Miceál Mulcahy rescued Michael Downes after he fell into a Co Limerick canal in 1963

Irish hero Miceál Mulcahy and American Michael Downes had a touching reunion this week in Co Limerick 56 years after Mulcahy saved Downes from nearly drowning in a canal.

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The Limerick Leader reports that in July 1963, 7-year-old Downes was playing with friends when he slipped and fell into Canal Bank in Corbally, Co Limerick, where he was visiting with family.

“I got real calm, I got real calm and I accepted it I guess,” Downes, who didn’t know how to swim at the time, said of his near-death experience.

Luckily for Downes, 17-year-old Mulcahy sprang to action and dove into the canal.

“My memory of it is this,” Mulcahy said, “No one went in, they were screaming get a rope, get this and get that. There was no sign of you. The water was a little clearer back then, so I remember going in and going down and spotting you on the floor. You were that close to being gone.”

“Once I lifted you off the ground, I got my shoulders underneath you and up. I was screaming for a rope or a life bar or something."

Mulcahy was able to get Downes out of the water, but the child was gone before Mulcahy himself emerged.

"I never saw you anymore," Mulcahy told Downes during their reunion, "I was left inside (the canal). and everyone took this young lad and left me there. I’ll never forget it."

Downes was tended to by paramedics before returning back to his grandparents and parents. He mentioned nothing of the incident, so his relatives knew nothing of it … until they read it in the local newspaer the following day.

“As you can imagine all hell broke loose,“ said Carmel O' Malley, Downes's cousin.

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A touching reunion

While one of Downes's four children visited Mulcahy about ten years ago, Downes himself never got the chance to meet and properly thank Mulcahy for saving his life until this week.

"Thank you,” Downes told Mulcahy, “If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here and my kids wouldn't be here...Unbelievable."

"It took me fifty-six years to come back and say thank you. You are a true hero.”

Mulcahy joked: "I’m glad you came back. You haven’t changed a bit.”

Downes says he had promised his mother, a native of Co Limerick who passed away last March, that he would return to Co Limerick and find Mulcahy.

"My mom was the connection, so I figured it was time for me to come. I figured I owed it to my mom, so that’s why I came, and I’m so glad to meet Mícheál."

Mulcahy and Downes toasted each other with a glass of Irish whiskey before returning to the canal where the fateful incident unfolded 53 years ago.

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You can watch the touching reunion, courtesy of The Limerick Leader, here: