Accidental death verdict returned at inquest of young reporter who drowned in west Cork 50 years ago

Body of Dave McCall (21) was never recovered following incident involving freak wave on March 18th, 1974

Dave McCall (21), from Uam Var Drive, Bishopstown, Cork: swept out to sea at Owenahincha in Co Cork on March 18th, 1974.

A journalist was most probably knocked unconscious when he hit his head off rocks after being struck by a freak wave and swept out to sea off Co Cork 50-years ago, an inquest has heard.

The body of Dave McCall (21), from Uam Var Drive, Bishopstown, Cork, was never recovered following the incident on March 18th, 1974.

Coroner for west Cork Frank O’Connell on Tuesday held an inquest into his death at the request of the reporter’s family after obtaining permission from the Minister for Justice under the Coroner’s Act 1962, which allows for an inquest where a body has not been recovered.

He heard evidence from friends of Mr McCall who saw him being swept out to sea.

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Michael Ryan told the coroner that he, John Coughlan and Gary Galvin had travelled with Mr McCall, who was then working with the Southern Star, to spend St Patrick’s weekend at Mr Coughlan’s family’s holiday home in Owenahincha.

The four friends went for a walk on the beach on the morning of March 18th. Mr Coughlan and Mr Galvin went up along a cliff path while Mr Ryan and Mr McCall walked along the shore to the Pollock Rock, where they stopped to watch the waves.

“There was a strong enough sea but nothing stormy. I couldn’t tell what way the tide was, but it wasn’t high tide, and it wasn’t low tide, and I knew that from the level of the sea against the Pollock Rock,” Mr Ryan said.

Michael Ryan and John Coughlan were with their friend Dave McCall when he was swept into the waves at Owenahincha 50 years ago.

He said there was a channel between the Pollock Rock and another outcrop of rock which led to a gully with a 4.5 to six metre drop behind them.

“My memory of what happened next was Dave and myself saw a big or freak wave coming in,” he said. “I realised it was bigger than the other waves, a rogue wave. Dave was a demonstrative person and I remember seeing Dave with his arms in the air as the wave broke on the rock.

“The wave and spray soaked us. Next thing, Dave was gone backwards into the gully. All I saw was Dave in the gully. He was being turned and twisted with the strength of the wash in the sea.”

He said that Mr Coughlan and Mr Galvin then rushed to join him on the rock and that they watched as Mr McCall “was swept into the channel”.

“I could see Dave’s body beyond the outcrop. From what I remember his body was face down and motionless,” Mr Ryan said.

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The witness said Mr Coughlan was a trained lifesaver and got into the water to try to save Mr McCall. He said he tried to direct Mr Coughlan towards their friend but he lost sight of Mr McCall’s body which had been bobbing on the water.

Mr Coughlan told the inquest that he and Mr Galvin had been in a cove called the Coosheen watching Mr McCall and Mr Ryan on the Pollock Rock when they saw some large waves coming towards their friends and breaking as they hit the Pollock Rock.

“Dave stretched his arms over his head as if to catch the spray and I’d say he slipped off the rock because when the wave was gone all I could see on the rock was one person,” he said.

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“When I looked I could see Dave being carried out the channel between the rocks by the backwash. He was face-down in the water and didn’t appear to be attempting to swim so he may have been knocked unconscious by the fall.”

Mr McCall’s brother Barry told the inquest his brother was a strong swimmer, but the coroner heard that despite a major search involving the Courtmacsherry RNLI lifeboat, onshore searchers and divers lasting several days, his body was never found.

Mr O’Connell returned a verdict of accidental death due to drowning as a result of being swept into the sea by a wave at the Pollock Rock, Owenahincha. He extended his sympathies to the McCall family on the loss of their brother in such tragic circumstances.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times