Marine board begins sailing death inquiry


THE MARINE Casualty Investigation Board has begun an inquiry into a sailing tragedy in which a 58-year-old father of three died when his dinghy overturned in Kenmare Bay on Monday afternoon.

John O’Leary, Barness, Allihies, Co Cork, was on a sailing trip with his son Christy (18) when their 16ft dinghy Enterprise overturned about 200m (656ft) off Cod’s Head between Allihies and Eyries on the Beara Peninsula at about 4pm on Monday.

The two men clung to the upturned craft for about four hours in the hope they would be spotted. They decided to swim for shore when darkness began to descend. However, Mr O’Leary began to tire midway towards the shore and told his son to carry on to get help.

Christy Beatty O’Leary managed to make it ashore after about an hour of swimming and raised the alarm.

The Irish Coast Guard search and rescue centre at Valentia in Co Kerry immediately began co-ordinating a major search operation.

The RNLI Lifeboat at Castletownbere, The Will, was dispatched to the scene, as were Irish Coast Guard units along the Beara Peninsula.

The Coast Guard Sikorski helicopter Rescue 115, based at Shannon, was also tasked to assist with the search operation.

At about 1.10am yesterday, Rescue 115 reported a body on a rock in the bay and the Coast Guard inshore lifeboat proceeded to the location. It found Mr O’Leary’s body about 100m (328ft) from shore.

His remains were brought to Castletownbere pier and on to Cork University Hospital for a post-mortem.

Mr O’Leary’s dinghy was recovered by the Coast Guard and handed over to officials from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

Mr O’Leary was a popular and well-respected figure who was deeply involved in arts activities in west Cork.

Born in Boston in 1954, he came to west Cork about 35 years ago and settled in Allihies.

He was a founder member of the Beara Writing Experience Group.

Yesterday, fellow member of the group and close friend Paddy O’Conor spoke fondly of Mr O’Leary and how he had been such a positive force in the local community, encouraging others to write and express themselves.

“John studied at Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin and was a published poet. He was a very intellectual man, but was extraordinarily generous and always hugely encouraging to others and always very affirmative, giving people confidence in their ability to write.”

A keen sailor, Mr O’Leary’s great love of the sea and of west Cork was reflected in the titles of his two published collections of poetry, Sea and Salt, Mr O’Conor said.

Mr O’Leary had given writing classes to pupils at Beara Community College, he added, which had helped many young people in the area to find a voice to express themselves.

He would always be remembered for his positive contribution to the community.

“It’s a terrible tragedy for his family and for the local community, but also for the writing community here. He was an extraordinarily knowledgeable and learned man, but he was always generous with his time and his knowledge. He was a good friend and I will miss him terribly.”