Behind the News: Oisín Corrigan, lifeguard on Dollymount

With recent drownings in Cavan and Dublin, warnings were issued this week regarding unsupervised children. People are taking risks, says one lifeguard

 Oisín Corrigan, lifeguard on Dollymount Beach. Photograph: Alan Betson

Oisín Corrigan, lifeguard on Dollymount Beach. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 01:00

More than 500 children were found wandering and lost beside Irish inland or coastal waterways in one month last summer, according to Irish Water Safety. Oisín Corrigan, lifeguard on Dollymount beach is well aware of the lacklustre approach many parents take to minding their children on the beach.

“They think we are a babysitting service. We have to tell people to stop leaving children near the lifeguard hut because we could be called out to rescue someone.”

Warning parents of young children about the dangers of being pulled out to sea on rubber dinghies or inflatable rings and advising groups drinking on the beach not to swim are other everyday duties for the lifeguards on Dollymount beach.

Irish Water Safety (IWS) issued a warning earlier this week regarding unsupervised children in backyard pools, rivers, lakes and beaches. “It’s terribly important that children are supervised near water as they can drown quickly, silently and in just inches of water,” says Roger Sweeney from the IWS.

Corrigan is one of four to five lifeguards working on the north Dublin beach which can attract up to 5,000 people on a warm sunny day.

“Some parents let young children run down to the water with inflatable rings and we have to keep an eye on them. The wind can catch an inflatable and drag a child out too far before they know it.

“The problem is that parents think they can sit down and relax and they don’t get to them in time.”

The lifeguards regularly tell parents that young children can’t be in the water with inflatables unless a parent is standing with them in the water, preferably holding on to the rope attached to the inflatable. Anyone found kayaking without a life jacket is sent home by the lifeguards.

The widespread practise of young people going to the beach with alcohol is another issue.

“They think it’s a great idea to go in for a swim and then they get into difficulty. We [usually] go and have a chat with them before they get into the water and tell them it wouldn’t be clever to go for a swim if they have been drinking alcohol.”

If this tactic doesn’t work, the gardaí are called to the scene. One third of drowning victims have consumed alcohol, according to IWS.

Corrigan also says that people should remember always to swim parallel to the shore. “It’s incredible the number of people who swim straight out to sea.”

Another piece of advice is that it’s best to swim on an incoming tide. Many people get into difficulty when caught in a rip current of an outgoing tide. The times of low/high tides on beaches on the Irish coastline are published daily in newspapers and online (irishtimes.com/ news/weather/tides). All lifeguarded beaches are listed on iws.ie

So, is it tough working six days a week right through the summer months? “The hardest part is dealing with a rescue or if you lose someone – especially a child – but that hasn’t happened to me yet. The good part is we get to swim, kayak, walk or run on the beach every day as it’s another way of patrolling the beach and staying close to the shoreline.”

SYLVIA THOMSON

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