (20), and his girlfriend, Niamh O'Connor (20), had been swept into the sea from rocks outside Baltimore in west Cork on June 30 last.


Her father, Barry John Ryan (51), had then bravely dived into the sea to rescue them.

The horrified teen ran for help and, when she stopped to look back, saw all three slip beneath the waves.

Coroner Frank O'Connell was told the family had gone to the Beacon Rocks outside Baltimore to enjoy some rock fishing.

The two men are the son and grandson of Penneys retail empire founder Arthur Ryan (80).

In a statement to gardai, Charlotte said her brother had gone out to the farthest rock.

"A big wave splashed over us. It got Barry and Niamh soaked. Then another big wave came and it hit us. Me and dad got soaked and got pushed up against the rocks.

"Barry and Niamh got pushed out to sea by the pressure. Barry was farther out. Niamh was screaming.

"My dad told me to go climb back up the rocks and get help."

Charlotte scrambled back up the hill to raise the alarm but briefly paused to look back.

"Niamh and my dad were closest to the rocks. Then I couldn't see Barry. Dad and Niamh were closer to the rocks. Then I saw their heads go under."

The bodies of Mr Ryan Snr and Ms O'Connor were recovered almost immediately by Baltimore RNLI.

The body of Mr Davis Ryan was recovered 11 days later.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster found all three drowned.

The inquest was attended by Ann Davis Ryan, who lost her husband and son in the tragedy.

The inquest had to be briefly suspended when Mrs Davis Ryan collapsed.

Also in attendance were Ms O'Connor's parents.

They only spoke to ask Dr Bolster whether their daughter felt any pain. Dr Bolster said she would not have suffered.

Mr O'Connell extended his deepest sympathies to the Ryan, Davis and O'Connor families as he recorded verdicts of accidental death for all three.

"They were so, so unlucky...these freak waves can happen," he said. "He (Mr Ryan Snr) gave his life in the course of trying to save the two others. His actions are a testament to the quality of the man."

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