Hope for healing in Buncrana

By Laura Lynott

What is there left to say when we contemplate as a country the terrible loss of a family of five drowned on a day out.

Sean McGrotty, 46, his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, 8, his mother-in-law, Ruth Daniels, 57 and her daughter, Jodie Lee, 15, were in one of the most picturesque spots in the country when their car is believed to have lost control and plunged in to Lough Swilly in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

The only shred of hope left in this story is that of a father’s dying love – and a man who didn’t think twice to try to help the family.

Sean McGrotty passed his infant daughter from the window of his Audi car moments before the vehicle sank in to the lough, taking all five with it.

Though it seems Sean may have had a chance to escape the car, his entire being seemed set to save his baby daughter and remain with his family in the car – though no doubt he knew the fatal consequences of this.

While Davitt Walsh, a footballer, from Kerryteel, Co Donegal, who was passing with his girlfriend, stripped down to his boxers and swam out to the car just in time to grab the baby girl.

“I just didn’t really think.  I took off my clothes down to my boxers and swam out to the family and just as I got out there the father was hitting the window which was half ajar to break it. The electrics must have been broke,” Mr Walsh said.

“I started shouting please everyone get out of the car, at this stage the window was broke, the water started seeping in. He said take the baby.  I said I want to help more people.

The water started seeping in.  He said ‘save my baby.’  I held it above my head and I swam back to shore.

“It was terrible. I was swimming and I didn’t know how I was going to help but the baby was handed to me.

“The father could have saved himself because he was out of the car but he went back into his family…the car went down.”

The couple kept the baby warm wrapping her in a coat and the rescue operation continued throughout Sunday night to recover the bodies.


Tragically, the children’s mother, Louise, was away in England when the accident unfolded.

No mother in this world could imagine the pain she must be feeling now – the darkest of hours.

While it seems the man who rescued the baby girl is also suffering guilt, wishing he could have saved more people from the water.

Mr Walsh said he had a grip of one of the children but the boy seemed to slip from his hands.

Of course, he could do no more than he had, but the fact he mentioned it showed the thought had no doubt played out again and again in his mind.

And for those who witnessed the horror, it could take a long time for them to recover.

And while they may feel a sense of peace after time, it is unlikely they will ever forget what they saw.

For those that know Buncrana, the event that unfolded is even more shocking than to the outside world.

The seaside town, populated by around 7,000, could only be described as a peaceful haven full of community spirited people.

Buncrana is still a place where people know their neighbours but not only that, they know the people on the other end of the town and far beyond that too.

The town is the type of place you want to run to if the worries of the world are getting too much.  It’s a beautiful and picture postcard slice of Donegal perfection.

And Lough Swilly has to be one of the most mesmorising spots in the world.

On a sunny day, there aren’t many places I would pick ahead of there to while away an afternoon.

Having spent much of my own childhood there on that beach and then taking my own daughter there too, that is why the loss seems just so much more horrific.  And to the many, many people who know this part of the world.

Many of us have driven down to the pier to see the sun setting with our families on a balmy sunny evening.

Ice-cream in hand and a little relaxing music on the radio, you wouldn’t want to swap such a moment.

It’s the place where people still say their customary ‘Hello,’ as they walk by and even if they don’t know you at all, you’ll still get a greeting.

Sit for a while and the world will melt away especially if you walk as far as Father Hegarty’s Rock – a spot steeped in history, where a priest was said to have lost his life for saying mass during British rule.

It was these tales, this place, that made me feel proud of my Irish heritage as a child, when my mother, my aunt, and uncle, from Buncrana, gave them as a gift to me.

This town, this beach, is also engrained in my treasure box of memories.  For it was there that I spent all my summer holidays as a child.

We felt so lucky as children to have Buncrana, to have Lough Swilly and my brothers and I were thrilled when the bus passed by the waters from Derry, because we felt we were coming home.

So, for one family’s trip to become so filled with despair, tragedy and loss, is a matter that is almost incomprehensible for those with memories like mine.

But, my hope is, that while the memory of this beautiful family from Derry should never be forgotten, that the town can heal.

Anyone who was there on Sunday night saw too much for any human being to ever deal with.  And tragedy can consume.

I pray, as I am sure the whole of Ireland does, for the grieving family to find peace and for the dead to rest in peace.

While I also hope for Buncrana to heal.  For everyone in the community to come together to rebuild.



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