‘I could see he was foaming at the mouth’: Garda dives into river Liffey and saves drowning man

Former competitive swimmer pulls non-responsive person from water, performs CPR and revives him

A young Garda member, and former competitive swimmer, has told how she dived into the river Liffey at the weekend and rescued an unconscious man floating face down under the Dublin city centre boardwalk. Garda Sarah Lynam then pulled the non-responsive man from the water before performing CPR and reviving him.

The incident occurred last Friday at about 1.45pm as Garda Lynam was on beat patrol in the city centre. A call relating to a man in distress on the boardwalk at Bachelor’s Quay was quickly upgraded to him having entered the water. Garda Lynam ran from the GPO on O’Connell Street towards the scene and on arrival members of the public were gesturing her over as one of her colleagues was trying to spot the man.

“They told me he’d gone underneath the boardwalk so I looked through the grooves and I saw he was face down in the water,” she said. “I knew Dublin Fire Brigade were on their way, but I didn’t know how far away. I could see the man was face down so I just said to myself, ‘the only option here is that someone has to get into the water, I need to get into him’. So I took off my utility belt and my stab vest, passed my phone to a member of the public and got over the railings. I crawled down and then dropped into the water. I swam over to him, turned him around and I could see he was foaming at the mouth.”

Once she had grabbed the man she swam with him on his back as her colleague threw a safety rope towards her.


“People were shouting at me, ‘keep going, you’re not far’. And then I managed to get the rope and got it around my wrist,” she recalled.

With her colleague and a member of the public pulling the rope, eventually Garda Lynam managed to get herself and the unconscious man over to the docking pier for the Dublin tour boats on the Liffey.

“I went under the water and then pushed him up by his legs and [another garda was] able to grab him out of the water … Once he was out they turned him over and I pulled myself up. But I could see his chest wasn’t going up and down, I knew he wasn’t breathing. I had to do CPR; three hard pumps and the foam and water started coming out of his mouth and his eyes shot open. I just thought, ‘thank God’.”

Dirty water

While the rescued man - who has survived the near drowning - was unable to speak, he was conscious when paramedics arrived and took him to hospital. Garda Lynam received a Tetanus shot and later developed an infection in her eye and throat — “all easily treated” — from the dirty water.

“It was a crazy,” she said. “A few people shook my hand, people patting me on the back. But obviously it was a very serious incident.” The 24-year-old from Coolock, Dublin, added it was not until she got back to Store Street station that she began to shiver “and thought to myself, ‘what just happened’?”

Having initially joined the Army “and found it wasn’t for me”, she was accepted into the Garda three years ago. And after training she was posted to Store Street station in the north inner city “where you learn the ropes pretty quickly”.

She said she joined the Garda to “do more than the average person does; I wanted something more challenging”. She was “proud” to have been able to perform the rescue, adding her competitive swimming as a child and her life-saving training had kicked into action, before adding she acted instinctively and with little thought.”

“I have no memory of how cold the water even was,” she said of acting on adrenaline. “I’d swim 5k (recreationally) and I’d have record times that I’d try to hit. So I’m confident in the water. But it’s a different ballgame when you are in the river. There’s a rip current in that water and if you get caught in it you won’t come out until you get down to the Point Depot. I’m blessed it worked out in my favour.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times