The funerals of the victims of Sunday’s tragic accident on Buncrana pier were laid to rest yesterday.
Thousands of people gathered at Holy Family church in Ballymagroarty, Co. Derry for the funeral of Sean McGrotty (46), his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (57), and her daughter Jodie Lee (14).
The five lives were tragically lost on Sunday evening when they drove along a pier to watch the sunset in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. The SUV they were in lost traction on algae along the pier’s slipway, causing the vehicle to slide into the waters of Lough Swilly.
A quick-thinking bystander, Davitt Walsh, dove into the water to try to help them, but there was only time for Sean, the father, to pass his four-month-old daughter, Rioghnach-Ann, through the window before the car was submerged.
Louise James, partner of Sean, mother of Mark and Evan, daughter of Ruth and sister of Jodie Lee, was in London at the time of the accident.
Reporting from the funeral, Peter Murtagh of the Irish Times said that she led the procession of her family’s coffins into Holy Name church yesterday, helping to carry the first one, containing the remains of her son Evan.
Later in the service, she read out loud a poem she had written about the tragedy:
“Heart broken beyond repair,
the tragedy of a family gone,
leaving so many in despair.
They went to watch the sunset,
together on Buncrana Pier,
unbeknown to them all
an angel would be near.
Taken together as a family,
joined as one on heaven’s door,
a community left in mourning,
lives shatters ever more.
Their faces will forever map the sea,
Remembered by each and every one.
Down by the lake or shadows,
when you look beyond the sun.”
She also talked about how, just minutes before the accident, she had been on the phone with her family and had spoken to Evan, who had muscular dystrophy, who told her that he missed her and was going to give her the biggest hug when she returned from London.
Close to 1,000 people packed into the church, with the same number outside in the parking lot, where the service was broadcast by loudspeaker. Among those inside were Davitt Walsh and his girlfriend, Stephanie Knox, who helped keep Rioghnach-Ann warm after Walsh emerged from the water; Francis Crawford, who called emergency services; Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown; Church of Ireland Bishop Ken Good; Commandant Louise Conlon, representing Irish President Michael D Higgins; Kieran Carey, representing Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny; and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Fr. Paddy O’Kane led the ceremony, sharing that when he initially heard about the accident, he prayed for the victims and their family, as well as the priest who would be with them through their grief, never thinking that he would get a phone call from Louise James the following morning.
“Louise, you are the most bereft of all because you have lost your family and our hearts go out to you especially,” he said.
Fr. O’Kane called Rioghnach-Ann’s rescue the “one little sliver of light, one ray of hope bravely breaking through the dark clouds.”
He also thanked Davitt Walsh and Stephanie Knox directly, adding that Louise James had told him it was thanks to them there had been five deaths and not seven.
Today's Derry News front page...no words needed. pic.twitter.com/EG9g6dAiP3— Patricia Devlin (@trishdevlin) March 24, 2016
The church was full of school friends of Evan, Mark and Jodie-Lee, many of whom sang songs during the service and then formed an honor guard as the coffins left the church.
The three young people who died were memorialized by their principals. Damien Harkin described Evan as a “beautiful, fun-loving boy with a big personality who loved school” and Mark as a “teacher’s dream . . . quiet and hard-working and eager to please. . . always smiling, always generous.”
Jodie Lee was praised for her “beauty and inner beauty,” as Marie Lindsey said that “in 14 years, [she] lived a lifetime of love for friends. . . and for Justin Bieber.”
Of Ruth Daniels, her son Josh said, “Everything we achieved was for her and everything I will become will be because of her.”
And Sean McGrotty’s brother Jim recalled his “sheer determination to see anything he took on to completion” and his absolute love and devotion to his children.
Following the funeral, the five victims were laid to rest in the city cemetery.